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character piece

noun, Music.
1.
a short, simple piece, usually for piano, of a type developed chiefly during the 19th century, often of a descriptive or seemingly improvisatory character.
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Encyclopedia Article for character piece

relatively brief musical composition, usually for piano, expressive of a specific mood or nonmusical idea. Closely associated with the Romantic movement, especially in Germany, 19th-century character pieces often bore titles citing their inspiration from literature (such as Robert Schumann's collection Kreisleriana, 1838) or from personal experience (e.g., Schumann's Kinderszenen, 1838; Scenes from Childhood). Others refer to specific personages directly or in disguise (such as Schumann's Carnaval, composed 1833-35) or evoke geographical and/or national images (e.g., Frederic Chopin's polonaises, mazurkas, and Barcarolle, 1845-46). Felix Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte (1830; Songs Without Words) covered a particularly wide range of styles and moods, while Chopin tended to favour musico-literary genres, such as ballades, and more generalized idyllic or melancholy associations, such as nocturnes. Many, though by no means all, character pieces are relatively simple in design, emphasizing expressive melody and harmony, not unlike the contemporaneous German lied. Although they may feature elaborate keyboard figurations, especially in Chopin's case, the 19th-century character piece may be identified as an instrumental song intended, like its German vocal counterpart, primarily for home rather than concert performance

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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