Since these songs are intended to evoke mental pictures, I highly recommend setting each to play in turn and then sitting back and seeing how well the mental pictures that form in your mind line up with the intended story/pictures.
I'm also curious to hear what reactions y'all have to these songs. It's always interesting to hear how someone else interprets and responds to evocative music.
9. "Dawn breaks over the mountains of Switzerland, but scattered raindrops lead to a torrential storm. After the storm passes, cowherds call their cattle back together in the pastoral mountain meadows. Finally, heralded by their trumpeters, a detachment of Swiss cavalry gallops across the countryside, the sunlight glinting on their armor & weapons."
Gioachino Rossini, Guillaume Tell: Ouverture (William Tell: Overture), 1829. (gotten by judy_w)
This is arguably the most well-known piece of the ten on this list, thanks to The Lone Ranger and the many, many other places this piece--or at least the final "Galop" segment--has been used. (Including A Clockwork Orange, Bambi Meets Godzilla, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones (as the "Happy Anniversary" song), and the classic Disney short The Band Concert that remixes it with "Turkey in the Straw" as Mickey's band gets picked up by a tornado.)
This overture is made up of four parts:
2. Storm -- often used in cartoons for "storm" sequences
3. Ranz des Vaches ("Call to the dairy cows" as the herdsmen drive their cattle back out to the pastures after the storm) -- often used in cartoons for "daybreak" sequences
4. Finale/Galop -- often used anywhere one wants to evoke a horse gallopping or anything that's fast and exciting.
(This is also one of the "cheats" on this list, as it's the overture from an opera rather than being a tone poem, but since it's much better known in its own right than the rest of the opera is, and since it is written to evoke four scenes that have little to do with the actual body of the opera other than being set in Switzerland, I decided it belonged.)
10. "An adventurer sneaks into the caves of the trolls, then attempts to evade the troll guards after insulting the troll king's daughter. He hides, but is eventually discovered by the troll king himself, only to make a mad dash for the exit and escape just in time."
Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt Suite: I Dovregubbens hall (Peer Gynt Suite: In the Hall of the Mountain King), 1876. (gotten by dvandom, judy_w, and hobbygeek)
In the Hall of the Mountain King is another one of these pieces that most people have heard at some point, since it is so ubiquitous in popular culture. It's been used in several movies (including being whistled by Peter Lorre in the Fritz Lang classic M and by the vampires in Lost Boys), television shows (including Mad Men and the final episode of Beavis & Butthead), and computer games (including Sonic the Hedgehog and the Amiga version of Empire).
At just over two minutes long, it's the second-shortest piece on this list. It's also one of the "cheats"--Grieg originally wrote it to be background music for Henrik Ibsen's play, Peer Gynt, but Grieg's music became so popular on its own he rearranged it and released it separately. Since, in effect, the music by itself tells the story of the play, I included it here, even though it's technically not a tone poem.
In the Hall of the Mountain King has also been "reimagined", if you will, many times over the years, possibly more than any other of these ten; here are just five of the many such:
• 1960's rock version, by Big Brother and the Holding Company
• 1960's rock version, by The Who
• 1970's rock version, by ELO
• Metal version (performed on 4 cellos!), by Apocalyptica
• Techno/trance version, by DJ Liquid
Finally, In the Hall of the Mountain King is one of a handful pieces that can almost always blast away earworms if hummed or whistled, but this should be attempted with some caution, as it replaces the earworm with itself.