Program notes can be like the nutritional facts on food packaging.
Of course they tell you what’s inside but how much of that is already known to you? Now you feel even guiltier eating that candy bar you know is loaded with processed sugar when you read that is in fact loaded with 12 grams of processed sugar. Beethoven was a composer…I could’ve sworn he was a dog.
Of course they tell you what’s inside but how much of that do you care to know in the first place? What is carragenan? I just want to drink this hot chocolate. Bach had ten children…and I can hear that in the fugue?
Thankfully the music world isn’t held to a standard by the USDA. But it is held to a standard of tradition in regards to what to put in programs: date of birth and death, where she’s from, when did he write the piece, what state was she in when she wrote it, etc. Music also hasn’t killed people through misinformation on the label. At most it might of distracted one old lady from paying attention to the music.
And that’s the crux of the matter. People go to a concert to (gasp) listen to music. Program notes should assist in this listening. At the lowest rung it tells us what piece we’re on and which is next.
It’s beyond this rung where we can deter the audience or, just possibly, help them take it all in.