Case in point: the tone poem Hero and Leander by Victor Herbert. Herbert was primarily known as a composer of operettas in the earliest days of the American musical theater (which, again, didn't really start to catch fire until jazz showed up), and his name is still slightly familiar to audiences because of his work Babes in Toyland, which still shows up in excerpts around Christmas each year (especially the "March of the Toys").
Hero and Leander is an impressive work, dreamy and Wagnerian, telling the story of two doomed lovers from Greek myth. Guided by a lamp she lit for him, Hero would swim to Leander's island tower each night. But one day a storm arose, blowing out the lamp and leaving him at sea to drown. When Leander saw Hero's body floating in the waves, she threw herself into the sea to be with him forever. Herbert composed this half-hour symphonic poem for his own Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and hearing it now I'm struck by its skill even if the musical language is straight out of the Liszt-Wagner-Strauss lineage.
Here is Hero and Leander by Victor Herbert.