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A inside view of the Orchestra

The Orchestra is a performing group of instrumental performers that play music of many types. The variety of musical compositions performed also greatly contribute to the enjoyment of an Orchestra performance. Different than a concert or brass type of band, the Orchestra has a leader who is required to lead the performance.

There are 4 main sections of a modern Symphony Orchestra. These are the strings section, the woodwinds section, the brass section, and the percussion section. Together these sections of instruments and performers comprise the general body of the Orchestra. New alternative modern Orchestra may differ from the traditional modern Orchestra.

There are approximately 100 instrument pieces in a typical modern Orchestra. Variations of this outside of the traditional forms may include concert type or electronic type instruments. When all instruments are taken together, an Orchestra pitch range is approximately eight octaves, from the low range deep notes of the contrabass tubas to the very high notes of the piccolo's.

Forms and types

There are forms of Orchestra music that have existed in Europe since the late 16th century. The modern Orchestra dates from about the 1800's. It was through Florentine opera type and indirectly from harmony development that the assembly of instruments became more standard. The lute, the lyre, the viol, the oboe, the flute, and the harpsichord became the primary instruments of the late 16th century Orchestras.

Players, groups and bands got together to back and accompany the singers in Italian operas. The sequence of chordal progressions were indicated by the composer in a musical outline we know of as figurative bass. The Orchestra performance then included a improvising by the harpsichordist who sustained a bass part in the performance. This kept the beat and rhythm of the performance regular. This also gave a musician who was falling behind a reference beat to catch up to the rest of the musicians performing. During this era of the Orchestra we can see the chief instrumentalist being the harpsichordist was also the conductor of the performance.

The general concept of an early type of Orchestra presumes an essential link with the music having vocal characteristics. A very close similarity between voice in a performance and music vocalization almost gave a feeling of the language of music, where through the performers the instruments were truly communicating with the audience. A featured player if using the right instrument could improvise on the bass line and create a harmonious solo melody that could extremely complement and enhance the Orchestra piece being played at the time. The solo musicians level of enhancing the group performance would vary upon the talent of the musician and type of instrument being used by the featured solo player.

With modern Symphony Orchestra standards we can identify a common musical instrument arrangement. An average ensemble would consist of approximately 95 musicians. This would look something like 55 musicians in string section, the rest would be various types of woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments. Since all Orchestras are comprised of many different elements, variations are possible including augmentations by exotic instruments, and possibly electronic instruments or digital enhancement.

Tone and style

Over time, little by little composers became increasingly aware of individual timbres of instruments and their limitations and strengths. Many tone styles and experiments with dynamic effects were tested on performed compositions. For example Claudio Monteverdi wrote special parts for the violin players in his operas. To heighten the action and drama of the performance, the instrumentalists would color their notes in a soulful way. Not just play in a normal fashion but perform the music with great emotion and flavor of pizzicato.

Instrument makers researched and developed methods and manufacturing methods to extend the quality and tone of the instruments. These enhancements over the years greatly increased the range of the instruments and their versatility.

Progress from the earlier forms of Orchestra were also visible during the era of Johann Sebastian Bach, the influential German composer. The Orchestra brass section was well established by this time and nicely combined with the strings and woodwinds. More composition of this era experimented with musical tone, timing, and mixtures of instrumental voicing at different times. A memorable effect for a dramatic ending to a piece would often include a sudden drop off of all sound, absolute and extremely powerful in execution.

Different moods were popular to express through the music with many creative methods and styles. All these musical facets would combine musically to support the overall performance. Another famous composer, Mozart would use his own configurations for an Orchestra to support the compositions he made.

Contemporary era

Many people believe the modern era of symphonic Orchestra began with the compositions of Beethoven. At this time it was plain to see a great change in Orchestra configuration had occurred. No longer was the harpsichord the leader of the Orchestra. The emphasis on the lead being played on keyboards was replaced by the strings in the lead position.

The conductor had more spotlight placed on their role and the arrangements followed the strings. Experimentation with ups and downs, sudden outbursts, and dying falls created a virtual story told by the language of the Orchestra music. Certainly by this time the Orchestra capabilities were well known and used in the most dynamic way to convey the drama and performance they created.

After Beethoven's era there were more instruments commonly added to the Orchestra including the trombone, the piccolo, and the contrabassoon. New percussion instruments included the tympani, the cymbals, and the triangle. Many of these newly recognized instruments became part of the standard Orchestra. The low end was increased with the help of the English horn, the bass clarinet, and the bass tuba. An interesting new view of the modern Orchestra conductor is also worthy of note. The modern conductor is not just seen as the leader who keeps time. Now they are seen as special virtuoso performers. In modern times we can see John Williams as a example of a conductor who is recognized as one of the greatest and most influential.

music | instruments


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