For other uses, see Orchestra (disambiguation).

Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra

Göttinger Symphonie Orchester

A modern orchestra concert hall: Philharmony in Szczecin, Poland

An orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string (violin, viola, cello and double bass), brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Other instruments such as the piano and celesta may sometimes be grouped into a fifth section such as a keyboard section or may stand alone, as may the concert harp and electric and electronic instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ὀρχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus.[1] The orchestra grew by accretion throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but changed very little in composition during the course of the 20th century.

A smaller-sized orchestra for this time period (of about fifty musicians or fewer) is called a chamber orchestra. A full-size orchestra (about 70-100 musicians) may sometimes be called a symphony orchestra or philharmonic orchestra; these modifiers do not necessarily indicate any strict difference in either the instrumental constitution or role of the orchestra, but can be useful to distinguish different ensembles based in the same city (for instance, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra). A symphony orchestra will usually have over eighty musicians on its roster, in some cases over a hundred, but the actual number of musicians employed in a particular performance may vary according to the work being played and the size of the venue. A leading chamber orchestra might employ as many as fifty musicians; some are much smaller than that. The term concert orchestra may sometimes be used (e.g., BBC Concert Orchestra; RTÉ Concert Orchestra)—no distinction is made on size of orchestra by use of this term, although their use is generally distinguished as for live concert. As such they are commonly chamber orchestras. There are several types of amateur orchestras, including school orchestras, youth orchestras and community orchestras.

Orchestras are usually led by a conductor who directs the performance by way of visible gestures. The conductor unifies the orchestra, sets the tempo and shapes the sound of the ensemble.[2]

Instrumentation

Viotti Chamber Orchestra performing the 3rd movement of Mozart‘s Divertimento in D Major (K136)

The typical symphony orchestra consists of four groups of related musical instruments called the woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings (violin, viola, cello and double bass). Other instruments such as the piano and celesta may sometimes be grouped into a fifth section such as a keyboard section or may stand alone, as may the concert harp and electric and electronic instruments. The orchestra, depending on the size, contains almost all of the standard instruments in each group. In the history of the orchestra, its instrumentation has been expanded over time, often agreed to have been standardized by the classical period[3] and Ludwig van Beethoven‘s influence on the classical model.[4] In the 20th century, new repertory demands expanded the instrumentation of the orchestra, resulting in a flexible use of the classical model instruments in various combinations.

Beethoven’s influence

The so-called “standard complement” of double winds and brass in the orchestra from the first half of the 19th century is generally attributed to the forces called for by Beethoven. The exceptions to this are his Symphony No. 4, Violin Concerto, and Piano Concerto No. 4, which each specify a single flute. The composer‘s instrumentation almost always included paired flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets. Beethoven carefully calculated the expansion of this particular timbral “palette” in Symphonies 3, 5, 6, and 9 for an innovative effect. The third horn in the “Eroica” Symphony arrives to provide not only some harmonic flexibility, but also the effect of “choral” brass in the Trio. Piccolo, contrabassoon, and trombones add to the triumphal finale of his Symphony No. 5. A piccolo and a pair of trombones help deliver storm and sunshine in the Sixth. The Ninth asks for a second pair of horns, for reasons similar to the “Eroica” (four horns has since become standard); Beethoven’s use of piccolo, contrabassoon, trombones, and untuned percussion—plus chorus and vocal soloists—in his finale, are his earliest suggestion that the timbral boundaries of symphony might be expanded for good. For several decades after his departure, symphonic instrumentation was faithful to Beethoven’s well-established model, with few exceptions.

Expanded instrumentation

Apart from the core orchestral complement, various other instruments are called for occasionally.[5] These include the classical guitar, heckelphone, flugelhorn, cornet, harpsichord, and organ. Saxophones, for example, appear in some 19th- through 21st-century scores. While appearing only as featured solo instruments in some works, for example Maurice Ravel‘s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky‘s Pictures at an Exhibition and Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Symphonic Dances, the saxophone is included in other works, such as Ravel’s Boléro, Sergei Prokofiev‘s Romeo and Juliet Suites 1 and 2, Vaughan Williams‘ Symphonies No.6 and 9 and William Walton‘s Belshazzar’s Feast, and many other works as a member of the orchestral ensemble. The euphonium is featured in a few late Romantic and 20th-century works, usually playing parts marked “tenor tuba”, including Gustav Holst‘s The Planets, and Richard Strauss‘s Ein Heldenleben. The Wagner tuba, a modified member of the horn family, appears in Richard Wagner‘s cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and several other works by Strauss, Béla Bartók, and others; it has a prominent role in Anton Bruckner‘s Symphony No. 7 in E Major.[6] Cornets appear in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky‘s ballet Swan Lake, Claude Debussy‘s La Mer, and several orchestral works by Hector Berlioz. Unless these instruments are played by members doubling on another instrument (for example, a trombone player changing to euphonium for a certain passage), orchestras will use freelance musicians to augment their regular rosters.

The 20th-century orchestra was far more flexible than its predecessors.[7] In Beethoven’s and Felix Mendelssohn‘s time, the orchestra was composed of a fairly standard core of instruments which was very rarely modified. As time progressed, and as the Romantic period saw changes in accepted modification with composers such as Berlioz and Mahler, the 20th century saw that instrumentation could practically be hand-picked by the composer. Today, however, the modern orchestra has gener

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