"Orchestration and Instrumentation"
The 18th-century legacy to nascent Romanticism was significant. With Haydn and Mozart an increasingly standard orchestra force based on pleasing symmetries of voice, color, and number had taken shape, most progressively with the addition of the clarinet to the woodwind choir. A repertoire of primarily orchestral devices--the Mannheim effects, drone figures for rusticity, "horn-fifth" pairings to suggest pastorality, fugue as a proffer of academic credentials, the association of brass and "Janissary" percussion with military and by extension political activity, the monologues and conversations of the Mozart concertos--began to accumulate and to travel well beyond their initial spheres of influence. Composers for the Italian lyric stage saw the connection between character and instrumental timbre as well as possibilities of extending bel canto vocality to orchestral voices; the French had seen and heard remarkable exercises in the deployment of large instrumental and vocal forces by considerations of space, speed, and volume. The new intersections of artistic enterprise fostered the notion of an essentially poetic use of the orchestra, one that emphasized the obvious correlations between visual and audible color. Both economic prosperity and the need to address sweeping demands for increased capacity on every musical front stimulated a new burst of activity in instrument manufacture that included both the perfection of rudimentary mechanics and the invention of whole new families of instruments.
Thoughtful composers studied and absorbed Beethoven's many advances in orchestration: the melodic use of timpani in the Violin Concerto and scherzo of the Ninth Symphony, the separating of the double bass and cello lines in the "Eroica" and the scherzo of the Fifth, the birdcalls and other descriptive elements in the Sixth. Heroic ideals called for the enlargement of the orchestral force, soon routinely including piccolo, contrabassoon, and three trombones. In the funeral march of the "Eroica" Beethoven fashions a noteworthy internal cross-reference when he uses percussive rhythmic figures in the accompanying strings to suggest a drum tattoo; in the Fourth Piano Concerto he engages the performing force in an overt conversation, harnessing orchestration to evoke voice, gender, and the suggestion of some unknown narrative. (This kind of thinking resonates strongly in Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto, 1845, where the piano takes a primarily feminine role and the orchestra a masculine one--almost certainly, in part, the voices of Clara and Robert themselves.) The addition of vocal soloists and a chorus for the finale of the Ninth Symphony (1824) marked a turning point in orchestral sound, purpose, and possibility.
Schubert's last two symphonies, the "Unfinished" (1822) and "great" C-Major (1825), could not have greatly influenced the earliest Romantic efforts owing to their temporary disappearance; yet they came to be known to both Schumann and Mendelssohn by the late 1830s and may well have had an impact on their subsequent composition. Schubert evolves from a simplistic, almost naive approach in scoring the Fifth Symphony (1816)--no clarinets, trumpets, or timpani--to the sophisticated orchestrational details (string tremolo, haunting interjections of the trombones) that serve as agents of a prevailingly psychological argument in the "Unfinished"; and in the Ninth Symphony, he seems again to redefine orchestral possibility, now summoning forth unprecedented washes of bold, homogeneous tutti sonority, full integration of the trombones, and the refined delicacies of the slow movement (duo of cellos and oboe, the gentle horn motive). The immediate repercussions of Weber's Freischütz (1821), widely admired from the first, were substantial, notably by virtue of its success in defining intersections of dramatic, scenic, and orchestral effect: the Samiel motive in timpani and pizzicato bass beneath tremolo strings, for instance, the hunting horns, the pair of "supernatural" piccolos.
Given its often prosaic strategies of accompaniment, the Italian opera was a surprisingly fertile proving ground for imaginative deployment and mix of instrumental voices. In the orchestral introduction to a singer's scena, an extended instrumental solo with cadenzas might accompany the vocalist's entrance and continue into the recitative, as in the horn and harp work before Giulietta's "Oh! quante volte" from Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830). The "Rossini crescendo" is primarily a matter of orchestration; the cello episode from the overture to Rossini's Guillaume Tell (1826), another milepost, was soon reflected in such passages from Verdi's work as the openings to La Traviata and the act I love-scene of Otello. And the economics of grand opera required, above all, ongoing novelty--as much from the orchestra as from stage machinery and scenic tableau. In Les Huguenots (1836) Meyerbeer calls for viola d'amore (played by Urhan, also the violist for Berlioz's Harold en Italie) and bass clarinet; the family of saxhorns made its appearance in Le Prophète (1849). Like bel canto singing, violin virtuosity had its effect on the rank-and-file as pizzicato, con sordino, sul ponticello, and col legno became common instructions in orchestral parts.
Innovation in instrument manufacture kept pace with composers' demands and in turn stimulated compositional advances. Chromatic mechanisms for the woodwind instruments (the "Boehm system" as perfected by the Triébert family for oboe, by Klosé and Buffet for the clarinet, and by Almenraeder and Heckel for the bassoon) emerged in the 1830s and 1840s. Piston- and rotary-valved brass were introduced in the late 1820s and commonly adopted within a decade. A chromatic harp was made possible by Erard's double-action pedal mechanism of 1810. The violin family was reconceived for power with longer necks and fingerboards, a higher bridge, and increased tension; use of the Tourte bow eventually became universal. Romanticism's fascination with classical antiquity brought antique cymbals and middle-Eastern percussion into the orchestra (and not a few suggestions of what was understood as the Greek and Roman heritage); military bandsmen, often simultaneously engaged as orchestral wind players, made use of a bewildering variety of old and new families of instruments.
Berlioz, Mendelssohn, and to a lesser extent Schumann profited as much from each other in defining the Romantic orchestra as they did from the past. Berlioz, with his rare blend of curiosity, observation, and passionate commitment to innovation, was easily the most progressive of the three. His approach to orchestral deployment grew naturally from his interest in expanding the ideals of the symphonic genre, typically for narrative and/or dramatic effect. Already in the Messe solennelle of 1824 the trumpets of the Day of Judgement are unleashed; by the Requiem (1837) the same material is presented by brass choirs in-the-round, thus articulating what he later called his "architectural" approach. The list of progressive details in the Symphonie fantastique, Berlioz's first symphony (1830), is formidable: the troubled cello and double bass heartbeats at the start of the idée fixe, the two harps in "Un Bal," the echo dialogue of English horn and offstage oboe and the "distant thunder" of timpani in the pastoral scene, the clarinet evocations of the Beloved in both the fourth and fifth movements, the bone-rattling col legno in the witches' dance. The finale's splendid opening with eerie and grotesque effects of muted divisi tremolo strings, wind glissandi, and wolfish brass with stopped-horn echoes confirms the arrival of a persuasive new approach to orchestral sonority. Of these originalities, perhaps the most quickly absorbed were the blossoms of the string choir into multiple divisi lines (also essayed by Mendelssohn) and the expansion of the woodwind from pairs to triples and quadruples with piccolo, English horn, and E-flat clarinet. Wagner learned much from his exposure to Berlioz and French grand opera, most audibly in the opening gesture of the prelude and the act-III English horn solo work in Tristan und Isolde. Subtler particularities of the Berlioz style were the increasing association of timbre with gender--consider the voices of Harold, Romeo, and Juliet--and the quintessentially French decoration of the night musics in the Roméo et Juliette, Les Troyens, and Béatrice et Bénédict.
Equally original and provocative was the "once upon a time" opening of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream overture (1826), whose four chords for high woodwind seem to define how the combination of harmony, contour, and registration can instantly evoke a narrative context; elfin, lunar brush stroke carries through the overture and much of the later incidental music. Similar evocative approaches are to be found in the descriptive overtures, notably Fingal's Cave (1829) and the spectacular scenic world of Elijah (1846). In the symphonies Mendelssohn adopts a somewhat more conservative stance, but all three major works ("Reformation" in D major, 1830; "Italian" in A major, 1833; and "Scottish" in A minor, 1842) embrace the idea of orchestration to emphasize programmatic context. Tradition has it that Schumann's understanding of orchestral possibility was rudimentary or flawed--and Chopin's non-existent, but at the very least both composers demonstrate the particular poetry to be found in the interaction of pianist and orchestra.
By the time Romanticism was in full flower, in the 1830s, it was obviously necessary to take inventory of the modern orchestra and to theorize its very concept. The first treatises on the new crafts of "instrumentation" and "orchestration," were by the French bandmaster Georges Kastner (1837, 1839) and Berlioz (serialized 184142, published in book form 1843). Both books describe the ambitus and acoustic properties of the available instruments and present cases of their effective use by way of published musical examples in score. Berlioz emphasizes the work of his personal constellation of demigods--Gluck, Spontini, Beethoven--along with a few passages of his own; Kastner, meanwhile, presented the world the first view of how the celebrated Tuba mirum from Berlioz's Requiem had beeen constructed.
Richard Strauss translated Berlioz's work into German, appending new examples from later composers (1905); while Widor similarly billed his treatise (1904) as an updated supplement; other important texts (notably Gevaert, 1863; Ebenezer Prout, 1876; Rimsky-Korsaov's Principles of Orchestration, 1913) followed the same general strategy. As the 19th century progressed, orchestration came to be understood as it is today: one the one hand, the disciplined knowledge of the construction and technical character of the individual instruments, readily learned from manuals and direct from orchestral musicians; on the other, the body of thought concerning orchestral purpose, effect, and philosophy, best learned from the detailed study of published scores by innovative composers. As textbooks the treatises served their purpose well (as in the case of Bruckner, who learned his trade from books); as essays in aesthetics they were conspicuously less coherent. This latter might be said, too, of Wagner's florid but uninformative musings on the orchestra's role in music drama.
What is important about the treatises is how they tend to assume an entirely new, major step in the compositional enterprise, one that takes place after completion of a measure-for-measure draft manageable at the keyboard. Operas, for instance, usually existed in vocal score long before the final full score and parts were ready; composers talked of having nearly finished a work, with only the orchestration left to do. So conceived, 19th-century orchestration amounts to a dialectic between first composition of passages with a particular scoring in mind, and the craft of subsequently distributing the rest among the available force. It could scarcely have been otherwise, given the multitude of different instruments (and transposition schemes) available to the symphonist, who now required a fundamentally different compositional process than was needed to compose a work for keyboard, chamber ensemble, or strings alone.
The second edition of Berlioz's orchestration treatise (1855) included a new essay on "The Conductor's Art," recognizing another basic change: the transfer of authority for the transmission of orchestral works to another party. The daily interaction between a chapelmaster and his musicians was lost, and the conductor now shaped and in some respects finished the work according to his own sense of its sound and structure and the performance traditions of his orchestra. The notation of full scores became correspondingly more detailed, with instructions directed as much to the conductor as to the individual players.
Liszt, who came to symphonic composition in the late 1840s, was initially constrained by the modest size of the Weimar court orchestra--less than 40 players--and by his own inexperience; for a time August Conradi and later Joachim Raff would assist him in expanding short scores for full orchestra. But by the time of his orchestral masterpiece, Eine Faust-Symphonie (1857), he was able to muster a full force to excellent and decidedly personal effect, notably in the delicate and much admired chamber textures of the "Gretchen" movement. Likewise in the 1850s Verdi developed a recognizably personal orchestral idiom, characterized largely by multi-octave doublings and great fertility in rhythmic distribution of the standard, repeated-note accompaniments of Italian tradition. The density of the notation tends to mask the subtlety of the result, a delicacy of nuance accomplished through staccatos, rests, and prevailing soft dynamic: Verdi frequently admonished his conductors to do nothing with the orchestra that would impede the expression onstage. Even the most explosive segments of the Requiem (1874) embrace a clarity of orchestral gesture seldom achieved in contemporaneous works of corresponding size.
Wagner's revolutionary redistribution of the orchestral force proceeded along two distinct avenues: the weaving of intricate orchestral counterpoint into a foundation of string sonority on the one hand, and the block opposition of large homogenous choirs, or bands, on the other. The brass were especially appropriate to the subject matter of the Ring (1877), with its dominant themes of heroism and strife, and its frequent allusions to the nether regions; the result was a prevailing sonority of ponderous low-register brass, including not only bass trumpet, bass trombone, and contrabass tuba, but also the specially designed choir of Wagner tubas. By contrast the unfulfilled longing of Tristan und Isolde is established largely by way of the melancholy double-reed sonorities; its ecstacy and night-time passion, by the strings. In sheer numbers the Wagnerian orchestra constitutes a quantum leap from a few dozen to nearly a hundred players, the size assumed by many later composers to be the orchestral norm.
The post-Wagnerian composers Bruckner, Saint-Saëns, and Franck, all organists, sensed and forwarded a correspondence between Wagner's manipulation of the orchestral choirs and the registration of the pipe organ. Bruckner retained a strong reliance on the horns and low brass, notably in Adagio of the Seventh Symphony (1883), the lament on Wagner's death with its celebrated climax for four Wagner tubas and conventional bass tuba. Brucknerian textures are often defined by string tremolo and pizzicato, the latter frequently outlining bass ostinato patterns over which various contrapuntal strategies play out, but there is a concomitant effort to escape Wagnerian density in an ongoing search for clarity and sobriety of expression.
Brahms's practice commingles an essentially Beethovenian approach to orchestral size and purpose with a pianist's understanding of multi-octave ambitus (Third Symphony, first movement) and bimanual juxtaposition (Second Symphony, second movement). The unmistakable, characteristic Brahms sound is achieved through a sensuous blend of interlocking melodic solos and duos supported by richly figured accompaniments rooted primarily in the strings. His considerable store of orchestral originality--the horn solo with violin obbligato at the close of the Andante of the First Symphony (1876), the triangle in the scherzo of the Fourth (1885), the essentially unprecedented sonorities of the solo work in the Double Concerto (1887)--is put more to the service of structural rigor than glamorous display. But his copiously decorated final closes achieve as climactic an effect as any in the century.
Late Romantic composers committed to nationalist ideals or the programmatic genres tended to proffer orchestral analogues of popular practice, where castanets, tambourine, and guitar-effects would flavor the ubiquitous Spanish rhapsody, and all manner of village-band imitations--notably woodwinds in parallel thirds--were meant to suggest the presumed simple pleasures of rustic life. Orchestrational device joined dance patterns, modal inflection, and native language in the coding of nationalism. Late Romantic program music relied heavily on orchestration, as in the willowy solo violin figure to evoke the narrator in Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (1888), the clash of arms in Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet overture-fantasy (1869), countless manifestations of bad weather and surges of a river or the sea.
Mahler and Richard Strauss shared an affinity for minutely detailed, copiously inked scores of broadly Wagnerian approach. Mahler's work is particularly compelling it its extremes, as in the shrieking cries of the Fifth Symphony (1904) or, at the other end of the spectrum, the childlike naiveties--jingle bells, the absence of trombones and tuba--of the Fourth (1901). He leaves a particularly personal stamp on the now-dangerously emblematic birdcalls, distant military trumpets, and village band--most memorably, perhaps, with the Frère Jacques / Bruder Martin round begun by double bass and bassoon solo in the darkly comic "Hunter's Funeral Procession" movement of the First Symphony (1889). Strauss's orientation in the tone poems and symphonies is mostly programmatic (the tittering of Till Eulenspiegel, the majestic pipe-organ climax of Zarathustra's ascent) and, in the case of the symphonic cowbells and alphorns, occasionally excessive. But whatever their artistic merit, these kinds of passages made possible his orchestral triumph: the unmistakable silver of Der Rosenkavalier (1911), cast by the glockenspiel, high woodwind and strings, and the three soprano characters--in many ways an apt summary of the previous century's aspirations.
In France by the turn-of-century, Debussy had begun the wholesale rethinking of compositional materials that resulted in yet another orchestral identity, one that is profitably compared with the work of the Impressionist painters. The string ensemble is deployed less as the foundation of the sonority than as a repository of decorative nuances, while melodic cells are presented and accumulate in solo instruments and matched-timbre subsections. Splashes of sound color--glissandi, strokes of the tam-tam--punctuate events; a wordless chorus or semi-melody may be perceived as though a distant suggestion. Such techniques constitute the aural equivalent of the multivalent, fast-changing spectrum of twentieth-century thought, and they opened up new possibilities for composers just as some had begun to suspect, wrongly, that the riches of the hundred-piece orchestra had been thoroughly mined.
Matters of 19th-century orchestration and its history continue to be at issue in contemporary performance of that era's repertoire. One question is the degree to which performers should feel welcome to adjust orchestration to account for later mechanical improvements and changing taste that favored the "big orchestra" sound. The precedent was set early on, notably with Wagner's inclination to rescore passages in Beethoven's Ninth to achieve better balance. Recordings of the great orchestras and conductors of the recent past suggest that the custom of "completing" natural horn and trumpet parts in the Beethoven symphonies with pitches available on the valved successors continues to be widespread. Where local or inherited performance custom begins to diverge from the best interests of the composition remains a matter for scholarly study and deliberation among historians, players, and conductors. These issues were particularly engaged in the recordings of the 1980s and '90s by Roger Norrington, John Eliot Gardiner, and other avatars of the performance practice movement as extended to the 19th-century orchestra. They revealed to many listeners how attention to a composition's original conditions of orchestral size, layout, mechanics, and technique (along with first preference accorded to the composer's metronome markings) might result in fresh understandings of its context and meaning. At the very least they demonstrate the remarkable evolution of the relationship between the composer and the orchestra that the terms "orchestration" and "instrumentation" attempt to define.