Discussion in 'Composition, Orchestration & Technique' started by Montisquirrel, Apr 12, 2018.
Agree on Adler. But there have to be better options than Fux for counterpoint today, even for species counterpoint. As a historical document it's great, but there are bits in it that are just plain confusing unless you've studied the history of music of Palestrina's time as well as Fux's - such as the bit fairly early on where the student gets marked down for forcing the harmony "out of mode".
Whatever music you like.
You won't get much out of force studying scores you are told are good for you. Take all the suggestions here and skim through a recording of each of them to find what grabs your attention and go study that!
Franz Joseph Haydn. Why? Because you can most easily see the skeletal structure of the music. His simple (although brilliant) orchestration works because the music is working so well. Everything since Haydn is an expansion of his basic orchestral forces. If you consider Beethoven orchestration examples are the majority in most orchestration books you realize you are simply going back a single step to an even more stripped down music.
When Shostakovitch would hear a piece of orchestral music, he would immediately convert it to a piano version in his head. When listening to a piano piece he would do the opposite and orchestrate it - in his head. He knew it is the essential musical idea that is the key to it's realization through instrumental means. This is why the oft-recommended Ravel (a prince among orchestrators) insisted that his orchestration of the piano piece, Pictures At An Exhibition include the piano version underneath. It was for the sake of the student Ravel did that. He was saying, Everything I've done here is based entirely on something that can be reduced to two hands on the piano. Stravinsky said something similar when he said, Can not everything be said on the piano?
You can wade through the score to Mahler's 5th where the Basses are divisi by the the 3rd page but even that score was played on the piano by the composer to astonishing effect. It's all in the writing.
I love this.
Dave is dead on target with his post. Often far too much is made of orchestration. You can't have good orchestration without good writing.
As I've said before in this forum, beginning composers often want to jump to orchestration before they have basic harmonic and compositional knowledge. You can't understand orchestration unless you truly understand what's happening in the music itself.
@JJP I think I may have enjoyed your posts more than you did mine. I was having a bit of a chuckle wondering if the fellow who was inquiring about Howard Shore's orchestration knew he was being answered by Mr. Shore's orchestrator : )
i'm going to confuser the issue even more with a suggestion to add to the excellent ones already .
Pictures at an Exhibition . The music is by Mussorgsky for the piano. Ravel did the best orchestration. Boosey and Hawkes have a score that has the piano at the bottom and the orchestra above.
Ravel was one of the truly great orchestrators . Remember older music ( Mozart, Hadyn et al ) used much smaller orchestra's that didn't have standard instruments of today, Trombones being one.
Ravel was a master at clear well defined orchestration. Pictures at an exhibition has almost a complete list of textures and combinations ( tutis and smaller ) .
Listen to the piano version then try and guess how Ravel orchestrated it. What moods and colors he used. The promenade section which occurs in between each painting is the same basic musical idea but with lots of variation in orchestration . We first hear it as a fanfare . Perfect bit of well balanced brass writing. But later it's scored for strings and woodwinds.
The end section ( Great Gate of Kiev ) is huge. Full tuttis with blasting brass.
Orchestration has been many things to many composers. It has been a servant of the great, a support to the mediocre, and a cloak for the feeble. It's past lives enshrined in the works of the great dead, its present pants after the exertion of recent progress, and its future lies as completely hidden and crouching at the beginning of the 21st century.
Adam Carse and -JG-
Have to back up (at least) Brahms (here I would recommend symphony no.2) and Beethoven simply because they wrote some of the most beautiful symphonies in my opinion (absolutely arguable; but thats just my taste in classical music).
I am no orchestrator so please correct me someone if I am wrong with any of my statements here)) but I'd say that Harry Gregson-Williams has done some great orchestral works (e.g. Narnia; but I guess "recent" movies in general are hard to study as they use so much sounddesign and add so much stuff afterwards nowadays).
When I think back to school times I remember that Mozart was always favorable to analyse as he was relatively straight forward and didn't overcomplicate things but still had some great instrumentation (his symphony 40 in g-minor is a really great piece of classical music).
Verdis Dies Irea: don't know if that is actually crazy complex (haven't seen the sheet music in a long time) but it's a great example for bombastic; but has (obviously) choir in it so I don't know if you want that as well(?).
Also Smetana - Ma Vlast (= My homeland) is great, especially the second part Die Moldau (Vlatva; the moldau, don't know how it is referred to in english) wich is best known out of the six; the third part ("Sarka") would be my favorite out them all though...
I think most other big names of classical music were already mentioned somewhere here...
Also a question for all professional orchestrators: do you orchestrate film scores differently when you know that the composer likes to add synths/sounddesign and layer the recordings with samples or is that irrelevant for your work?
It means a lot since the prelay tracks take up Sonic space that you have to be aware of. However you should have a good idea about that in the composers mockup demo.
Since lots of people like to spend here, here's what will give you some incredibly inspiring insight into 20th century orchestration (both from a compositional and orchestration perspective this is widely known as one of the greatest pieces since Wagner):
And if you read music:
You will gain TONS off of these resources, as long as you commit to them. Strauss' way with compressed harmonies is borderline superhuman.
Holst, 'The Planets'. Hugely influencial on modern film music but also in addition to the full score there is a two piano version available arranged by Holst himself, and I found it really enlightening to look at the piano arrangement and see how the material was assigned to the orchestra.
I'd suggest Rimsky Korsakov's Sheherazade.
His "principles of orchestrations" are must-read even if a bit outdated now.
He's illustrating most of the rules with excerpts of his own work.
On the other hand, I really enjoy reading scores from Joe Hisaishi ou Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Where you realize that what sounds "simple" is not that "simple"
Most excellent suggestion. Rimsky was an Average composer. moments of brilliance but a lot of what he wrote was a bit dated but he was one of the greatest orchestrators . Scheherazde is his masterpiece and full of fantastic colors
Well...... I can't resist. I swear Vi-Control has become like a toxic girlfriend for me. Everytime I think
I am truly done and over this place, some 3 am booty-call like topic will come up, and I jump in, only have it flip upside down and repeat the whole cycle.
In particular Dave Connor, Bryla, and JJP: I have read your posts over the years and I have an absolute tremendous amount of respect for each of you both professionally, and personally. How you don't drop F-bombs around here I will never know.
This is a disclaimer to say, that developing one's craft is also a personal and subjective journey.
Words like Good/Bad, Right/Wrong become much less significant for me. Same with "Rule".
Also, that while I may seem to counter the points raised here, I am completely sure that if we were chatting in person
that the underlying concepts are pretty much the same. It's just a
A rule = a guaranteed result. Like a Cake receipt. It's not a law. Well..... I could go on and on about this...
so let me just try and add to the discussion, and again...... there is an enormous amount of talent that has already answered.
Start with solo works. If you really want to learn..... hire a teacher of instrument XYZ and use say 3-4 lessons not to learn how to play your self but to write for it. Then bring in your composition and let them play through it. This always has to be a supplement to composition lessons. I share what I do at my studio.
Here is the thing: player will ask a whole set of questions no composition teacher will ever ask you. I might ask you about "what are you trying to say" , they will just say "I can't reach this note".
The way you are asking the questions for the rest of them is setting you up for a very common trap.
That older scores are going to be more basic, and the more IRCAM/ Darmstadt the more very complex.
Don't get "Meta". Get focused.
I mostly agree with this. I do think there is a lot to be said for knowing the "Masterworks". Without a little "force" you are going to stay in a comfort zone, and really..... you don't know how to make the choice yet. Don't let blind bias stop you. It is a given some scores that make everyone's masterworks list are going to make you tighten your butt-cheeks the moment you hear them. Berg was like that for me. Until.... I really delved into it. Then I actually was really emotionally moved by his work.
Here is the criteria I would offer, that I think is aligned with Bryla's: Whatever work you pick, and however much of the work you pick learn it to the point you can write it out BY HAND AND BY MEMORY. I participated in a few conductor workshop and man ..... my ass was handed to me like never before. This was with the Omaha symphony.
Long story short..... in the very beginning expertise is correlated with memory. If you pick Mars..... put away the score, and write out the first 4 pages. If you miss a dynamic, or a slur..... guess what you get to do tomorrow.
You want to know it so well that you could go on a date with Bill Cosby and afterwards still be able to write it all out perfectly (That most likely crossed a line. Sorry about that)
This is a good suggestion. Additionally Haydn is considered the godfather of the string quartet.
That said..... I found Haydn inspirational only after I had spent a number of year learning orchestration.
I was too hungry to learn how "to get the hollywood sound". This is also what I mention above earlier. It was too nuanced for me
That's from the book "Testimony". It's highly controversial, some have gone as far to claim it is an outright fraud. A great read. I loved reading it (doesn't think much of Prokofiev does he ?)
Late Stravinsky and anything with Robert Kraft should also have another * by it. For him yes...... for mortals no.
Let me explain: Take the music to Psycho and the famous shower murder scene. Please go play on the piano.
Is it the same ? No..... not at all. It sounds lame. Think of all the silly "Metallica played by string quartet" renditions over the years. It has only lead me to conclude Metallica is best with really loud electric instruments in a stadium. The SQ version is like a edgy cocktail party. Totally sucks the life out of the music.
We could go on. Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima..... for solo piano ? No thanks.
Aside from all the textural difference..... the piano = percussion instrument.
This has all sort of practical problems. Piano players often don't think enough about note duration, and how to end a note. Why would you on the piano ? Here is a little video on this topic.
Or for texture...... you will never get this sound on the piano
I struggled with this all through under-grad at conservatory. Again, if we were chatting over lunch I am sure we would be in total agreement with the deeper idea, so please forgive me when I offer the following:
Orchestration is composition. (cue love and marriage by FS)
There is almost a whole genre I call "Cooking pizza" for aspiring composers. Let me explain.
Ok.... you are about to make a pizza. It's dough, cheese and sauce. Really how bad can you fuck it up ?
Pizza is even good the next day, cold from the fridge.
If all you are doing is taking your piano piece and assigning instruments to play it...... pizza time !
I do believe it was Ravel who talked about how orchestration is not just the "sound", but the "sound around the sound"
I could go on and on.. Perhaps the best thing I can do is leave a model that I feel is very, very highly successful.
This is a very intermediate piano piece by Tchaikovsky and you will of course be able to pick out the piano piece.
But what is added..... it really becomes an orchestral work.
You can just plunk chords, and pads and call it a day and no one will blink. But this.... this is something more refined.
So I am most of all self trained / studied person and my advice would be apart from the other suggestions: Learn to know how orchestral instruments timbre sound like in different ranges and different dynamics. I spent with that a lot of time getting familiar with that and trying to build upon that basic small examples of orchestration. E.g. when I was familiar of how a french Horn Ensemble would sound like in their meat register what happens when I stack some trombones in unison on top of them or an octave below? How does that new "blend" sound like and what does it create? I did that micro orchestrations examples with a lot of other instruments in the orchestra too and practised all kinds of little scenarios. Using a book and studiying scores helps also to "get to know" certain devices from composers but when you don´t understand the characteristics of the instruments and therefore what effect they have you don´t understand the "why" did the composer that, but only what which helps you to replicate it but not when it is right. The why you find out out when you get an understanding of "the instruments voice" and what effect it can cause. I find the why therefore often more important than the what because it lets you understand the motivation behind a certain gesture. My general advice: Start with basic examples. So don´t start with complex rousing arrangements because it will confuse too much in the beginning and you get lost. Maybe some Prokofjev? Peter and the wolf? I still think that such work is a good starting point for such things. Sure there are plenty of other examples in history of music.
So lets take an example: Lets say that you have written a slight uptempo melody on the middle C and your intention is that you want something "heroic" and "with emergy". So around the middle there are a couple or quite a lot of instruments in the orchestra who probably could perform that melody but not every instrument would translate "the term" of "heroic energy" that good. So there comes the point in knowing what instrument would translate that approach more effectively. And that is what I mean. Sure those choices are also a part of clichee culture to a certain extent. It is like: Oh well we want heroic so there is the french horn thing option, thats not always the case. But maybe you get an idea. I always say: practise the basic principles before you move into more complex choices where you create lets say more ambiguous orchestrations.
And before I forget: Just dismiss my idea here, when you feel it doesn´t wrok for you because what works for me doesn´t mean it could work for you or others. I am just presenting here my own experience and people have so many different ways in learning things. Chose your way what you get most comfortable and effective with. It did help for me, 4 years ago my orchestration was pretty much in the basement and now I am in the 1st floor (Empire State Building) which is definitely an improvement.
Thank you for that!
Recently I'm orchestrating / arranging an average of 1 hour of music every month that is not composed by me. Being taken through vastly different compositional styles and references and having to translate that into a playable orchestral score is what I love doing and have worked on doing fairly well and fairly efficient.
Doing this on a regular basis and working with players is by far the best way to learn as you said.
I spent many years just with samples (you can find my posts here going 10-12 years back with crappy samples and crappy orchestration). What people do with samples today I've never been able to! But I've not always been able to write for orchestra.
You can study and study and write and write but at the end of the day learn much more if you just sit with a clarinetist and experience the registers and breaths.
As Sammy Nestico writes in his book (and I'm paraphrasing)
First day I wrote a melody in school I turned up with the same melody for everyone. Turned out that different instruments read different clefs.
Next day I learned about clefs and wrote the melody in different clefs and gave it to the musicians. Turned out that different instruments transposed differently.
Third day I learned about transpositions and wrote the melody according to the transpositions. Turned out the different instruments sound differently in their respective registers.
... or something to that effect - but I think the story is apt.
I still take all the principal players parts with me after each session. Go over them once and make notes to my self. Maybe something in my template should be tweaked or maybe I should consider doing a specific thing differently.
I just thought of another time I was asked a question like this. I am going to copy the answer below in case it
of any interest to anyone here
The questions was What does it mean to have a good/bad orchestration?
As a professional orchestrator myself I can give a very brief answer. (* For what its worth, I am a former student of Samuel Adler, and his book will explain this question. It is available on Amazon and widely used.)
There are already good answers so I will not repeat those points, and my apologies but I need to be brief in my reply.
I have pondered this question for years. There are levels or layers to this answer. bad to good.
Writing notes for a instrument that extend beyond its range. Example: F below middle C for a violin, or D (middle line bass stave) for Vibraphone. etc.
Writing music that is not idiomatic. This really still has nothing to do with ensemble playing. Every instrument has its own character, dynamic curve, patterns that fit will etc. For example: once I was playing in a new music ensemble at Interlochen as a guitarist. A composer saw that the guitar and flute roughly had the same range in a orchestration book. Since he had a piece he was re-working he took the flute part from his previous piece (which was pretty complex) and simply pasted it onto the guitar part via notation program. It was like getting served blue bananas. The whole thing felt awkward, and difficult to play. This is why many classical musicians can get PTSD after playing with living composers.
Tough to balance: Another way to put it is; composers shooting themselves in the foot. It could be a really high trumpet, or vocal part with a (pp) dynamic marking. It can also be trying to divide a triad between 2 trumpets and a flute with music above the stave and a very soft dynamic. Good orchestration would be more like running downhill. Say a harp and flute instead and there is no problem to play soft.
The orchestrator/composer generally speaking has their head up their ass. Another way to say this, is they are not thinking very musically or creatively. Often it means they have no sense of “the whole”. They think orchestration is assigning notes to instruments, and loose sight of what else ads life to music. Phrases are divided between instruments oddly, everything is tutti all the time, no articulations or dynamics (or its opposite going 100% micro manage everything and never trust your musicians are musicians). Expect it to sound like it did on their computer….. the very first time, not thinking about people needing to breathe etc. etc.etc.
What makes good orchestration is a little harder to answer without a specific task. Good orchestrators are like fine tailors. We can make things to suit, and what works fantastically for one setting, might not for another. Basically good orchestrators “bake in” ways to make the music|ians sound great, and make rehearsal efficient. Another thing would be that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Of course great orchestration feature soloists or solo passages, and highlight individuals, but a lot of “great” orchestrations are simply great moments of music. Hopefully you are emotionally transported, and then you can deduce the magic.
My last answer was general as Debussy (for example) was a great orchestrator, but if you give it to “Thomas Jefferson middle school orchestra” its going to fall apart 9 out of 10 times. The Chicago Symphony……. WOW ! Thus a composer like Dvořák is great sounding and less difficult from an orchestration point of view, and survives the middle school.
Update: I just found this document of notes I made …. maybe 10 years ago. Can’t really recall, but I thought I would add it in case it is of use.
In the Preface to RK, he says there are 3 kinds of orchestration:
- that which sounds OK at first try
- that which sounds OK after much rehearsal
- that which never works
If you want to attain the FIRST category - a VERY good goal for a beginner - write things which "just work".
Getting 2 horns to play quietly enough to accompany a low solo flute, by writing separate dynamics, is between category 2 and 3. Using divided strings, without too much movement, or harp, is category 1.
This is an important distinction, especially for beginners. Do NOT depend on writing separate dynamics to make your orchestrations work; choose instruments, registers and idioms, so that they will work "automatically".
Orchestration is one of those fields where there is always something to learn, but I thought it would be useful for beginners here to have some concrete goals to start with. As a first goal, aim to orchestrate what I call "CLEANLY".
These are the most basic questions to ask yourself:
1) Is everything I have written reasonably *easily* playable? For your first orchestrations your musicians will not be members of the world's best ensembles. It is ALWAYS better to make things as simple to play as you can. Even with pro orchestras it saves rehearsal time (=$$$).
2) Have I used my ensemble fully? Unlike in a virtual orchestra, adding 4 extra tuba parts is not free in the real world. Adding 4 extra tubas to play 3 notes each means lots of $$$. Is it worth it? Wherever possible, write for STANDARD ensembles, for the same reason.
3) Is the orchestration CLEAR? Is the main line properly emphasized and does it stand out enough in relation to accompanying material? Make the orchestration balance on its own wherever possible.
4) Does the orchestration respect and enhance the form? Making major changes in orchestration in mid-phrase usually will simply distort the music.
5) Are the score and part professionally presented? Nothing gives away an amateur faster than parts badly copied or a score with a weird ordering of instruments. Standards exist here for a reason: The musician does not have to learn new conventions for each piece. N.B. Having a computer make your parts does NOT guarantee they are OK. Computer generated page turns are sometimes ridiculous, the parts may not be big enough to be read at a distance (remember, the trombone has to be able to see his part at quite a ways off!), etc. etc. ...
There is much, much more, of course, and some points (like #4 above) could be discussed at great length, but I'd say if you can't answer an unequivocal yes to all of the above, you don't DESERVE a real orchestra yet!
STRINGS - general comments (I am talking about most community and high school/undergrad university level)
String section is the main section in a symphony. It is not just because of it's biggest section in an orchestra, but namely, because of its sound versatility. I would say, strings play similar role in the orchestra like piano in the composer's study room - a must.
It is fairly easy to resound the strings: there are only a few things which, if kept, may let practically anything sound well. Below, please, find some notes and suggestions from my experience:
Violins: while there is no difference between the 1st and 2nd violins sound (except the pan effect), there is no reason to cross the staffs and write 1st violin lower the 2nd and vice versa. Think about the 2nd violins rather as about the lower violins, less expressive in the performance and less technically skilled than the 1st violins.
Violas: thanks to the middle registry tone range, a bit covered sound, less extensive group in the orchestra and usually with worse technical abilities, many composer considered violas as orchestral pads - playing just the harmony. However, if doubled with e.g. french horns, they can play nice expressive melodies, as well.
Cello is probably the most all-round instrument in the orchestra. Its sound can be both soft and sharp, and usable in all registries. Cellos should be considered "the 1st violins" on low registries.
Double bass: there are many jokes about the double bass play technique and sound. Its namely because of they usually produce very muddle sound with heavy-handed technique. If writing for a double bass, think of the sound of subwoofer. To get sharper sound, use it doubled namely with percussion (timpani), low piano (great colour) and/or low brass.
Notation: I would strongly suggest to everybody to spend some time on "debugging" the score and parts in accordance with the "Principles" as well as the general notation rules (see my earlier post, "general conductors comment"). The more time you'll spend on reviewing the parts, the more time you'll earn on rehearsals and/or recording. As far as for the strings notation specifics: please, don't use the 8va--- lines, as most players did always complain of that. The 1st violins are used to read even the highest positions quite comfortable, and for violas, celli and double basses, switch rather for an upper (treble) clef. Although these octave transpositions may - in general - look easier to read, string players rather rate it confusing.
Divisi: in orchestral parts, double stops are usually supposed to be divisi.
Bowings: unless you are an experienced string player, don't spend much time trying to write correct bowings. String players will most probably change it, anyway. Good bowing is a challenge even for string players. Moreover, it is also a bit internal question at every orchestra (have a look into the parts, how many changes were made on bowings over the years in every orchestra....)
Legato, staccato, etc.: it is easier to write general expression notes, than work out every single note in the score (usually, this is the case of computer notation - play loopback). Moreover, it is also much easier to read for both the conductor and players.
Pizzicato: this technique has a few limitations - it can't be too fast, and changes between arco and pizzicato will require a little preparation time (similar to a "breath")
Skips and jumps: most common problem in orchestral scores today. Although on sample libraries, all jumps and skips are allowed, in real life, they aren't. Jumps over 1 (1 and 1/2) octave are practically impossible to play in a section, all together and in tune.
Fast arpeggios: Make sure you are using voicings that are 100% idiomatic for the strings. Often this means you need to either "open" the voicing, or use a unique wide/close voicing that takes advantage of the open strings.
Sound effects: if you feel there is the need of string effects, think about those with sharper sound, suitable for sectional play. These are e.g. pizzicato, "Bartok" pizzicato, sul ponticello, col legno, etc. Softer effects, like con sordino, sul tasto, harmonics, etc. sound well.
Virtuoso techniques: e.g. left hand (Paganini) pizzicatos, fast double/triple stops passages (non divisi), special bowings, etc. is probably best to omit at all. These effects are mostly unsuitable for an orchestral section: partly because of the orchestral players aren't necesary that soloists, partly, because of these effects sound at best in a solo parts or chamber music. Note, that composing mastery is ussualy not in the writing of complicated parts (the less for an orchestra), but on "clever written parts', they will "sound well" already at the first rehearsal.
Glissando: unless it is in a slow tempi or in a contemporary "play-whatever-you-want" composition, I would rather suggest to use notated fast runs. Glissando in a section often sounds rather like low quality orchestra, it can't play in tune and all together. But this, I doubt, could be considered as an "effect"
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