Origins of Orchestral Style

A composer’s orchestral style is the product of several factors. Because one determinant is the actual array of instruments available, the technology associated with instrument construction is of significance. Decisions regarding orchestration were based, of necessity, on the availability of instruments and performers. The first section of like instruments to emerge as a foundation of the orchestra was the string family. String ensembles were developed and refined in France through the middle of the seventeenth century by court musicians such as Lully. During the same period in Bologna, Italy, a large ensemble that included strings, winds, and organs was maintained at the basilica of San Petronio. Monteverdi’s opera scores were among the most advanced of the period, containing some of the earliest indications for pizzicato and tremolo string techniques. Vivaldi’s ensembles in Venice were influential in that they advanced the concerto concept and utilized the orchestra as an accompaniment. Torelli emigrated to Germany with his early symphonic style and eventually settled in Vienna, which became a center of orchestral activity.

In the later baroque period J. S. Bach demonstrated his contrapuntal style of scoring in the Brandenburg concerti. Handel helped to establish the customary practice of consistently combining double reeds, natural horns, military trumpets, and timpani with the string section. He is credited with three innovations: a part containing a solo for the bassoon, an orchestral score calling for four horns in 1724, and a timpani solo in 1739. In his early works the woodwinds were commonly doubled with the strings, as in the Water Music. In later scores, such as the Royal Fireworks Music, he contrasted the choirs of strings, double reeds, and brass. Around the same time Rameau was originating the French tendencies in orchestration, with a refined clarity typical of the style.

Figure 8.1  Historical Development of the Instruments (open PDF version)