At first, the 18th century orchestra was small. 4 first violins, 4 second violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, 2 double basses, 1 pair of oboes and horns, perhaps, a flute and two bassoons, and occassionally a pair of trumpets and timpani.
However, with Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the orchestra takes a big step to its modern form. The strings section was tripled, a piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, three trombones and timpani were used. In his 6th Symphony, a contrabassoon was thrown in and in the 9th, cymbals, bass drum and triangle.
As composers grew more adventurous, orchestras grew bigger and bigger. Harps began to appear more frequently, together with the cor anglais and the bass clarinet. Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique uses 2 flutes (second doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (second doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinets (second doubling E flat clarinet), 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 ophicleides, timpani (4 players), bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, bells, 2 harps and strings.
Mahler was the ultimate. His Symphony No 8 (aptly known as Symphony of a Thousand...read on to find out why) uses....1 piccolo, 4 flutes, 4 oboes, a cor anglais, 1 E flat clarinet, 3 clarinets, a bass clarinet, 4 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 8 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani (2 players), 1 bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, deep bells, 1 glockenspiel, 1 celeste, 1 piano, 1 harmonium, 1 organ, 2 harps, 1 mandolin and strings. PLUS offstage brass: 4 trumpets, 3 trombones. PLUS vocal resources: 2 soprano soloist, 2 alto soloist, 1 tenor soloist, 1 baritone soloist, boys' choir and two SATB choirs (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass).(I wonder where they performed this....)
Some composers remained faithful to the relatively modest orchestras one finds in say, Tchaikovsky's symphonies: double woodwind plus piccolo, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion, strings.
However, during the post WWI era, compsers like Mahler were described as elephantitis. Orchestras all over the world started to conform to the forces given by Bartok in his Concerto for the Orchestra: 3 flutes (third doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (third doubling cor anglais), 3 clarinets (third doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (thrid doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, triangle, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam, 2 harps, strings.
Orchestra layout was also standardized: percussion and 'heavy' brass (trumpets, trombones, tuba) were placed at the back, on raised platforms. Strings were in front, (from left of conductor), 1st violins, 2nd violins, cellos. (Sometimes the cellos and 2nd violins swap.)
Music is the art of thinking with sounds. -- Jules Combarieu
Click on the links below to learn more about the various instruments.
Music is the arithmetic of sounds. -- Claude Debussey
Music is the only sensual pleasure without vice. -- Dr. Samuel Johnson
Music is a secret and unconcious mathematical probles. -- Gottfried Leibniz
Music is itself. -- Eduard Hanslick
Music is the only noise for which one is obliged to pay. -- Alexander Dumas
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Midi: Bach's Christmas Oratario, BWV. 248
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