1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Orchestra

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ORCHESTRA (Fr. Orchestre; Ger. Kapelle, Orchester; Ital. Orchestra), in its modern acceptation (1) the place in a theatre or concert hall set apart for the musicians; (2) a carefully-balanced group of performers on stringed, wind and percussion instruments adapted for playing in concert and directed by a conductor. In ancient Greece the ὀρχήστρα was the space between the auditorium and the proscenium or stage, in which were stationed the chorus and the instrumentalists. The second sense is that which is dealt with here.

A modern orchestra is composed of (1) a basis of strings — first and second violins, violas, violoncellos and double basses; (2) flutes, sometimes including a piccolo; (3) the reed contingent, consisting of two complete families, the oboes with their tenors and basses (the cor Anglais, the fagotto or bassoon and the contrafagotto or double bassoon), the clarinets with their tenor and basses (the basset horn and the bass and pedal clarinets) with the addition sometimes of saxophones; (4) the brass wind, consisting of the horns, a group sometimes completed by the tenor and tenor-bass Wagner tubas, the trumpet or cornet, the trombones (tenor, bass and contrabass), the tubas (tenor, bass and contrabass); (5) the percussion instruments, including the kettledrums, bells, Glockenspiel, cymbals, triangle, &c. Harps are added when required for special effects.

Although most of the instruments from the older civilizations of Egypt, Chaldea, Persia, Phoenicia and of the Semitic races were known to the ancient Greeks, their conception of music led them to discourage all imitation of their neighbours' love of orchestral effects, obtained by combining harps, lyres, guitars, tanburs, double pipes and long flutes, trumpets, bagpipes, cymbals, drums, &c., playing in unison or in octaves. The Greeks only cultivated to any extent the various kinds of citharas, lyres and auloi, seldom used in concert. To the predilection of the Romans for wind instruments of all kinds, we owe nearly all the wind instruments of the modern orchestra, each of which had its prototype among the instruments of the Roman Empire: the flute, oboe and clarinet, in the tibia; the trombone and trumpet in the buccina; the tubas in the tuba; and the French horn in cornu and buccina. The 4th century A.D. witnessed the downfall of the Roman drama and the debasement of instrumental music, which was placed under a ban by the Church. During the convulsions which the migrations of Goths, Vandals and Huns caused in Europe after the fall of Rome, instrumental music was preserved from absolute extinction by wandering actors and musicians turned adrift after the closing of the theatres by command of the Church. Later, as demand arose, reinforcements of instruments, instrumentalists and instrument makers filtered through the Byzantine Empire and the Christian East generally on the one side and from the Moors on the West. It is towards the dawn of the 11th century that we find the first definite indications of the status of instrumental music in Western and Central Europe. Everywhere are the evidences, so conspicuously absent from the catacombs and from Romano-Christian monuments, of the growing favour in which instrumental music was held, to instance only such sculptures as those of the Abbey of Boscherville in Normandy, of the portico of the Cathedral of Santiago da Compostella (12th century) with its orchestra of 24 musicians, and the full-page illuminations of Psalters representing David and his musicians and of the 24 elders in the Apocalypses.

The earliest instrumental compositions extant are certain 15th-century dances and pieces in contrapuntal style preserved in the libraries of Berlin and Munich. The late development of notation, which long remained exclusively in the hands of monks and troubadours, personally more concerned with vocal than with instrumental music, ensured the preservation of the former, while the latter was left unrecorded. Instrumental music was for centuries dependent on outcasts and outlaws, tolerated by Church and State but beyond the pale. Little was known of the construction and technique of the instruments, and their possibilities were undreamed. Nevertheless, the innate love and yearning of the people for tone-colour asserted itself with sufficient strength to overcome all obstacles. It is true that the development of the early forms of harmony, the organum, diaphony, the discant and the richer forms of polyphony grew up round the voice, but indications are not wanting of an independent energy and vitality which must surely have existed in unrecorded medieval instrumental music, since they can be so clearly traced in the instruments themselves. It is, for example, significant of the attitude of 10th-century instrumentalists towards musical progress that they at once assimilated Hucbald's innovation of the organum, a parallel succession of fourths and fifths, accompanied sometimes by the octave, for two or three voices respectively, and they produced in the same century the organistrum, named after Hucbald's organum, and specially constructed to reproduce it.

Shortly after the introduction of polyphony, instruments such as flûtes-à-bec, or flaiols, cornets, cromornes, shawms, hunting horns, bagpipes, as well as lutes and bowed instruments began to be made in sizes approximately corresponding in pitch with the voice parts. It is probably to the same yearning of instrumentalists after a polyphonic ensemble, possible until the 14th century only on organs, hurdy-gurdies and bagpipes, that we owe the clavichord and clavicembalo, embodying the application of keys, respectively, to the dulcimer and the psaltery.

There are two reasons which account for the development of the brass wind proceeding more slowly, (1) These instruments, trumpets or busines, tubas and horns, were for many centuries mainly used in medieval Europe as military or hunting signal instruments, and as such the utmost required of them was a fanfare. Specimens of 14th-century tablature and 16th-century notation for the horn, for instance, show that for that instrument rhythm alone was taken into account. (2) Whereas in most of the instruments named above the notes of the diatonic scale were either fixed or easily obtained, the acoustic principles of tubes without lateral holes and blown by means of a cup mouthpiece do not allow of a diatonic scale, except for the fourth octave from the fundamental, and that only in trumpets and horns, the notes of the common chord with the addition of the flattened seventh being the utmost that can be produced without the help of valves, keys or slides. These instruments were, therefore, the last to be added to the orchestra, although they were extensively used for special military, civil and religious functions and were the most highly favoured of all.

The earliest improvement in the status of the roving instrumentalists came with the rise of minstrelsy. The courts of the counts of Toulouse, Provence and Barcelona were the first to foster the art of improvising or composing songs known as trobar (or trouver in the north of France), and Count Guillaume of Poitiers (1087-1127) is said to have been the first troubadour. The noble troubadour seldom sang the songs he composed himself, this duty devolving upon his professional minstrel skilled in singing and in playing upon divers instruments who interpreted and disseminated his master's verses. In this respect the troubadour differed from his German contemporary the Minnesinger, who frequently sang himself. The professional musicians were included under the general term of jongleurs or jugleors, gleemen or minstrels, whose function was to entertain and amuse, but there were among them many subtle distinctions and ranks, such as chanteors and estrumanteors. Love was the prevailing theme in the south, while in the north war and heroic deeds inspired the bards. To the former was due the rapid development of bowed instruments, which by reason of their singing quality were more suitable for accompanying passionate love songs, while instruments of which the strings were plucked accorded better with the declamatory and dramatic style of the north.

The first assertive move towards independence was made by the wandering musicians in the 13th century, when some of these, tired of a roving life, settled down in cities, forming gilds or brotherhoods for the protection of their mutual interests and privileges. In time they came to be recognized by the burgomasters and municipalities, by whom they were engaged to provide music at all civic and private festivities, wandering musicians being prohibited from playing within the precincts of the cities. The oldest of these gilds was the Brotherhood of Nicolai founded in Vienna in 1288. In the next century these pioneers chose as patron of their brotherhood Peter von Eberstorff, from 1354 to 1376 known as Vogt der Musikanten, who obtained for the members an imperial charter. This example was gradually followed in other parts of Germany and elsewhere in Europe. In England, John of Gaunt was in 1381 chosen King of the Minstrels. In France there was the Confrérie of St Julien des Menestriers, incorporated in 1321. Exalted patrons of instrumental music multiplied in the 15th century, to instance only the dukes of Burgundy, the emperors of the House of Austria, the dukes of Lorraine, of Este, Ferrara and Tuscany, the electors of Saxony and the kings of France with their renowned institutions La Chapelle-Musique du Roi (c. 1440), la Musique de la Chambre, la Musique de la Grande Ecurie du Roi.

At the time of the revival of the drama with music, afterwards modified and known as opera, at the end of the 16th century, there was as yet no orchestra in our sense of the word, but merely an abundance of instruments used in concert for special effects, without balance or grouping; small positive organs, regals, harpsichords, lutes, theorboes, archlutes and chittarone (bass and contrabass lutes), guitars, viols, lyras da braccio and da gamba, psalteries, citterns, harps, flutes, recorders, cornets, trumpets and trombones, drums and cymbals.

Monteverde was the first to see that a preponderance of strings is necessary to ensure a proper baTance of tone. With the perfected models of the Cremona violins at his disposal, a quartett of strings was established, and all other stringed instruments not played with the bow were ejected from the orchestra with the exception of the harp. Under the influence of Monteverde and his successors, Cavalli and Cesti, the orchestra won for itself a separate existence with music and laws of its own. As instruments were improved, new ones introduced, and old ones abandoned, instrumentation became a new and favourite study in Italy and in Germany. Musicians began to find out the capabilities of various families of instruments and their individual value.

The proper understanding of the compass and capabilities of wind instruments, and more especially of the brass wind, was of later date (18th century). At first the scores contained but few indications for instruments other than strings; the others played as much as they could according to the compass of their instruments at the direction of the leader. The possibility of using instruments for solos, by encouraging virtuosi to acquire great skill, raised the standard of excellence of the whole orchestra.

At first the orchestra was an aristocratic luxury, performing privately at the courts of the princes and nobles of Italy; but in the 17th century performances were given in theatres, and Germany eagerly followed. Dresden, Munich and Hamburg successively built opera houses, while in England opera flourished under Purcell, and in France under Lully, who with the collaboration of Molière also greatly raised the status of the entertainments known as ballets, interspersed with instrumental and vocal music.

The revival of the drama seems to have exhausted the enthusiasm of Italy for instrumental music, and the field of action was shifted to Germany, where the perfecting of the orchestra was continued. Most German princes had at the beginning of the 18th century good private orchestras or Kapelle, and they always endeavoured to secure the services of the best available instrumentalists. Kaiser, Telemann, Graun, Mattheson and Handel contributed greatly to the development of German opera and of the orchestra in Hamburg during the first quarter of the century. Bach, Gluck and Mozart, the reformers of opera; Haydn, the father of the modern orchestra and the first to treat it independently as a power opposed to the solo and chorus, by scoring for the instruments in well-defined groups; Beethoven, who individualized the instruments, writing solo passages for them; Weber, who brought the horn and clarinet into prominence; Schubert, who inaugurated the conversations between members of the wood wind — all left their mark on the orchestra, leading the way up to Wagner and Strauss.

A sketch of the rise of the modern orchestra would not be complete without reference to the invention of the piston or valve by Stölzel and Blümel, both Silesians, in 1815. A satisfactory bass for the wind, and more especially for the brass, had long been a desideratum. The effect of this invention was felt at once: instrument-makers in all countries vied with each other in making use of the contrivance and in bringing it to perfection; and the orchestra was before long enriched by a new family of valved instruments, variously known as tubas, or euphoniums and bombardons, having a chromatic scale and a full sonorous tone of great beauty and immense volume, forming a magnificent bass. (K. S.)