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History of Symphony Orchestra Essay


Introduction

For many years, people have been making music through various instruments for as long as musical instruments have existed. However, in the 17th century, orchestra was birthed and symphony orchestra has changed ever since. The evolution of symphony orchestra has been a combined effort of many musicians to form what we know as modern orchestra today.

Before we dig deep into the history of symphony orchestra, it is important to understand that in the early years of the evolution of orchestra music, there was a lot of accretion of orchestra music; especially in the 18th -20th century[1]. The 20th and 21st centuries have however not witnessed much change in the evolution of orchestra music, especially when analyzed in terms of music composition[2].

Conventionally, orchestra was played by a sizeable number of musicians but today, the number of musicians playing orchestra can be as much as 100[3]. Initially, the number of musicians was 50[4]. Groups of orchestra musicians are normally referred to as the symphony orchestra but there are smaller versions to it (even though they bear no difference with regards to how the music is composed or played).

From this understanding of orchestra music, this study seeks to dig deeper into the history of its current constitution; right from the 17th century when it started to the developments witnessed today. This will specifically encompass the major milestones covered in the development of the music. Lastly, this study will single out one orchestra musician so that we can best conceptualize the development of symphony orchestra through time (from the analysis of the musician’s works). This will be done in a systematic manner.

Roots

Various researchers have pointed out that the root of orchestra music can be traced back in ancient Egypt when small groups of musicians would congregate to entertain guests in various festivities such as weddings, holidays and the likes[5]. However, at this time, the musicians did not fully enjoy the benefits of their talents because of regime suppression which would not support their work[6].

Actually, a section of research studies point out that the Roman Empire was the major oppressive element to the growth of orchestra music but when it collapsed, many musicians came out to play their instruments with a wide variation in octaves and tones[7].

Conventional research studies point out that the root of modern orchestra can actually be traced back to the 16th century when a number of music composers started taking up the task of composing orchestra music seriously[8]. The trend later picked up in Italy where orchestra was played in social gatherings just like its roots in Egypt.

However, with the development of the theatre and opera houses, orchestra music took a different turn because it was now written by specific organized groups, leading to its rapid expansion in other European countries such as Germany, France, England and other states.

The major players at this time were the likes of Henry Purcell, Moliere and the likes. At this point, orchestra music was widely entertaining and it was not only made through the use of instruments but also through vocal support[9]. This development greatly elevated the status of orchestra music to new heights,

17th and Early 18th Century

During the 17th and early 18th century, orchestra music took a highly organized form where most talented musicians formed large instrumental groups to entertain enthusiasts. In fact, some researchers explain that great musicians at the time would have control over almost an entire town in terms of talent control[10]. Such musicians were the likes of Johann Sebastian and the previously mentioned Handel.

The best musicians were therefore hired by such pioneers to form large instrumental groups when the fan base for orchestra music increased. This development increased the premiums to be paid to musicians who could rewrite music for a given audience in a specific period of time[11].

Playing Orchestra music thereafter became a lucrative undertaking as many instrumental groups started being booked to play for specific audiences out of the conventional town setups. Pioneer artists were therefore surrounded by permanent groups of instrumentalists who acted as their symphony.

This created an ensemble of musicians who became a permanent fixture in most performances. Such ensembles lasted longer than was previously thought and were primarily composed of aristocratic orchestras[12]. This point marked the emergence of ensemble groups.

19th Century

In the 19th century, playing orchestra was a big thing. Most of the sizes we see in modern orchestra performances today were first seen at this time. At times, they surpassed such sizes. Musical instruments used then were also developed from previous versions because instruments such as the Piccolo and the Tuba were availed to instrumentalists at this point.

Such developments were pioneered by the likes of Wagner who made the Wagner Tube specifically to produce a given sound that most or all of existing instruments could not. The composers of most performances also took the role of conductors and this development led the way into how orchestra music was conducted in the 20th century.

20th Century

To many enthusiasts of orchestra music, the 20th century was characteristic of a lot of liberalism on the part of composers[13]. The 20th century also brought with it more responsibility and visibility to the conductors who were majorly overshadowed by instrumentalists in the past.

There was not much difference in the way orchestra music was played in the 20th century when compared to the 19th century, except for the fact that a few additional instruments were used; or in other cases, certain instruments were omitted. This means that the 20th century orchestra was still characterized by big strings and smaller brasses, even though the instruments used were still characterized by a hugely expanded percussion section.

The 21st century has not made significant strides in the development of orchestra music either. This means that most features of orchestra music evidenced in the 20th century still comply today. However, recent research studies point out a difference in the way orchestra audiences behave. Such studies point out that today, there is much more loyalty of audiences to a given maestro[14].

Explicitly, such researchers point out the fact that certain composers today can be paid as much as an entire orchestra, just to be heard[15]. This development has been viewed by some pessimists as the turning point for orchestral music in the 21st century because it inhibits room for creativity and entry of new composers. Nonetheless, with regards to instrumental development, not much has changed.

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio used to be a world renowned maestro whose works can be traced back to the 17th and 18th centuries[16]. Claudio lived through the years 1567–1643 hailing from an Italian family which practiced medicine at the time. A lot of Claudio’s works can be traced to his inspiration from the Church through Maestro De Capella[17].

Claudio started playing orchestra music at the age of 17 as a string player. This was back in the 16th century, representing how many orchestra players started. True to the history and roots of orchestra music, Claudio used to play in social gatherings organized by a powerful family called the Gonzales family which he used to work for[18].

Initially, Claudio’s works were guided by another musical composer by the name Giaches De Wert[19]. It is reported that Claudio grew under the guidance of Giaches De Wert until orchestra music began taking root in most European societies.

This prompted him to take the step of performing in most European states as part of the military expeditions he was taking at the time. This development is characteristic of the growth of orchestra music from Italy into other European states. His first performances were done in Flanders and Danube[20].

Claudio’s short stint as part of De Wert’s group is also representative of how many orchestra artists started and grew (since many started under the guidance of certain composers who later paved way for talented artists to shine). Claudio’s time working with De Wert is also representative of the talent mop which was characteristic of the 17th and 18th century when talented orchestra singers always played together in a group or symphony.

However, when De Wert died, Claudio got the opportunity to create his own opera called the La favola d’Orfeo. With the creation of his opera, Claudio took the first bold step of using a number of instruments as part of his musical production, instead of treating the instruments as part of mere decoration as was observed by most artists who came before him.

In later years, Claudio increased the use of instruments when producing orchestra music, in addition to combining polyphonic sounds with baroque techniques (which was a breakaway from the renaissance way for producing music). This development increased the melodic composition of his music, even though he coupled it a lot with bass instruments.

Claudio’s works later grew when he was commissioned to join a choir in Rome where he greatly improved the choir’s music[21]. However, Claudio’s dominance slowed down afterwards and was it not for the development of opera houses; he would have totally disappeared from the public eye.

The development of opera houses therefore greatly helped his star shine throughout most of the early years of the 17th century. This development manifests how the growth of opera houses complemented the development of orchestra music. At this time, Claudio developed a number of orchestral compositions such as Il ritomo d’Ulisse and L’iucoroiia~ioiie di Poppea. Claudio died soon afterwards.

Conclusion

Orchestra music has developed over the centuries to become one of the most celebrated types of music today. Its roots can be traced back in Egypt but the major milestones in its evolution can be attributed to its composition, the development of opera houses and experimentation with musical instruments. These factors have greatly increased the prominence of orchestra music over the years.

Reference List

Galkin, Elliott. A History of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory and Practice. New York: Pendragon Press, 1988.

Koscielniak, Bruce. The Story of the Incredible Orchestra: An Introduction to Musical Instruments and the Symphony Orchestra. London: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.

Spitzer, John. The Birth of the Orchestra: History of an Institution, 1650-1815. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Whenham, John. Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Footnotes

  1. John Spitzer, The Birth Of The Orchestra: History Of An Institution, 1650-1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 23.
  2. Bruce Koscielniak, The Story of the Incredible Orchestra: An Introduction to Musical Instruments and the Symphony Orchestra (London: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003), 3
  3. Bruce Koscielniak, The Story of the Incredible Orchestra: An Introduction to Musical Instruments and the Symphony Orchestra (London: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003), 1.
  4. Bruce Koscielniak, The Story of the Incredible Orchestra: An Introduction to Musical Instruments and the Symphony Orchestra (London: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003), 2.
  5. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 24.
  6. Bruce Koscielniak, The Story of the Incredible Orchestra: An Introduction to Musical Instruments and the Symphony Orchestra (London: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003), 1.
  7. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 23.
  8. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 24.
  9. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 23.
  10. John Spitzer, The Birth Of The Orchestra: History Of An Institution, 1650-1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 23.
  11. John Spitzer, The Birth Of The Orchestra: History Of An Institution, 1650-1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 22.
  12. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 24.
  13. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 24.
  14. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 23.
  15. Elliott Galkin, A History Of Orchestral Conducting: In Theory And Practice (New York: Pendragon Press, 1988), 23.
  16. John Whenham, Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 2.
  17. John Whenham, Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 1.
  18. John Whenham, Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 6.
  19. John Whenham, Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 3.
  20. John Whenham, Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 5.
  21. John Whenham, Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 4.
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IvyPanda. 2020. "History of Symphony Orchestra." January 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/history-of-symphony-orchestra/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'History of Symphony Orchestra'. 20 January.

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