Music Appreciation 101, Part I

This article will take a peek into the world of Classical Orchestra Music from an insiders perspective and conclude with audience participation. It should be noted up front, that attendance at Southern Arizona Symphony concerts has increased, indicating a growing interest, enjoyment of programs, and a belief that SASO is SaddleBrooke’s Orchestra.

Part 1 of this 3 part monograph will look at an orchestra’s woodwind section. Today’s symphony orchestras incorporate 3 sections: strings, winds, and percussion and each of these can also be further dissected. Strings consist of violins, violas, celli, basses, and harp: winds are divided into woodwinds and brasses where the later include horns, trumpets, trombones, and tuba: percussion gets divided into 2 groups listed as to frequency of use. First are those who play melody or pitch: timpani, bells, xylophone, chimes, and piano, secondly are those that produce rhythm or effects: bass drum, cymbals, triangle, snare drums, woodblock and many others.

Focusing on the Woodwinds we see that there are 4 groups of instruments: flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons going from highest to lowest in pitch. Flutes include piccolos, oboes include english horns, there are 4 types of clarinets and 2 of bassoons. Collectively these instruments can produce warm, exotic, humorous, mellow, but yet very unique quality sounds. One of the distinctive attributes of this group is ensembling, which is as they perform together, they listen to each other which allows them to blend for accurate intonation and for phrasing. Other sections do this also but not to the extent the woodwinds do.

This writer was fortunate back in the 1950’s to hear numerous times the woodwind choir to be the finest in the world. As members of Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra, they were William Kincade flute,Marcel Tabuteau oboe, Anthony Gigliotti clarinet, and Sol Schoenbach bassoon. They had extraordinary individual and ensemble ability.

Another area of orchestra concerts to look at are the forms of music performed. Most commonly performed are symphonies and concertos. Both of these forms were products of the classical period: Haydn and the 4 movement symphony and Mozart and the 3 movement concerto. Both build upon Haydn’s sonata form. Beethoven exploded these 2 forms into structures followed to this day. Some additional forms are overtures, suites and tone poems.

A practice that listeners should follow whether at a concert or listening to a recording, is to read the notes outlining the work. A symphony has 4 movements usually fast-slow-fast but light-fast finale and a concerto has 3 movements usually fast-slow-fast finale and has solos(cadenzas). This way audiences know what to expect and applause should not occur until the entire work is completed. Following an individual selection 3-5 curtain calls are normal for a concerto soloist and 2-4 for a conductor following a symphony.

In conclusion, note that some concertos pit the soloist against the orchestra but the goal of symphonies and concertos is to unite the performers and the audience as one. It is great to have both audience and musicians feel fulfilled following a concert.

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