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Thread: The role of wind instruments in the orchestra

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    Default The role of wind instruments in the orchestra

    If you were to ask a person passing by in New York City to name an orchestral instrument, most would name a violin. A few would name the cello, and fewer still would name the viola and the double bass. However, I would garuntee that virtually no one would say tuba, or trumpet, or oboe, or indeed, any non-string instrument. And though they play an important role, I'm sure that you will agree that the primary instruments of the orchestra (at least to the public eye), are the four stringed instruments.

    My question is: What is role of wind instruments in the orchestra?

    Should they be an equal section to the strings? Should the trumpets have the melody as often as the violins, should the trombones equal the cellos, and the tuba match the double bass?

    Are they more for effects, like the percussion? Do they exist to flavor the melody, to increase the decibal level of ff, to imitate horn calls and battle?

    Or are they mainly for various misc. purposes, such as chord padding and small counter-melodies?

    Or, should the orchestra have stayed with the strings and percussion, instead of trying to deal with the limitations of the wind instruments?

    Just curious.

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    My question is: What is role of wind instruments in the orchestra?
    To imitate wind in romantic program music and to annoy people with silly tunes in classical scherzos.

    Or, should the orchestra have stayed with the strings and percussion, instead of trying to deal with the limitations of the wind instruments?
    What limitations? They have no limitations. They have broad range (from clarinet to counterbasson, is it not much?), a lot of specific playing techniques etc, wide pallet of colours - everything. If composer is developing all key themes and stuff with strings and brass then he is limited. There is nothing you couldn't do with wind section and works written for wind orchestra are best proof.

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    Senior Member Earthling's Avatar
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    HERE is your answer.

    Should a painter limit himself only to certain colours?

    I couldn't imagine a Beethoven symphony without winds. The opening overtures of Bach's Orchestral Suites would sound flimsy without brass (and the second suite would have to be scrapped entirely).
    At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say “ah” and “oh” and “hey” instead of “yea” and “amen. ” ~ Wings of Desire

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    Quote Originally Posted by PWCom View Post
    My question is: What is role of wind instruments in the orchestra?
    Whatever the composer wants their role to be.

    Should they be an equal section to the strings? Should the trumpets have the melody as often as the violins, should the trombones equal the cellos, and the tuba match the double bass?
    These are pointless questions IMO. They should be whatever the composer wants them to be. If he wants them to be equal to the strings, then they should be. If not, then no.

    Are they more for effects, like the percussion? Do they exist to flavor the melody, to increase the decibal level of ff, to imitate horn calls and battle?

    Or are they mainly for various misc. purposes, such as chord padding and small counter-melodies?
    These are common uses for woodwinds in an orchestra. They are also frequently called on to play solos as well. Their potential use is limited only by the imagination of the composer.

    Or, should the orchestra have stayed with the strings and percussion, instead of trying to deal with the limitations of the wind instruments?
    How are woodwinds any more limited than any other instrument of the orchestra?

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    Well, I think you should try your experiment in New York with New Yorkers. I think you might find you get funny looks rather than the answer "violins." And what's more, I think you should try the same experiment in Detroit and Philadelphia and San Francisco and Vienna and Munich, why not? I'll bet you'll get the same funny looks in each place. Maybe one person in ten will add an answer to the funny look. And perhaps most of those answers will be "violins." Perhaps not.

    Still, worth a try, eh? (I'll be in Dublin in a couple of weeks, then Sheffield, Canterbury, Bruges, Amsterdam, Berlin, Gdansk, Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, Falkenberg, Copenhagen and so forth. I could ask around and report back.)

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    In general, brass instrument play quite many scores as the strings do. However I think the woodwind usually play the 'accent' rules only.

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    I just wish to state that by wind instruments I meant both woodwind and brasswind instruments. Try to consider this from the perspective of a composer about to create a symphony or some other work. If you were creating a piece for orchestra, how would you use these instruments?

    Also, by limitations I primarily meant the inability to play indefinitately, the difficulty in the extreme registers for brass, and the limits of the tessitura of brass and woodwind in comparasion to the strings.

    For context, I do play a large variety of instruments (trombone, french horn, trumpet, guitar, piano, and I'm learning the strings and the clarinet/flute)

    Also, I'm sure that 9 out 10 people wouldn't have an answer at all. However, I do think it would be a fun experiment to try.

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    If you were creating a piece for orchestra, how would you use these instruments?
    Can't you see how absurd this question is? We don't live in era in which every has it's "right" place anymore. You can write symphony with string quintet replaced by first french horn, second french horns, trombones and tubas and use strings only in couple of bars. And it will be fine if it will serve your vision.

    Also, by limitations I primarily meant the inability to play indefinitately, the difficulty in the extreme registers for brass, and the limits of the tessitura of brass and woodwind in comparasion to the strings.
    I can't see how they can't play indefinitately. If they wouldn't be capable of doing so, would they be so often used to harminize while other instruments are put forth into the foreground? As for the limit of pitches, if you combine brass and woodwinds together, there is no serious limitation. Isn't range of piccolo extreme?

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    Of course I know that the question is fairly absurd. But like a child, I'm simply asking a simple question that cannot easily be answered. The real goal was in a lot of ways to see how people would answer. For you, you answered by saying that they can be used however the composer wants. I'm still interested to see how others will respond.

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    The only disadvantage the wind/brass have is that they can't hold a note indefinitely (ie. the player has to breathe), and it's tricky to play softly at the very top of the register. These are fairly small prices to pay for the contributions these sections make to the orchestra.
    G

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    I've noticed that in opera - particulary baroque - that they often duet with the singer - probably because some wind instruments (eg oboe) are closer in tone to the voice.
    Natalie

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    Almost all instruments have limits on how long they can sustain a single note. String players are limited by the length of their bows. The only instrument that I can think of that doesn't have such a limit would be the organ.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SuperTonic View Post
    The only instrument that I can think of that doesn't have such a limit would be the organ.
    As Stravinsky once said: "The monster never breathes!"
    At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say “ah” and “oh” and “hey” instead of “yea” and “amen. ” ~ Wings of Desire

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    Quote Originally Posted by SuperTonic View Post
    Almost all instruments have limits on how long they can sustain a single note. String players are limited by the length of their bows. The only instrument that I can think of that doesn't have such a limit would be the organ.
    You could still sustain the note on the opposite bow stroke - if you are skilful enough, listeners don't notice.
    Natalie

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    Wind Instruments are a vital part to the symphony orchestra! Same with Percussion. They all work together with the strings, not against each other, to make awesome pieces.

    Often woodwinds are used as soloists, namely flute, clarinet, oboe, and brass instruments are used for harmony or bass, and solos occasionally. This is mostly because higher pitched instruments are heard above the orchestra better.
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