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Thread: Orchestral Colour

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    Question Orchestral Colour

    Could someone please tell me what the term "orchestral colour" means? Specifically, I would like to know its meaning in the following context.

    She greatly admired his latest piano sonata, K309 (248b), observing astutely, 'One can see from its style that you composed it in Mannheim' (by which she presumably meant its sudden changes of mood and dynamic, and its sense throughout of orchestral colour and texture.)
    How does a sonata have orchestral colour?

    Please be gentle, I'm just a layman with absolutely no training in music theory.

    Thanks.
    Regards,
    Navneeth

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    It doesn't really, but various compositional techniques and playing techniques give the idea of an orchestral colour.

    For example, certain thirds in a high register could sound like flute, horn call-like melodies can sound like horns and octave tremolos (forgotten correct terminology) represent string tremolos.

    In terms of performance, various amounts of articulations, tempo changes, and methods of playing ornaments (Arpeggios etc.) can be played in a way not too dissimilar to an orchestral instrument.

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    Thanks for the reply. I must say that it was still technical, but I still have a couple of questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Yagan Kiely View Post
    For example, certain thirds in a high register could sound like flute, horn call-like melodies can sound like horns and octave tremolos (forgotten correct terminology) represent string tremolos.
    Sound like? (I think sound clips/examples from popular works will aid me in understanding. )

    In terms of performance, various amounts of articulations, tempo changes, and methods of playing ornaments (Arpeggios etc.) can be played in a way not too dissimilar to an orchestral instrument.
    What is an orchestral instrument? (Does this have something to do with the "temper" of the instrument?)
    Regards,
    Navneeth

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    A modern composer named Michael Torke has composed several orchestral works named after various colors. I hear some of them from time to time on the radio.

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    Senior Member Frasier's Avatar
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    It's just an analogous term for timbre. Changes of instrumentation or density (of instrumentation) give differing timbres and critics tend to borrow terms from fine arts and elsewhere to give their reports some kind of life.

    It can also relate to the harmonic structure. The word "chromatic" comes from chroma (colour).

    Artists and photographers also borrow from music when they speak of tone, high key etc.

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    Senior Member BuddhaBandit's Avatar
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    Opus, give a listen to Debussy's La Mer and "Reflets dans l'Eau", from Images. You can see in both how Debussy uses the higher registers of the piano in "Reflets" as he uses the flutes in La Mer. The same goes for other instruments: low piano arpeggios can be heard as strings, etc.
    Take a look at the Bandit's blog, Americana Avenue.

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    What is an orchestral instrument?
    Clarinet, Violin, Cello, French Horn etc.

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    Senior Member Kurkikohtaus's Avatar
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    Just to elaborate on the question of what is an orchestral instrument:

    The standard set of orchestral in a classical symphony are:

    2 flutes
    2 oboes
    2 clarinets
    2 bassoons

    2 horns
    2 trumpets
    Tympani

    1st Violins
    2nd Violins
    Violas
    Cellos
    Basses

    This is also the order that they are written in the score, top to bottom.

    A Romantic orchesta is expanded as follows:

    2 flutes (sometimes + piccolo)
    2 oboes (sometimes + english horn)
    2 clarinets (sometimes + Eb clarinet or bass clarinet)
    2 bassoons (sometimes + Contrabassoon)

    4 horns
    2 trumpets (sometimes 3, sometimes 2 trumpets + 2 cornets)
    3 trombones
    1 Tuba (sometimes)

    Tympani
    Various percussion (sometimes) (bass drum, cymbals, triangle...)
    Harp (sometimes)

    1st Violins
    2nd Violins
    Violas
    Cellos
    Basses




    This is the standard orchestration that evolved over the course of the 19th century, but it is by no means a rule, there are many variations and exceptions. By the end of the 19th Century, the works of Mahler and Richard Strauss called for gigantic orchestras that cannot be described through any logical orstandard formula.

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    Senior Member Mark Harwood's Avatar
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    It can, as Frasier says, be just a figure of speech, an attempt to describe things; but some musicians, particularly, it seems, composers, actually perceive colours from sound. So do other people. See the thread on "Synaesthesia".
    "Music is a social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is."
    - Malcolm Arnold.

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    Thank you all for the replies. All this musical jargon only makes me want to learn more. Mark, I'm quite sure the author* wasn't referring to synaesthesia.


    *FYI, that quote is from the book Mozart's Women by Jane Glover.(Pan Books/Pan Macmillan) That astute observation was made by none other Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart.
    Regards,
    Navneeth

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    A little joke about musical colour;

    Wagner truly believed that brass sounded black, strings sounded red, and woodwind sounded blue. He had this little theory in mind when he composed his very first overture. The audience must have known that black, red and blue made brown because they gave it a name representable of this colour!
    When all the paint has been dried, when all the stone has been carved, music shall remain, and we shall work with what remains.

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