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Thread: Greatest Orchestrator of all time?

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    Senior Member Gaspard de la Nuit's Avatar
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    The early 20th century has lots of composers who are very creative and knowledgeable regarding orchestration....it would almost be easier to name composers who weren't great orchestrations. Ravel, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Prokofiev, William Walton, Respighi, the list would just go on and on with less household-y names........ compared to the romantic era, where you basically had only a handful of really interesting orchestrators (Wagner, Berlioz, Liszt....), composers in the 20th century had a much bigger palate (if you consider that valve technology had only been developed for horns in the mid-19th century and the only percussion during that time period was timpani and MAYBE triangle).....20th century composers more often write in a striking manner for orchestra.
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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gaspard de la Nuit View Post
    The early 20th century has lots of composers who are very creative and knowledgeable regarding orchestration....it would almost be easier to name composers who weren't great orchestrations. Ravel, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Prokofiev, William Walton, Respighi, the list would just go on and on with less household-y names........ compared to the romantic era, where you basically had only a handful of really interesting orchestrators (Wagner, Berlioz, Liszt....), composers in the 20th century had a much bigger palate (if you consider that valve technology had only been developed for horns in the mid-19th century and the only percussion during that time period was timpani and MAYBE triangle).....20th century composers more often write in a striking manner for orchestra.
    Although I agree that 20th-century composers focused more on orchestral color than most of their predecessors (from whom they learned), I think you're underestimating the number of superb and innovative Romantic orchestrators. My list would include Weber, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Wagner, Bruckner, Bizet, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Verdi in his last operas, and Mahler - to name only the more famous composers of the era.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Nov-12-2017 at 20:08.

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    I would have to say Ravel. Great orchestration=transparency. All the instruments heard perfectly. Also, Ravel was able to perfectly orchestrate his piano works, so that I cannot decide which version I like better. Others who come to mind are Mozart, Mendelssohn and Sibelius. NRK is always up there as well, and he may have understood orchestral instruments better than anyone. Older composers are at a disadvantage in this discussion, as the styles of the day favored a much simpler palette. But Mozart knew how to color this with the woodwinds. Mendelssohn followed in his tracks, and then it all exploded as Berlioz, Wagner, NRK and others hit the scene. At times, transparency suffered in the quest to push the orchestra to, and even beyond, its limits. But the way was shown once more by Ravel and Sibelius. I beleive Sibelius admired Mozart and Mendelssohn the most, and it shows in his music.

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    Senior Member arnerich's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Diemer View Post
    I would have to say Ravel. Great orchestration=transparency. All the instruments heard perfectly. Also, Ravel was able to perfectly orchestrate his piano works, so that I cannot decide which version I like better. Others who come to mind are Mozart, Mendelssohn and Sibelius. NRK is always up there as well, and he may have understood orchestral instruments better than anyone. Older composers are at a disadvantage in this discussion, as the styles of the day favored a much simpler palette. But Mozart knew how to color this with the woodwinds. Mendelssohn followed in his tracks, and then it all exploded as Berlioz, Wagner, NRK and others hit the scene. At times, transparency suffered in the quest to push the orchestra to, and even beyond, its limits. But the way was shown once more by Ravel and Sibelius. I beleive Sibelius admired Mozart and Mendelssohn the most, and it shows in his music.
    Won't lie, it took me a couple minutes to realize that NRK stood for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Diemer View Post
    I would have to say Ravel. Great orchestration=transparency. All the instruments heard perfectly. Also, Ravel was able to perfectly orchestrate his piano works.
    It's saying something that once Ravel orchestrated a piano piece, he never played it on piano again (at least that's what I heard).

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    for 20th century: Ravel, Shostakovich, Stravinsky were awesome orchestrators...tremendous imaginations... Prokofieff,Copland, Respighi were good also. Beethoven, Bach and Haydn also deserve mention - esp Beethoven, who pushed the limits of the instruments well beyond their contemporary limits.

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    Bartok hasn't been mentioned yet. He was an astounding orchestrator; like Ravel you could sense that each note was carefully selected for its corresponding instrument (and vice-versa...).

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    Senior Member T Son of Ander's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    I second T Son of Ander's endorsement of Ottorino Respighi as a superlative orchestrator. Respighi's tone poems are compositions that perhaps are not regarded with the full respect that I feel they deserve, but they represent a remarkable combination of wonderful melody perfectly realized through brilliant orchestral writing.
    Actually, that was Donna Elvira, but I wholeheartedly concur! I forgot to mention him. The Trittico Botteceliano immediately comes to mind, and one has to mention the Roman Trilogy, though I think many would say the latter is all effect and no substance. I also like Church Windows and Metamorphoseon for it's orchestration.

    I also agree with eugeneonagain who mentioned Holst.
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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    for 20th century: Ravel, Shostakovich, Stravinsky were awesome orchestrators...tremendous imaginations... Prokofieff,Copland, Respighi were good also. Beethoven, Bach and Haydn also deserve mention - esp Beethoven, who pushed the limits of the instruments well beyond their contemporary limits.
    If you're going back to the 18th century don't forget Rameau, Gluck and Mozart.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TwoPhotons View Post
    Bartok hasn't been mentioned yet. He was an astounding orchestrator; like Ravel you could sense that each note was carefully selected for its corresponding instrument (and vice-versa...).
    Yes, Bartok was an excellent orchestrator....all of his orchestral works are superbly orchestrated.

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    My first instinct was also Wagner, but is Mozart not getting enough credit here? Parts of his piano concertos sound almost impressionistic to me - beyond the linked example, just think of the soft, breeze-like effects he achieves with the strings during the piano portions of his concertos.

    https://youtu.be/YhfM7B1L6YI?t=7m10s

    He's more sparing with the floaty, fantastical effects than some of the other composers mentioned here, but when he does use them he sounds at least as rich to me as many of the them. And if it counts as orchestration to juggle the entrances and exits of each section so that nothing ever gets overexposed, as I feel like the strings often do when I'm listening to someone like Bruckner, or even Mahler, then I enjoy his orchestration more than just about anyone else's. I mean, he puts a sustained note a horn and a few seconds of trilly flutes in the right place and his music sounds like it's glittering.
    Last edited by Clairvoyance Enough; Nov-13-2017 at 03:27.

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    In a Mahler biography, someone wrote to him about some new music he had heard and mentioned how superb the orchestration was, then he added something like "of course, who doesn't orchestrate well these days?" Orchestration is a difficult, mysterious art that some didn't do so well - like Mussorgsky, Schumann, Rubinstein and the like. Then there are the super-orchestrators: like Puccini, Elgar, Mahler, Vladigerov, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy and so many others that's it's pointless to say who was the best. But there is one who is too often overlooked: Brahms. Just study the First Symphony - it's stunning how he gets so much power and depth of sound out of a fairly conservative orchestra. No percussion, standard brass...it's an amazing study in how to orchestrate well. Each voice is carefully calculated. Every instrument's weight given consideration. It's brilliant. Not flashy. The Second Symphony is just as amazing. Both Brahms and Tchaikovsky were able to make a standard orchestra have a huge sound - too many other composers resorted to adding more instruments rather than study their techniques. And don't forget Ketelby! What a brilliant use of the orchestra.

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    "who doesn't orchestrate well these days?"
    It's very telling that all the replies so far don't venture beyond mid-20th Century. There are plenty of terrific living and recently deceased composers that dazzle with their orchestrational skills.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by T Son of Ander View Post
    Actually, that was Donna Elvira, but I wholeheartedly concur! I forgot to mention him. The Trittico Botteceliano immediately comes to mind, and one has to mention the Roman Trilogy, though I think many would say the latter is all effect and no substance. I also like Church Windows and Metamorphoseon for it's orchestration.

    I also agree with eugeneonagain who mentioned Holst.
    I stand corrected: indeed it was Donna Elvira who suggested Respighi. With Respighi's tone poems, substance and effect are so skillfully intertwined as to defy disentanglement, but I find the Roman trilogy no less substantive than the others mentioned--the Fountains sparkle and dazzle in the sunlight, the Colosseum resounds with trumpets and the hymns of the martyrs, the legions advance along the Via Appia, and You (and I) Are There. Quite amazing.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasks View Post
    It's very telling that all the replies so far don't venture beyond mid-20th Century. There are plenty of terrific living and recently deceased composers that dazzle with their orchestrational skills.
    One of the names on my list does venture beyond mid 20th century - Takemitsu.

    Aside from that I agree there are plenty of outstanding orchestrators today but I think the reason they are less recognized for it generally is that the early part of the 20th century was the golden age of orchestration. I realize it was attained by building on the work of the past and also the improved instrumentation. The result is a certain clarity and transparency that was achieved in many works that at the time was unprecedented. Although there are many fine living orchestrators that maintain these high standards I can't think of any that have improved on what was achieved in the earlier part of the 20th century.
    Last edited by tdc; Nov-13-2017 at 04:41.

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