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Thread: Greatest Orchestrator of all time?

  1. #76
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Let me start with a few obvious ones:

    Maurice Ravel
    Gustav Mahler
    Ottorino Respighi
    Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov


    Perhaps less obvious:

    Pierre Boulez (Listen to Répons or Pli selon pli, or to what he does with just a handful of instruments in Le Marteau sans maître. It can't be denied.)
    Anton Webern (Seriously - listen to his Bach and Schubert orchestrations, then listen to his own Symphony. He was the first and most important composer to realize the power of what his teacher Schoenberg called Klangfarbenmelodie.)
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Orchestration may not be what he is most known for, but I think Mozart is one of few composers who truly understood the unique voice and potential of every instrument at every dynamic in every register, and he employed this knowledge beautifully)

    I have a feeling Johannes Brahms belongs on the list somewhere, but I can't figure out a good reason why...

    Edit: How could I forget Igor Stravinsky...
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Sep-09-2019 at 11:09.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    I scanned the thread and couldn't see a mention for Elgar. The appeal in his music belies a complexity in scoring that is often sophisticated yet crystal clear in performance - a true master.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    I think we confuse orchestrations sometimes with the massive effects later romantic composers had but when we look at people like Purcell who Got incredible effects with far less orchestration they are a thing of wonder

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  6. #79
    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    As for a "peak", Tchaikovsky had moments of truly perfect orchestration, more so than any other composer. Swan Lake Waltz / Swan Theme are as sublime as it gets. No-one of his contemporaries could rival him at his best.

    After Tchaikovsky, I would mention Ravel, Reger, Schoenberg and Korngold, who developed "the rules of the game" much further.

    And then there was certain Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), who wrote greatly orchestrated music for:
    - traditional orchestra
    - only string orchestra (Psycho)
    - only woodwinds, brass and percussion, including an octet(!) of church and electric organs (Journey to the Center of the Earth)
    - "ensembles" in the times of radio, from big to rudimentary. He could make instruments out of anything.
    - wildest possible instrument groups, for example 12 harps (Beneath the 12-Mile Reef), or woodwind and brass sections in most unusual configurations and filled with obscure instruments

    Herrmann composed in every idiom known in his times, from an updated 18th century (3 Worlds of Gulliver - check out Joel McNeely's re-recording, his reorchestration of Mozart's "Entführung aus dem Serail" in 7th Voyage of Sinbad) to mid-20th century modernism he promoted as a concert conductor.

    He was the only composer in Hollywood in his time who orchestrated everything himself. He considered it a personal stamp and didn't think highly of orchestrators, who in his view would be completely at loss with his sketches and dense harmonies he had in mind.
    Finally, he was also able to make the opening of every film score sound immediately identifiable with a right choice of instruments.

    However - just because Korngold used orchestrators, it doesn't mean that he couldn't do orchestration himself. His orchestral exubarance in Anthony Adverse, The Sea Hawk, Kings Row, etc. virtually tossed the bar up in Hollywood in terms of "big sound" Ditto Max Steiner, who worked as a professional orchestrator and adapter since he was a teenager(!).
    Check out Charles Gerhardt's re-recording of the latter's overture to The Big Sleep on Spotify to appreciate the composer's orchestrational mind.

    What people need to remember about Hollywood, is that one has anywhere from a week to dozen weeks to compose music that will be not only impressive on it's own, as the obvious musical integrity of the top composers demands, but also planned down to a second in harmony with events onscreen. Imagine Beethoven's or Wagner's anguish if someone tried to get one of them to compose over 2 hours of a perfectly timed The Empire Strikes Back in 10 weeks Even a titan like John Williams must have at least one or two knowledgeable associates, who will turn idiosyncratically written directions expressing what he has in mind into a score ready for copying and splitting into parts.

    And while we are at that, John Williams (b. 1932) . Whatever composers from the dawn of time to the age of Stravinsky, Holst, Hindemith, Shostakovich etc. have done in terms of instrument use, Williams can do as well. He recently implied in an interview that (at 87) he doesn't feel much improvement could have been done over what knowledge he had when he was 57 (which was in 1989). Of course most modern inventions could have escaped his attention, but he is basically Rimsky-Korsakov on steroids at this point.
    Last edited by Fabulin; Sep-09-2019 at 13:34.

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I have a feeling Johannes Brahms belongs on the list somewhere, but I can't figure out a good reason why...
    I can: just listen to the 1st symphony. It's utterly astonishing how much power he gets out of that standard orchestra. A lesser composer could use the same resources and deliver a weak, thin sound (think Rubinstein). How does he do it? He pays extremely close attention to voice spacing following the natural overtone series "rules". He avoided doublings which can muddy up a texture. He used instruments in their proper range, knowing where they made the best sounds. He was a master of knowing how to weight and balance. And that bass line - the foundation for the entire orchestra - is given great attention. That's why he used the contrabassoon so much - he wanted the volume at the lowest notes he could get. This is one reason why small, amateur orchestras can make Brahms sound bad - too few double basses and no contra. I've played every single orchestral work Brahms wrote, three of the four concertos, and all the choral music with orchestra. I'm always impressed with Brahms' orchestral wizardry - it's just "right" - and woe to the conductor who tries to rewrite it.

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  9. #81
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    I can: just listen to the 1st symphony. It's utterly astonishing how much power he gets out of that standard orchestra. A lesser composer could use the same resources and deliver a weak, thin sound (think Rubinstein). How does he do it? He pays extremely close attention to voice spacing following the natural overtone series "rules". He avoided doublings which can muddy up a texture. He used instruments in their proper range, knowing where they made the best sounds. He was a master of knowing how to weight and balance. And that bass line - the foundation for the entire orchestra - is given great attention. That's why he used the contrabassoon so much - he wanted the volume at the lowest notes he could get. This is one reason why small, amateur orchestras can make Brahms sound bad - too few double basses and no contra. I've played every single orchestral work Brahms wrote, three of the four concertos, and all the choral music with orchestra. I'm always impressed with Brahms' orchestral wizardry - it's just "right" - and woe to the conductor who tries to rewrite it.
    Excellent post! I am a new Brahms fan and still trying to understand just what it is that makes his music so great, but you put that aspect of it into words really well.

    Another great I forgot to mention: Paul Hindemith. He was a genius in terms of making unique ensembles and having them play off each other in fascinating ways. Just look at his Heckelphone trio for example. Surprisingly idiomatic writing for an instrument no one has heard of!
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Sep-09-2019 at 15:36.

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    Senior Member Machiavel's Avatar
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    Berlioz the master of color. Huge orchestra but refine details everywhere. HE was the first composer in my opinion to understand the concept of timbres
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    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    I'd say no one surpasses Brahms - orchestration was not icing on the cake, but baked into to his orchestral music. Magnificent orchestration that does not call attention to itself.

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  13. #84
    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machiavel View Post
    Berlioz the master of color. Huge orchestra but refine details everywhere. HE was the first composer in my opinion to understand the concept of timbres
    Plus, he wrote a still-useful book on orchestration. Sometimes his writing is incredibly hard to play, but he knew what he wanted and left it up to the musicians to figure how to get it done. That last movement of Symphony Fantastique is marvelously scored. And to his credit, as instruments improved technically, he edited this work to make use of new instruments that hopefully got closer to what he wanted. Gone was the ophicleide and he brought in the tuba. The Requiem is also an orchestral tour-de-force.

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    Glass .
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    Senior Member jdec's Avatar
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    My top 10 orchestrators:

    Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler, R. Strauss, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Respighi.
    Last edited by jdec; Sep-09-2019 at 23:12.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    ^I'm no huge fan of Respighi's (well, I'm new to his music) but his talent in orchestration is just undeniable. I think he may be worthy of his place on your list among such august company, despite his more limited body of work, just on account of pure skill alone. I'm sure Berlioz deserves his spot too, though I'm just not all that into his music at this stage in my life. I'll say this, though, he was way ahead of his time, and his music looked forward to the late, post-Wagnerian Romantic a lot more than it ever looked back to Beethoven or Mozart before him.

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    Senior Member BachIsBest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    Plus, he wrote a still-useful book on orchestration. Sometimes his writing is incredibly hard to play, but he knew what he wanted and left it up to the musicians to figure how to get it done. That last movement of Symphony Fantastique is marvelously scored. And to his credit, as instruments improved technically, he edited this work to make use of new instruments that hopefully got closer to what he wanted. Gone was the ophicleide and he brought in the tuba. The Requiem is also an orchestral tour-de-force.
    If someone was to ask me the most brilliantly orchestrated movement in music I would reply, without hesitation, the finale to the Symphonie Fantastique. It's simply unbelievable how many things he has going on and how they all contribute the overall whole.

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    Senior Member Dimace's Avatar
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    Bruckner (7th, 8th, 9th)R.Strauss (almost everything), Liszt in One Faust Symphony, followed by Wagner and Berlioz. Many English composers are also great orchestrators. From the Russians I vote for Maximilian Steinberg.
    „Es gibt drei Arten von Pianisten: jüdische Pianisten, homosexuelle Pianisten -- und schlechte Pianisten.“ V. Horowitz

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Britten is acknowledged as an exceptional orchestrator and quite rightly - often it's the bare minimum creating maximal effect. His ballet The Prince of the Pagodas has some astonishing invention in it and is one of his great masterpieces. The War Requiem too, written with incredible technical prowess in its orchestration is a masterclass in timbral combinations and precision scoring. Economy of means is on every page in his work, the sign of a true master. No wonder he wrote the famous Guide to the orchestra.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Sep-11-2019 at 14:00.

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