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Thread: Greatest Orchestrator of all time?

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    Default Greatest Orchestrator of all time?

    Give a who and why.

    Definition: Orchestration is the study or practice of writing music for an orchestra.

    I will start first by stealing the obvious answer: Richard Wagner - from the absolute pinnacle of the Romantic era and arguably music in general, creating Operas of immense length with immense harmony, and of course orchestral color... it's hard to describe but Wagner seems to utilise the Orchestra with a almost perfection to the amount of repitition that is needed to give enough tension but not enough to make music feel too dull or lose energy, as well as his ability to fill in the gaps that is harmony... creating some of the most beautiful sounds and music ever composed, which is what gives Wagner's music feelings you didn't know existed until you listened to some of the Vorspiel's to his Operas, which I will give a single video example to solidify my reasoning for Wagner being the greatest Orchestrator and argubaly composer to ever live...

    Parsifal - the most heavenly and divinely inspired harmonys of Herr Richard Wagner... with first page of the original Manuscript:

    Part 1:


    part 2:

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    I was going to stay out of this until I realized that we actually had an A/B example: Listen to any of the "performing version" pages of the Mahler Tenth, and then try to imagine how much different (and better) they would sound if Mahler himself had orchestrated them.
    Last edited by MarkW; Nov-12-2017 at 08:04.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkW View Post
    I was going to stay out of this until I realized that we actually had an A/B example: Listen to any of the "performing version" pages of the Mahler Tenth, and then try to imagine how much different (and better) they would sound if Mahler himself had orchestrated them.
    Of course Mahler would outdue anyone else trying to orchestrate any of his own works, just for the sake of only the composer himself knowing what notes are truly needed.

    It's like if anyone tried to revise Wagner's Tannhasuer Opera, which Wagner was dissatisfied with even at the end of his life, according to a record in his wife's diary - "He says he still owes the world Tannhäuser."

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    There is no such thing as "the greatest orchestrator".

    You can write in idiomatic way for the instruments and use them efficiently to suggest some kind of musical effect. This is called good orchestration.

    How can you say that composer "X" is a better orchestrator than "Y" when they wrote different music?

    There is a school of coloristic orchestration (Korsakov, Ravel, Stravinsky, modern aleatoric composers etc), but does flashy and virtuoso orchestration equal better orchestration?

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    Quote Originally Posted by BabyGiraffe View Post
    There is no such thing as "the greatest orchestrator".

    You can write in idiomatic way for the instruments and use them efficiently to suggest some kind of musical effect. This is called good orchestration.

    How can you say that composer "X" is a better orchestrator than "Y" when they wrote different music?

    There is a school of coloristic orchestration (Korsakov, Ravel, Stravinsky, modern aleatoric composers etc), but does flashy and virtuoso orchestration equal better orchestration?
    There is many great orchestrators, and of course its as silly as the age old question of who is the best composer.

    This thread and question was more a curiosity on my part to see other's answers and explainations of other composers ability to orchestrate effectively, partly for personal study and observational purposes.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Well, if we are talking about excellent and coloristic orchestration I think the obvious answer is Ravel whom Stravinsky referred to as "the most perfect of Swiss watchmakers".

    Some other examples off the top of my head of fine orchestrators - Wagner, Mahler, Stravinsky, Takemitsu and Sibelius.
    Last edited by tdc; Nov-12-2017 at 12:12. Reason: re-worded more accurately

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    Interesting that Richard Strauss said if you want to find out about orchestration study Carmen not Wagner!

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    For me Shostakovich belongs in this summoning...

    ' In October 1927, the conductor Nikolai Malko challenged Dmitri Shostakovich to do an arrangement of the song after the two listened to it on record at Malko's house. Malko bet 100 roubles that Shostakovich could not completely re-orchestrate it from memory in under an hour. Shostakovich took him up and won, completing it in around 45 minutes. His "Tea for Two" arrangement, Opus 16, was first performed on 25 November 1928. It was incorporated into Tahiti Trot from his ballet The Golden Age first performed in 1929. '

    https://youtu.be/bfyyY2DKYts

    Conducted here by Rozhdestvensky
    Last edited by gustavdimitri; Nov-12-2017 at 10:24.
    'A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.'
    Gustav Mahler


    Friendly greetings
    gustavdimitri


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    I've always admired Stravinsky's orchestration.
    Find all my latest compositions here!

    Listen to my Sonata for Violin, Cello and Piano

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    When I think of good orchestrators, Prokofiev always comes to mind. Not to say he's (or anyone's) the best, but I think he often gets left out of the discussion. People often mention Berlioz, Stravinsky, Mahler, Wagner... all excellent, especially (IMO) Wagner. But Prokofiev - I think his symphonies say it all. I would also mention Tchaikovsky, and I don't think he falls into the flashy category, though I suspect some would say so.
    Tom

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    It seems to me that Baby Giraffe's point is certainly true.
    Good orchestration is what most effectively and movingly describes the particular musical piece.
    Nevertheless, later composers had a wide variety of instruments to bring out in a more complex way their musical ideas.
    I would not necessarily call some of it "flashy" because the restraint that characterized certain musical periods would not be so adhered to by later composers.
    Other posters mentioned very effective orchestrators.
    I'd add also Resphigi

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    There are simply too many good orchestral writers and too many styles of great orchestration to choose from. I also wouldn't limit it to writing directly for orchestra, but the skill of orchestrating from limited material, like two-hand piano works.

    Berlioz has to rank high on any such list. As must Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, Stravinsky, Ravel and of course Richard Strauss. I'd also put Tchaikovsky up there and Dvorak.

    Earlier periods are tricky because the orchestras were different and sometimes full parts weren't written out. However Mozart's sense of orchestral colour comes through in his string writing and his use of woodwinds, particularly clarinets. Bach as orchestrator is something I don't think I can properly assess, so perhaps someone else can talk about it?

    Among other composers Arnold Bax, Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst were all superb orchestral writers. Debussy was also a fine orchestrator, as was Jean-Francaix.

    It's a pretty long list really.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    Well, if we are talking about excellent and coloristic orchestration I think the obvious answer is Ravel whom Stravinsky referred to as "the most perfect of Swiss watchmakers".
    Given Stravinsky's tendencies, that could have been an insult!

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    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Interesting that Richard Strauss said if you want to find out about orchestration study Carmen not Wagner!
    Strauss's comment might appear to be a value judgment, but I think it speaks more to his awareness of the problems inherent in learning to understand the basic qualities of instruments and what they can do.

    Wagner's orchestration is hugely diverse and hard to generalize about. With each opera he made new discoveries in sound in response to new dramatic requirements. One could learn an immense amount by studying Wagner's scores, but they don't present the sort of clear picture that the works of some other composers do. Bizet's orchestration is very transparent, in the French tradition represented splendidly by Berlioz and Ravel. Wagner's scoring is notable for its rich and subtle blends; there are passages in Tristan that sound like a gigantic Romantic organ, and Parsifal is an advanced lesson in making individual instruments disappear into a magical cloud of soft sonorities (an effect much appreciated by Debussy). I would second Strauss's remark as sound advice for the student of orchestration, for whom Wagner's impressive but ineffable effects would be a dangerous temptation toward vagueness and murkiness.

    That Strauss appreciated the genius of Wagner's orchestration is clear from two other remarks: he noted, with a touch of envy, that Wagner could make every instrument's contribution tell, which he himself found difficult to achieve, and he called the final chord of Tristan und Isolde the most beautifully orchestrated B-major chord in all music (I wonder if he was hoping to reserve for himself the possibility of surpassing it in another key!).

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