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Thread: Orchestration dilemma

  1. #1
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    Exclamation Orchestration dilemma

    There are several places where I reach an orchestration dilemma when orchestrating a piece such as the Pathetique sonata. But the most common one I reach has to do with extremes of range.

    Here are the 4 options I usually resort to and their cons:

    Option Con
    8vb If I go an octave lower, it will be out of range and I will need a deeper bass instrument that what I have in the score. I can only have up to 21 staves to have the conductor's score still readable. And even then, sometimes the spaces between staves needs expanded a little.
    8va If I keep the octave relationship but go higher, it will be in professional only range
    Unison If I have 2 instruments playing the exact same pitch, it won't be as rich as it would be if it were in octaves
    Instrument switch If I switch to a different instrument(like for example, switching from piccolo to flute), I might disrupt the balance of the orchestra.

    I have noticed a special case of balance disruption in musescore having to do with the high registers. If I have a flute in its highest register doubled by a piccolo in its highest register, I get a pipe organ effect. Instead of sounding like 2 flutes an octave apart(which is the usual sound when flute and piccolo double), it sounds like an organ.

    My mom also said to be careful about the extremes of range, that I should keep everything within amateur range so that even a high school orchestra could play it.

    But this orchestration dilemma leads me to 2 questions:

    1) Should I sacrifice the octave relationship to keep everything in amateur range? Or should I keep the octave relationship and find some talented musicians?

    and

    2) Should I have a generally melodic instrument take a few measures of bass line if it gets high? Should I have a generally bass instrument take the melody if it gets low? If so, what will the other instrument do? Tacet? Simple line in harmony with the rest of the piece?

    How should I solve this orchestration dilemma?

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Three points:

    1) When you orchestrate a piano piece, you are creating a work for orchestra. You must re-write portions that are purely pianistic to make it more orchestral. Which is another way of saying: worry less about all those 8va things.

    2) You must decide whether your orchestration is just an exercise for you or whether it's for a real orchestra to consider playing it. If it's an experiment, then try things out and stop fussing over so many decisions. If it's not, then you decide what kind of orchestra you're writing for: amateur or professional.

    3) The playback of all notation programs are not realistic and some are worse then others. I assume that a free software program like Musescore is less good than the more sophisticated ones. Stop relying on what sound it produces. A high flute with piccolo doubling will not sound "pipe organ" like. That's Musescore's problem, not your orchestration choice.
    "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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    Yeah but the Pathetique sonata just happens to have 2-3 melody lines and 2-3 bass lines almost throughout the first movement so it almost completely maps to every staff. And where it doesn't, I usually end up copying the highest bass line or the highest melody line and raising it up an octave. But that also means that I often end up with notes out of range entirely and tht have to switched to a different instrument or notes in professional only range. Sure, it is a minority of notes but still, that is a lot of notes in the sonata's entirety.

    Also, I know Musescore is less good than Sibelius for multiple reasons(no col legno, can't simply type an articulation name to have it play that articulation(in Sibelius, I could type Stacc. and it would play staccato. In musescore, I have to either drag and drop every staccato dot or highlight the range and use a keyboard shortcut to put in the staccato dots. And even then, I can't select just the articulation without zooming in a lot so making the articulations invisible in all except 1 measure and the sempre stacc. text is a lot of work), can't easily mute staves and can't mute voices within staves at all, and I could keep going but you get the point).

    But $100 a year just to use the software with an individual level plan, no thanks. I would rather pay $5 a month for musescore.com or however much it is(really cheap is all I know since I can't easily find the price on the musescore site). And Musescore is about as good as it gets with free music notation software both in realism of sound and all the things you can do with musescore.

    I remember when there was a dramatic change in the keyboard shortcut for putting in a rest. It used to be the space bar and now it is the 0 key. I was there when Musescore was version 1.2 and have seen the improvements for every version. I only update it when it is major(so like going from 2.1 to 2.2 but not from 2.1.1 to 2.1.2).

    And I'm sure that a few decades later it will be just as good as Sibelius is now and will still be free.

    And the Pathetique sonata to me sounds orchestral, even as a piano solo. It is almost like the ideal piano score to orchestrate. And I'm not the only person who has orchestrated Beethoven's piano sonatas. His op. 14 piano sonatas, Beethoven himself orchestrated for string quartet. So if I have all of that in my favor, I can pretty much just read the individual lines and copy them note for note into my orchestration.
    Last edited by caters; Nov-22-2018 at 03:26.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by caters View Post
    And the Pathetique sonata to me sounds orchestral, even as a piano solo. It is almost like the ideal piano score to orchestrate. And I'm not the only person who has orchestrated Beethoven's piano sonatas. His op. 14 piano sonatas, Beethoven himself orchestrated for string quartet. So if I have all of that in my favor, I can pretty much just read the individual lines and copy them note for note into my orchestration.
    No, it is nothing like the ideal piano score to orchestrate. There is not the slightest chance that copying the Beethoven note for note in the original registers will work for orchestra. Piano tones have a completely different density than orchestral instruments. Low 3rds that sound rich and focused on the piano will be mud when orchestrated. Octave tremolo in the bass will sound ridiculous if transcribed as is.

    Before attempting a project like this you should study orchestrated versions of piano works to get some idea of how it is done. There are orchestration books that discuss orchestrating piano music.

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    take a look at some of the master's versions.

    For example Ravel orchestrated several Debussy pieces.

    Keep in mind also that you can dovetail sections together quite often. E.g. in some big ascending (in pitch) passage, you can pass from Bassi over to celli and so on.

    Also it's not true that having 2 instruments playing the same note at the same pitch is necessarily less rich than if they are an octave apart. for example it's common for bassoons to double bassi or celli in the same pitch to add colour.

    I'd echo the comments about musescore. Which orchestral sound font are you using? When I was using musescore, I didn't find any of the free ones to be particularly consistent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by adrien View Post
    take a look at some of the master's versions.

    For example Ravel orchestrated several Debussy pieces.

    Keep in mind also that you can dovetail sections together quite often. E.g. in some big ascending (in pitch) passage, you can pass from Bassi over to celli and so on.

    Also it's not true that having 2 instruments playing the same note at the same pitch is necessarily less rich than if they are an octave apart. for example it's common for bassoons to double bassi or celli in the same pitch to add colour.

    I'd echo the comments about musescore. Which orchestral sound font are you using? When I was using musescore, I didn't find any of the free ones to be particularly consistent.
    I'm not really using any individual orchestral soundfont but rather the soundfonts that come with the instruments and Musescore sums those soundfonts into an orchestral sound.

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    A soundfont is a file which contains samples for a heap of different instruments.

    The standard one that musescore uses by default is FluidR3 but there are others available which replace all the sounds.

    When I was using musescore I settled on Sonatina

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasks View Post
    Three points:

    1) When you orchestrate a piano piece, you are creating a work for orchestra. You must re-write portions that are purely pianistic to make it more orchestral. Which is another way of saying: worry less about all those 8va things.

    2) You must decide whether your orchestration is just an exercise for you or whether it's for a real orchestra to consider playing it. If it's an experiment, then try things out and stop fussing over so many decisions. If it's not, then you decide what kind of orchestra you're writing for: amateur or professional.

    3) The playback of all notation programs are not realistic and some are worse then others. I assume that a free software program like Musescore is less good than the more sophisticated ones. Stop relying on what sound it produces. A high flute with piccolo doubling will not sound "pipe organ" like. That's Musescore's problem, not your orchestration choice.
    Musescore is on a similar level to that of the more realistic programs available at the moment. It's fairly good at replicating even some of the more subtle aspects of instruments, although it struggles in brass.

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    Perhaps picking up a book on orchestration could offer some information you may find valuable.

    In regards to desiring an organesque sound, why not just add an organ to the score? Alternatively, a mixture of piccolo, oboe, clarinet, and bass clarinet *might* provide an effect you'd find desirable, but it depends on the passage being orchestrated.

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    I never did say that the pipe organ effect was desirable, just that it was there. I have heard some people say to add a piano to the score. But why would I add a piano or any other keyboard instrument when I am orchestrating a piano piece, especially to the degree that I am doing it?

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