Music Instrumentation and Orchestration
by
Paul Mathews
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0270

Introduction

Instrumentation and orchestration refer to the body of technical knowledge required to arrange musical content for instrumental forces as well as the creative act of applying that knowledge with compositional intent. The usage of the words instrumentation and orchestration has not been consistent over time or between the European languages. For the purposes of this article, instrumentation refers to the body of knowledge about instruments: the mechanics of sound production and the techniques of performers. Orchestration refers to the use of technical knowledge to assign musical content to instruments in an ensemble to achieve a sonorous effect. Early writing on instrumentation is commingled with the related topics of organology, composition, and the professional duties of a Kapellmeister. By the early 19th century, ensembles coalesced into the familiar combination of manufactured instruments. The contemporaneous proliferation of conservatories created a market for useful handbooks written by composer-practitioners for a musically literate readership. As the title suggests, Hector Berlioz’s Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes combined both instrumentation and orchestration in a single publication that has remained arguably the most influential text of its kind, especially following the later revision by Richard Strauss. Conversely, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration with Musical Examples Drawn from his Own Works presumes prior study in instrumentation to focus entirely on orchestration. In the 20th century, textbooks authored by specialists and educators with a firm grounding in pedagogical methods supplanted treatises by independent composers. More recent titles include style-based studies of repertoires broadened with techniques from historiography and research in music cognition.

General Overviews

Lavoix 1878 is the first published history of orchestration and essentially follows the plan of Berlioz’s Traité. Coerne 1908 follows Lavoix’s plan but dispenses with a section on instrumentation and treats only the full orchestra. While shorter, Carse 1964 remains the standard overview of the history of orchestration, especially in English. Both Becker 1964 and Jost 2004 are more recent surveys of the subject with a particular emphasis on the 20th century.

Reference Works

Both Oxford Music Online and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart contain thorough articles that have evolved through several editions. Moreover, Gieseler, et al. 2016 in MGG, and Kreitner, et al. 2001 in Oxford, prove a useful contrast in approaches to the organization of the information. Perone 1996 presents a comprehensive bibliography of sources and reviews of those sources. Read 1977 is a bibliography of specific examples in the literature with direct references to scores.

Instrumentation

Woodward 2003 presents a complete translation of Kastner’s 1837 Traité, one of the first books to treat the entire orchestra arranged in sections. This organization can be found in single-volume entries such as: Gevaert 1906, Widor 2005, and Forsyth 1982. Hofmann 1893 and Kunitz 1990–1998 are comprehensive, multivolume versions of this organization. Two competing formats are represented by Riemann 1890, a catechism format, and Schenker 1987, a tabular format.

Instrumentation with New Instruments and Innovative Techniques

Both Stiller 1985 and Casella and Mortari 2004 resemble 19th-century texts in that they strive for completeness and feature new instruments and techniques. Conversely, innovative techniques are central to Polansky 1986, Read 1993, and Brant 2009. Bartolozzi 1982 is included both for the far-reaching influence of the title itself but also as an early and significant entry of a subgenre focused on individual instruments or instrumental sections.

  • Bartolozzi, Bruno. New Sounds for Woodwind. 2d ed. Translated and edited by Reginald Smith Brindle. London: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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    Originally published in 1967, Bartolozzi provided the first systematic treatment of microtones and multiphonics as elements that could be used as compositional elements.

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  • Brant, Henry. Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook. New York: Carl Fischer, 2009.

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    Published posthumously after years of study and experimentation, Brant's book demonstrates a unique approach that groups instruments based on an idiomatic perception of timbre and tone quality. Brant provides templates for composers to achieve clarity of texture in variegated ensembles.

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  • Casella, Alfredo, and Virgilio Mortari. The Technique of Contemporary Orchestration. Edited and translated by Thomas V. Fraschillo. Milan: Ricordi, 2004.

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    First published in 1948 as La tecnica dell’orchestra contemporanea, this is a synopsis of instrumental praxis from the interwar period.

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  • Polansky, Larry. New Instrumentation and Orchestration: An Outline for Study. Oakland, CA: Frog Peak Music, 1986.

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    Polanksy's book is a typescript outline of modern instrumental effects derived from his teaching notes and includes references to scores and an annotated bibliography.

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  • Read, Gardner. Compendium of Modern Instrumental Techniques. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.

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    Originally published in 1976 as Contemporary Instrumental Techniques, the compendium presents special techniques in the context of smaller ensembles.

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  • Stiller, Andrew. Handbook of Instrumentation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

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    Launched as a major work by an academic press, this is a well-organized reference work encompassing the state of instruments and techniques at the end of the 20th century. Particularly notable are the large and attractive illustrations.

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Combined Instrumentation and Orchestration

In Berlioz 1844, the composer immediately addresses the delimiting element in the definition of orchestration by announcing his intention to contribute more than just an explication of instruments but rather to study the means of their combination. MacDonald 2002 notes that Berlioz was in part addressing his concerns about prior publications. Berlioz and Strauss 1991 proves an interesting commentary not only on the original but on the format: most of Strauss’s additions are in the instrumentation sections of the book. Guiraud 1933, Piston 1955, and Gieseler, et al. 1985 are later entries in the single-volume format, among many others, including most of the books under the Modern Textbooks heading below. The four volumes of Koechlin 2011 are unique in this cohort for wresting the balance of content decisively to orchestration: instrumentation occupies only two-thirds of the first book.

  • Berlioz, Hector. Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes. Paris: Schonenberger, 1844.

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    The 1855 edition is available online and Mary Cowden Clark’s 1856 translation is also available here.

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  • Berlioz, Hector, and Richard Strauss. Treatise on Instrumentation. Translated by Theodore Front. New York: Dover, 1991.

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    An important resource both for technique and for the history of 19th-century orchestration, the original 1905 publication in German is available online.

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  • Gieseler, Walter, Luca Lombardi, and Rolf-Dieter Weyer. Instrumentation in der Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts: Akustik, Instrumente, Zusammenwirken. Celle, Germany: Moeck Verlag, 1985.

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    This contains over a hundred examples from 20th-century music on folio pages with detailed reference materials.

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  • Guiraud, Ernest. Traité pratique d’instrumentation. Revised by Henri Busser. Paris: Durand, 1933.

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    First published in 1890, this was an influential textbook and purportedly the first French orchestration book to address the advances made by Richard Wagner. The first edition is available online.

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  • Koechlin, Charles. Traité de l’orchestration. 4 vols. Paris: M. Esching, 2011.

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    Published in sequential volumes from 1954 to 1959, this treatise is especially strong on the issues of blending and balance. The pace and conversational tone make for an interesting comparison to the contemporary works by Walter Piston and Alfredo Casella. Piston published a review of the first volume.

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  • MacDonald, Hugh, ed. Berlioz’s Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary. Translated by Hugh MacDonald. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    MacDonald provides a complete translation of Berlioz’s revised edition with copious annotations from Berlioz’s letters and articles.

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  • Piston, Walter. Orchestration. New York: Norton, 1955.

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    Piston begins with a lengthy review of instrumentation. In the second part of the book, he presents seven types of texture, each illustrated with passages from the literature. The third part of the book revisits some of the challenges of orchestration that are first raised by Rimsky-Korsakov. Thorough and factual, it has never been revised and remains in print.

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Orchestration

By the end of the 19th century, the increasing size of the orchestra frustrated attempts to publish a comprehensive instrumentation and orchestration text as a single volume. Gevaert 1890 and Jacob 1976 present one solution to this problem: subsequent publications that build on the work of a previous book. Wagner 1959 and Rogers 1970 assume the reader’s familiarity with instrumentation, as does Rimsky-Korsakov 1964, which was perhaps the first book to address orchestration as something other than the expanded praxis of instrumentation.

  • Gevaert, François Auguste. Cours méthodique d’orchestration. Henry Lemoine & Cie, 1890.

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    Gevaert’s orchestration book arrived five years after his revised Nouveau traité and has been a highly influential book. In a format adopted by many later authors, the first nine chapters progress from the string section to the full orchestra. Five additional chapters deal with special applications such as the orchestra as accompaniment to voice or a soloist.

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  • Jacob, Gordon. The Elements of Orchestration. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976.

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    Like Gevaert’s Cours méthodique, Gordon’s second book, originally published in 1962, is meant for a course of study that extends the coverage of his first book, Orchestral Technique.

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  • Read, Gardner. Orchestral Combinations: The Science and Art of Instrumental Tone-Color. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

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    This is a unique and exhaustive exploration of the likely sounding result of combining modern instruments in passages. Typical for Read, his approach is clinical and directed toward technique.

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  • Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay. Principles of Orchestration with Musical Examples Drawn from his Own Works. Edited by Maximilian Steinberg. Translated by Edward Agate. New York: Dover, 1964.

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    Unlike the earlier examples by Berlioz and Gevaert, which arrange chapters by the classification of instruments, Rimsky-Korsakov arranges chapters by the constituent elements of musical texture. The 1912 source of the Dover edition is available online.

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  • Rogers, Bernard. The Art of Orchestration; Principles of Tone Color in Modern Scoring. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1970.

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    Originally published in 1959, this is an idiomatic approach to the expressive connotations created by orchestral textures. For Rogers, timbre is the “paint” used by composers to add expressive shading to musical form.

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  • Wagner, Joseph. Orchestration: A Practical Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

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    Written in an era when other composers and textbooks warned of the limitations of working from keyboard models, Wagner promotes the acquisition of technique to be gained from orchestrating works composed for the piano. A workbook of examples was available separately. Long out of print, it has been greatly expanded to a multivolume edition called Professional Orchestration (Newbury Park, CA: Peter L. Alexander, 1989).

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Modern Textbooks

Instrumentation and orchestration treatises emerge with the founding of 19th-century conservatories and developed to keep pace with advances in compositional praxis. Conversely, 20th-century textbooks changed to keep pace with the increasing variety of students they served. A modern orchestration textbook includes a selection of exercises that both reflects and reinforces the institutionalization of curriculum and teaching modalities. Heacox 1978 is an early effort (1928) to provide a standard set of assignments to supplement classroom instruction and Jacob 1982 combines assignments with instruction in arguably the first modern orchestration textbook (1932). Just as Heacox and Jacob created textbooks for music schools in the interwar period, Kennan and Grantham 2014 (introduced by Kennan in 1952), met the needs of the postwar college music department. Leibowitz and Maguire 1960 and McKay 2004 are unique works that address more specialized students and generally discourage the common practice of arranging piano works for other forces. However, the trend in textbooks has been to serve many kinds of post-secondary programs from community colleges to conservatories as can be seen in the entries by Adler 2016 and Blatter 1997: both appeared in the early 1980s and are still frequently adopted for courses.

  • Adler, Samuel. The Study of Orchestration. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

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    Originally published in 1982, the orchestration chapters in Adler continue the texture-based approach of Rimsky-Korsakov and Piston. The fourth edition has been enlarged to over a thousand pages with associated audio and visual materials.

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  • Blatter, Alfred. Instrumentation and Orchestration. 2d ed. New York, NY: Schirmer Books, 1997.

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    First published in 1980, Blatter’s textbook was marketed to faculty who had been adopting the second edition of Kennan’s textbook (1970), and the book is similarly clinical in approach and scalable for a range of teaching environments. What distinguishes Blatter is wider coverage of less-traditional instruments and techniques as well as a variety of tables that render the book a convenient desk reference.

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  • Heacox, Arthur Edward. Project Lessons in Orchestration. New York: AMS Press, 1978.

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    Heacox’s slim volume, first published in 1928, is an ancillary text with lesson outlines, assignments, and a guide to other resources. Each chapter contains smaller assignments meant to be performed in a classroom setting followed by a more ambitious project for larger forces.

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  • Jacob, Gordon. Orchestral Technique. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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    First published in 1931, Gordon created a primary textbook to serve post-secondary schools in the interwar period—a learning environment from which he had just emerged and into which he immediately reentered as faculty. The book returned to print after an interval with this third edition and remains available.

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  • Kennan, Kent, and Donald Grantham. The Technique of Orchestration, Pearson New International Edition. Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2014.

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    When first published in 1952, Kennan’s textbook was ideally suited for the dramatic growth of American college music departments and music majors after the Second World War. Kennan avoided anecdotes and abstraction in attempt to make each task easier to teach and grade. Continuously in print, Kennan has remained a frequently adopted textbook in the United States and dominated a large market before the appearance of the textbooks by Adler and Blatter. The current edition is based on the 2002 print edition by Prentice Hall.

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  • Leibowitz, René, and Jan Maguire. Thinking for Orchestra: Practical Exercises in Orchestration. New York: G. Schirmer, 1960.

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    A systematic presentation of a pedagogical approach associated with the Schoenberg school, the book presents orchestral excerpts in short score for students to orchestrate. The fully orchestrated versions are also included for comparison.

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  • McKay, George Frederick. Creative Orchestration: A Project Method for Classes in Orchestration and Instrumentation. Bainbridge Island, WA: GFM, 2004.

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    First published in 1969, McKay’s book is uniquely concerned with the disposition of instruments to create texture. Unlike many other orchestration texts, the assignments do not ask the student to elaborate an excerpt presented for piano or arranged in short score but rather asks the student to compose directly for the instrumental forces.

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The Orchestra as Instrument

Some books that were not expressly written to address orchestration are frequently cited in the literature for their treatment of the orchestra as a gestalt whole. Spitzer and Zaslaw 2010 provides a comprehensive history of the orchestra until the time of the first instrumentation texts. Bekker 1964 provides an overview of changes in orchestral composition over time. Peyser 2006 and Del Mar 1987 are organized by topics and Gilson 1921 is dedicated to one topic: dynamics.

  • Bekker, Paul. The Orchestra. New York: Norton, 1964.

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    First published in 1936 as The Story of the Orchestra, Bekker’s book is a comparatively early essay that explores the changing sound of the orchestra over time.

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  • Del Mar, Norman. Anatomy of the Orchestra, Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

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    First published in 1981, Del Mar’s book was an immediate sensation. A celebrated conductor, Del Mar explores orchestration technique and the tactics required to realize the intentions of composers. In a book of reactions and commentary, Del Mar is prescriptive only in that he seeks to minimize confusion about what an orchestra should do, and nevertheless likely will do, when confronted with directions in a score.

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  • Gilson, Paul. Le tutti orchestral. 2d ed. Brussels: Schott, 1921.

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    First published in 1913, this short essay addresses the relationship between orchestration and dynamics.

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  • Peyser, Joan, ed. The Orchestra: A Collection of 23 Essays on its Origins and Transformations. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2006.

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    Originally published in 1986, these original essays largely summarize contemporary scholarship on a broad range of topics from musical form to the role of the conductor.

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  • Spitzer, John, and Neal Zaslaw. The Birth of the Orchestra: History of an Institution, 1650–1815. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Beginning with a definition of the orchestra as an ensemble with no fewer than seven essential characteristics, Spitzer and Zaslaw provide a comprehensive investigation of the historical forces that shaped the orchestra and the role of the orchestra in creating modern institutions. The final chapter explores contextual language and metaphors that link the orchestra to contemporaneous historical and sociological structures.

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Orchestration Research

Research on orchestration has tended toward a view of musical literature as a historical process of changing techniques. Rauscher 1963 and Ott 1997 contain example scores with analysis. Both Erpf 1980 and Read 1979 devote more space to textual commentary with smaller excerpts. Rauscher 1963 and Read 1979 also contain model orchestrations for comparison. Mathews 2006 is an anthology of writings by composers. More recently, titles such as Goodchild and McAdams 2018 have located a place for research between music cognition and musical style. Dolan 2012 presents a comprehensive investigation of the sound of Haydn’s orchestra when orchestration was first becoming a subject for study, while Wallmark 2019 is an investigation of how the vocabulary of orchestration maps to common perceptions of timbre.

  • Dolan, Emily I. The Orchestral Revolution: Haydn and the Technologies of Timbre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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    The third and fourth chapters of this six-chapter book present a thorough examination of Haydn’s orchestral technique. The surrounding chapters form a wide-ranging meditation on the meaning of timbre and how it was perceived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Ultimately, the final chapters argue that the physical aspects of musical instruments are consequential cultural artifacts.

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  • Erpf, Hermann. Lehrbuch der Instrumentation und Instrumentenkunde. Nachdruck. Mainz, Germany: Schott, 1980.

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    Originally published in 1959, this book takes a different approach for each of three eras: the orchestra of the Classical era, orchestral expansion in the Romantic era, and the particularization of instrumental forces in the 20th century.

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  • Goodchild, Meghan, and Stephen McAdams. “Perceptual Processes in Orchestration.” In The Oxford Handbook of Timbre. Edited by Emily Dolan and Alexander Rehding. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018 (in press).

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    This is a skillful review of the extant work on the application of timbre perception and auditory scene analysis to explain the prescribed practices of orchestration treatises. While conceding the burgeoning research has not yet been formalized into a robust theory, Goodchild and McAdams provide convincing linkages between the learned perception of orchestration techniques and auditory grouping principles.

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  • Mathews, Paul, ed. Orchestration: An Anthology of Writings. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    This is a selection of over thirty articles by composers addressing topics in orchestration. The first chapter frames a debate about updating Beethoven’s orchestration while later chapters set French and German orchestration in dialectical opposition, ending with chapters on 20th-century innovations.

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  • Ott, Leonard. Orchestration and Orchestral Style of Major Symphonic Works: Analytical Perspectives. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1997.

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    This is a style-based analysis of thirteen movement-sized excerpts presented chronologically from Haydn to Webern.

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  • Rauscher, Donald. Orchestration: Scores and Scoring. London: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963.

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    Rauscher includes a foreword “to the teacher” and a few assignments, but more than half of the pages address Rauscher’s statement of purpose that the study of orchestration cannot be separated from the study of musical style. He presents analyses of nine included scores as well as model orchestrations of other works.

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  • Read, Gardner. Style and Orchestration. New York: Schirmer Books, 1979.

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    In this work, Read approaches orchestration as the style-defining practices of composers since the Baroque period.

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  • Wallmark, Zachary. “A Corpus Analysis of Timbre Semantics in Orchestration Treatises.” Psychology of Music 47.4 (July 2019): 585–605.

    DOI: 10.1177/0305735618768102Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wallmark produces an analysis of orchestration treatises as natural language and makes conclusions about the relatively small vocabulary used to discuss timbre.

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