Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Definition of Orchestra

An orchestra is an instrumental ensemble, usually fairly large with string, brass, woodwind sections, and possibly a percussion section as well. The term orchestra derives from the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus. The orchestra grew by accretion throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but changed very little in composition during the course of the twentieth century.
A smaller orchestra (of about forty players or less) is called a chamber orchestra.
A full size orchestra (about 100 players) may sometimes be called a "symphony orchestra" or "philharmonic orchestra"; these prefixes do not necessarily indicate any strict difference in either the instrumental constitution or role of the orchestra, but can be useful to distinguish different ensembles based in the same city (for instance, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra). A symphony orchestra will usually have over eighty musicians on its roster, in some cases over a hundred, but the actual number of musicians employed in a particular performance may vary according to the work being played, and the size of the venue. A leading chamber orchestra might employ as many as fifty members; some are much smaller than that.


The typical symphony orchestra consists of four proportionate groups of similar musical instruments, generally appearing in the musical score in the following order (with proportions indicated):
Woodwinds: piccolo, 2 flutes*, 2 oboes*, English horn, 2 clarinets*, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons*, contrabassoon
Brass: 2* to 8 French horns*, 2* to 5 trumpets*, 2 to 3 trombones, 1 to 2 bass trombones, tuba
Percussion: timpani*, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, celesta, piano, etc.
Strings: harp(s), 16 to 30 violins*, 8 to 12 violas*, 8 to 12 violoncellos*, and 5 to 8 double basses*.
Occasionally, an orchestra will feature notable wind ensemble instruments, such as the euphonium, the saxophone, the alto clarinet, and the baritone.
Instruments marked with an asterisk are considered the "core" symphonic instruments, and only in rarest of cases are not called for in most symphonic literature. Other instruments listed above are considered "auxiliary" instruments and are less frequently required, but still referred to as "standard". Late 19th-century symphonic works calling for all the auxiliary instruments, as well as a large number of strings, usually include the phrase "for large orchestra" in their full titles. Example: Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben.


A symphony orchestra and a philharmonic orchestra are really the same thing.

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