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  Orchestral works  Team Gaughan at 13:17 on 15 October 2008

I have been planning to write a big orchestral work, now while I have plenty of ideas the idea of sitting down and starting it is somewhat scary! It is much easier to write pieces that have some chance of performance, say piano pieces, chamber music or songs. But I would be interested in peoples views on writing a large piece for orchestra. I am planning triple woodwind, full brass, percussion, keyboards and strings, the woodwind is the group I find the hardest to write for.

I have tried 4 very short almost haiku like pieces for orchestra as a start point....

  Re: Orchestral works  aptmusic9 at 23:42 on 23 October 2008

write a keyboard sketch first. its what i did for my first orchestra piece. a 14 minute work that needed alot of planning. majority of the time was actually spent orchestrating. by writing the sketch you figure out what you want first and then it flows after that. orchestration is very tedious.

  Re: Orchestral works  Garrett S. at 03:09 on 24 October 2008

I agree completely, orchestration can be very tedious. You mentioned you have trouble with the woodwinds. Anything I could tell you would be better said by Rimsky-Korsakov himself:

Also, I'd warn that if you are using keyboards, be very conscious of balance.

Good luck.

  Re: Orchestral works  pwoxtoby at 09:05 on 24 October 2008

I write mainly for full orchestra and have written three symphonies to date, along with a number of other smaller orchestral works. I write everything straight into full score. My advice is to keep it simple to begin with; start with an idea and see where it leads; unless you really cannot wrote without piano assistance I would suggest don't use one! It is far better to conceive an idea with a particular instrument or instruments in mind, making the effort to hear it in your head. This way the instrument's own character and colour will determine where you go. Concerning woodwind writing, or any other for that matter, listen to solo works and hear for yourself how different registers and timbres sound. Clarinet for instance, changes character completely in the lower register (warm and vibrant) as compared to the upper which can be shrill and piercing in forte writing. I never write first and then score, at least not any more!. As a student I used to do that but soon realised how much I was restricting myself. Treat the score page as an artist would a blank canvas: Sketch-in your instrumental outlines where you think you want them to go and then look at adding background and colour. Finally, remember less is more so don't overscore and don't be afraid to use small groups and even an unaccompanied instrument at times within the work as a whole. Hope this helps.

  Re: Orchestral works  scott_good at 20:25 on 22 November 2008


i have wanted to reply to this, but serously, it's a big topic.

1st, please do not think that orchestration is boring...that is tantamount to a painter saying colour is boring. "Orchestration" is for me the essence of the music - the instruments being played by people, all in well rehearsed coordination with each other, is the most sublime aspect of...well, music, whether for orchestra or solo cello.

What I'm saying is that never ever forget that there are people playing those instruments - they are not machines. And, as one who has poured over many many scores of young composers, it is obvious in seconds the ones who understand this and the ones who do not.

Where to about a sound? Just one, concise harmonic post. But, not just a "chord" but a fully concieved orchestral sound that can be your push off point. Where to start building this - just one note - play a note on the piano - listen to it resonate. Play it again and imagine what that note would sound like on an oboe, clarinet, solo viola, or violin section, horn, muted trombone (what mute?), or parhaps a combination etc etc. What note do you hear complimenting it? That first interval and orchestration can be the seed for an entire work. Keep building. Experiment with many voicings and many orchestartions. Build it to full orchestra and back. Do not be in a hurry. If this is your first work, it SHOULD take time to compose. Be careful, and you will gain more out of the experience - knowledge is earned, and a composer gains the most knowledge by taking great care in what they do- like a scientist. Nothing is gained with shoddy workmanship.

Other than that, and there are tons of subjects, concentrate on the form. With an orchestra, there is great capacity to outline the structure with colour - this is good - use it.

And most of all, remember that this is music for people, not computers. This is the essence of great orchestral writing. Everyone on stage should feel engaged with the music - then, they sell it to the audience with their passion, and will love you for loving them.

Good luck. If you have any other questions, send them out - I just finished my 12th orchestral piece (including 2 band and 2 chamber orchestra), all have been performed professionaly, some multiple times, and it is my main focus as a composer.


  Re: Orchestral works  piargno at 23:38 on 22 November 2008

I think all of the info presented here is really amazing!

And now to add my own worthless info:

Before you compose an orchestral piece, you should pick two orchestral pieces that you love that are vastly different from each other (for instance, Debussy's La Mer and Stockhausen's Gruppen), and then two orchestral pieces that you can't stand that are vastly different from each other (for instance, Brahms 2nd Symphony and Theofanidis Rainbow Body). Circle parts that work for you and don't work, jot down any interesting doublings/triplings/etc ... but most importantly, study how the scores look because notation is communication, and the better notated, the better performed (most of the time). I think this will make you realize that you don't have to "go all out" when you compose an orchestral piece, and that it is actually not as scary as it really seems. If you are used to writing more for chamber ensembles, then write a chamber piece for orchestra. There is nothing wrong with this - Takemitsu did it, as well as Barber, Ravel, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, and Stravinsky.

So, basically: don't be scared, there's no need to be. And to be less scared, look at 4 scores and 4 scores only. Anymore might make you scared, but any less will lead to less necessary conclusions.

Good luck!

  Re: Orchestral works  IanTipping at 01:15 on 23 November 2008

This is great stuff. I have to say Mr. Good, you really do talk an awful lot of sense! I have one further thing to add on his point about remembering that your performers are not machines and that is to make sure that all your parts are interesting for the performers concerned. In truth, if you do this your pieces are more likely to be performed simply because the performers enjoy playing them! This is often more important in chamber music than full orchestral music as usually chamber concert programmes are decided by the performers, whereas orchestral concert listings are often arrived by committee, although I think the point is valid regardless.

The other thing is, if at all possible, have instrumentalists look at your parts (so to speak...) and bother them for advice about writing idiomatically for their instruments. In my experience, most players are willing to try experimenting with new techniques if you intend to use them, but they will spot problems far more rapidly than one who does not play the instrument could hope to. I understand that Ravel was very uncomfortable presenting string parts to orchestras unless he had had them checked for bowings, fingerings etc. by a violinist friend of his. Since he was, in my opinion one of the best orchestrators EVER, there may be something in this!

Anyway, good luck. Hope the pieces come out tremendously and we get to hear them on this site in the not too distant future!

  Re: Orchestral works  Team Gaughan at 14:24 on 25 November 2008

Thank you for all your comments. Very useful indeed. I agree that Orchestration is an fasinating art in itsel;f and I love that aspect of composing. Some of the ideas expressed here are very useful. I have 4 distintive ideas for 4 different movements. Thats when I realised I had a big 4 movement piece on my hands.

This site is wonderful for sharing ideas.

  Re: Orchestral works  Kumara at 19:53 on 30 January 2012

From what I've heard from your description, the "Siren Song" is very good. It's well structured in its chaos. I'm trying to do a little piece myself, but I don't have all the instruments, yet. I've seen some good ones on a Bakersfield classifieds website, but to be honest, the idea of actually starting something scares me a lot.