Composing for full orchestra

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Composing for full orchestra

Postby juufa72 » Wed Aug 09, 2006 6:17 pm

I never gave it much thought until I looked at sheet music for full orchestra, but how is composing done? For example, did Bach know how to play all the instruments with the same virtuosity when composing for the piano or other keyboard instruments? Was it even required to know how to play the instrument? Look at Chopin, 95% of his compositions are for solo piano; then how in the world did he compose for strings and wind instruments?

I dont know if I am making any sense but to me this is a good knowledge to have. Knowledge of all things never hurts.

Does the same go for Balakirev? I remember back in the Piano Society v.1.0 that someone posted that he could not play Islamey, rather he just composed it from his head. Is this what majority of composers did? Did they just master one or two instruments and then just mentally compose for the other instruments in the orchestra?

Is this the way it is done today with masters like, uhhhhh, the big screen conductor, forgot his name....John something. :x :oops: ??

Thank you

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Postby pianolady » Wed Aug 09, 2006 7:24 pm

I once saw a "Composer in Residence's" manuscript paper and when it was laid out, it was as large as a dining room table. The composer, a woman who writes modern-style orchestrial music said that most of the music comes out of her head, and then she writes it down. But since she works at a symphony orchestra's main venue, she can ask a violinist, cellist, etc. if he or she can play what she has written, so she always knows if her music can work. Once she has all the parts written out, she then works many hours with the orchestra to make sure everything comes together as she imagined. I'm not sure, but I think she, herself, can play piano and flute.

As far as Bach, Beethoven and the rest, who knows? (I do know that I cannot picture Chopin testing out something on his string bass :lol: )

We need someone with more expertise to chime in on this.

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Postby pianolady » Wed Aug 09, 2006 7:26 pm

I forgot this on the last post. I think the name you're thinking of is John Williams.


Postby Anonymous » Sat Aug 12, 2006 8:57 am


The largest part is to be done mentally. You can compose orchestral scores with just a piano or just with your mind. You just have to get the sound of the orchestra in your head and that demands experience. Ofcourse you have to know some basics so you will not write impossible things to play. Example the range of each instrument and some special terms. There are some good books about orchestration including the charrecters of every different instrument.

The second part is editing the music to the simpliest form so it is easy for the orchestra to play including inputting the breath marks for wind and brass and the bowings for strings. This might also be done by the conductor.

And ofcourse, now days it is much more easier if you use Sibelius or other notation softwares so you don't have to "listen your head" all the time and the possibilities of writing what you don't mean to write is less.

And what happened to me, the more you know the harder it gets.

Sorry for my bad spelling and I hope this answered atleast some of your questions. :D


Postby Anonymous » Thu Aug 31, 2006 6:42 pm

I agree on this one. But it is not necesarry to know to play all of the instruments to write music for orchestra. Wagner was never a virtuoso on any of the instruments, and yet he was one of the greatest orchestral composers of the 19th century.

All you have to know is the main settings about each instrument, it's color, it's possibilities, and so on and on. I don't say it's easy to learn that, it's not. It took me couple of year for that. But in the end, I'm 19 years old, I composed an overture in c minor, and it will be performed within a year. The conducter looked at the score and said that every thing is "play-ible" :)

I also composed some fantasies for a string quartet, and they have already been performed. And the only instruments I can play is piano and guitar.

It's not as hard as it seems ;)


Postby Anonymous » Sun Jan 07, 2007 3:38 am

It was easier for many composers a few hundred years ago. For example, Haydn had his own private orchestra! No wonder he wrote so many symphonies.

I can make up music in my head, and hum it etc., but I often find it hard to write down. Sometimes I might improvise something on the piano, decide that I like the sound of it, and then realise that i've forgotten it. It happens quite a bit! That's why I've had to start recording myself when I'm composing.

In my opinion, composing for string quartet is more difficult than for full orchestra. With an orchestra, most of the instruments will be playing the same melody anyways, but with a string quartet, you have to imagine 4 different melody lines at the same time. That's why programs like Finale and Sibelius can be useful.

It's my dream to compose piano concertos, string quartets and even a symphony, but I'm only a teenager now, so I'll stick to solo piano waltzes, preludes and maybe the odd sonata. :wink:

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