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As instrumentation (including instrumentation ), the distribution is called the voice of a musical composition to the individual instruments . In the case of an orchestral work , one can also speak of orchestration or orchestration . The theory of instrumentation is called instrumentation .


The German term instrumentation can be found for the first time in 1807 in the shorthand dictionary of music by H. Chr. Koch , three years later ETA Hoffmann used it in his review of Beethoven's 5th Symphony . The definitions of the term ranged from “accompaniment of the main voice” (A. Heyse, 1829) to “writing correctly for each instrument” (French: écrire correctement pour chaque instrument ).

Strictly speaking, you can talk about the instrumentation of any piece of music in which more than one instrument is involved: In a violin sonata , too , the decision whether the piano plays the main part and is accompanied by the violin , or vice versa, is a question of instrumentation. Richard Strauss alluded to the importance of knowledge of composition technique and voice guidance for the instrumentation when he wrote in his foreword to Berlioz's theory of instrumentation :

"Anyone who wants to try their hand at orchestral setting could be forced to begin their career with the composition of a few string quartets ."

Today, instrumentation is understood to mean the arrangement of a work for a different line-up (for example “the orchestration of a piano sonata ”) and the (orchestral) line-up of a work can also be called instrumentation (“Gustav Mahler's symphonies are orchestrated larger than those of Mozart ”).


The assignment of individual voices to certain instruments is often part of the musical inspiration: The cello theme at the beginning of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony or the Till Eulenspiegel - Horn call from Richard Strauss are ideas, the instrumentation of which was certainly certain for the composer from the beginning.

On the other hand, there is the practice of orchestrating a particell , which became more and more important in the 19th century as the orchestra grew in size. Richard Wagner needed almost two years to compose his Parsifal , but the sophisticated instrumentation of the particell took another three years.

The new composition of an orchestral work usually consists of these two components. An exception is the teamwork, which takes place particularly in the creation of film music : Here the arranger receives a short score from the composer in which more or less precise instrumentation requests are recorded and is solely responsible for orchestrating it as correctly and effectively as possible.

In order to learn the instrumentation, it is important, in addition to a precise knowledge of the instrument , to develop a good ear for the individual timbres and their combinations. The best training is to study the scores of works whose sound is familiar to the learner. Good instrumenters also show consideration for the performers of their works: For example, wind instruments should always have breaks so as not to tire too quickly, while solo passages, on the other hand, should not take place after too long a silence so that the musician is well rehearsed and for the change The musician should be given enough time to play secondary instruments .

History of the instrumentation


During the Renaissance, compositions were written almost exclusively for the instrumentation that the composer found on site. Music from this period is usually not passed down in the form of a written score. The main reason for this is that pieces of music were only written for the respective performance (usually with the participation of the composer) and later use (which would have required a clear score) was not intended. But since the cast was clear to everyone involved in the performance, the composer decided not to take note of the obvious. The compositions were orchestrated and performed by the composer, but their authentic form is difficult for us to reconstruct today due to the lack of original scores.


The oldest practices of instrumentation are based on the assignment of different types of music to certain instruments that arose from practice: Hunting music was played by horns , shepherd music by flutes and shawms ( oboes ).

In the scores of the early Italian operas (such as Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo ) there are only sporadic references to the instrumentation, but it is clear that here too certain timbres are assigned to the different spheres of the plot . Later baroque operas, such as those by Alessandro Scarlatti , already have more precise scores and a varied orchestral treatment. Typical effects such as tremolo or pizzicato can also be found here in the string instruments to express certain affects .

In France, Jean-Baptiste Lully briefly introduced the five-part string set with obbligato winds and in Germany, opera composers like Reinhard Keizer experimented with unusual winds (such as an aria with five bassoons as accompaniment ).

Johann Sebastian Bach used a choral notation in his orchestral works , which is probably influenced by the registration practice on the organ : strings form one group, woodwinds the second and trumpets and timpani the third. These choirs are juxtaposed and combined in the tutti , but individual instruments (apart from dedicated solo tasks) are seldom removed from their group sound.

A frequently used instrumentation of the high baroque consists of a four-part string set supported by general bass, in which the voices of the two violins are reinforced by oboes, the bass part is octaved by violons , amplified by bassoons as a tonal counterbalance to the oboes, and the harmonies are filled with a harpsichord. This absolutely typical sound of a baroque orchestra can - depending on the intended display of magnificence - be enhanced by additional instruments such as timpani and trumpets.


The classical orchestral line-up was mainly shaped by the Mannheim school . The four-part string writing was (not longer than pairs used oboes and horns, flutes and bassoons autonomously guided basso continuo instrument simply double bass) added. Trumpets and timpani were added in large ensembles. From the 1770s the use of clarinets spread outside of Paris, Mannheim and London, where they were first common.

There are many passages in Joseph Haydn's symphonies whose special content is primarily the result of the instrumentation: the famous bang in the symphony of the same name is also a surprise because the timpani and trumpets were hardly used in a classic slow movement. In his memoirs, Haydn wrote that the small and dense business at Esterházy Palace enabled him to try out various musical things, and this remark is certainly also related to the art of instrumentation, the mastery of which he demonstrates in the London symphonies.

Even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's personal way of instrumentation, particularly its characteristic treatment of the wind instruments , accounts for a large part of the appeal of his music. It not only had a great influence on Ludwig van Beethoven : Some details of his art, such as the parallel guidance of the woodwind in thirds , were imitated by Johannes Brahms . The Viennese unison is also considered a typical instrumentation technique of the Viennese classic .

In the tradition of classical instrumentation, there were also some chamber music works, namely works for mixed ensembles such as the Beethoven septet or Franz Schubert's octet .


The development of the so-called modern instrumentation is usually settled in the Romantic era , when Carl Maria von Weber achieved new sound effects in the Freischütz with the use of unusual registers and combinations. Such effects can, however, be found sporadically in the works of the Viennese Classic , so it should be spoken of a development rather than an hour of birth. At this time, the first major instrumentation textbooks were published and the possibilities for sound formation grew with the development of the instruments and their possibilities and the size of the orchestra. Since Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss , composers have had a machine with over a hundred musicians who have all kinds of ancillary instruments at their disposal and who can adequately reproduce even the most subtle combinations of sounds.


In the 20th century , works were created in which the instrumentation was completely in the foreground: Ravel's Boléro lives solely from the alternation of timbres, similar to the third of Arnold Schönberg's Five Orchestral Pieces , in which a chord is repeated over and over again in various combinations. Schönberg coined the term timbre melody for this .

As far as the size of the orchestra is concerned, Strauss returned to smaller ensembles in Ariadne auf Naxos and Igor Stravinsky in Histoire du soldat , which were, however, orchestrated in an orchestral manner. Since the second half of the 20th century , pieces of music have been composed on the one hand for conventional orchestras or chamber music genres, on the other hand there are countless works that are designed and executed for a very specific, otherwise rarely used instrumentation.

History of instrumentation

In the Syntagma musicum, Michael Praetorius gave the first impetus to think consciously about the use of the different timbres with the exact listing of all instruments of his time and their usual areas of use, but he nevertheless wrote an instrument book . The pedagogical works on individual instruments that followed a century later (such as the attempt at a thorough violin school or the attempt at an instruction to play the flute traverse ) were just as purely geared to the possibilities of the individual instruments .

Ludwig K. Mayer's first textbook for instrumentation (see literature) mentions a text by Valentin Roeser that was published in Paris in 1764: his Essai de l'instruction à l'usage de ceux, qui composent pour la clarinette et le cor (An attempt to provide instructions for those who compose for clarinet and horn) is a thin booklet in which the tonal combination possibilities in wind chamber music and the use of the relatively young clarinet are discussed.

The detailed theoretical treatment of instrumentation did not begin until the middle of the 19th century: in 1844, Hector Berlioz published his Grand Traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration moderne (Great Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration) , which is the first school work of this kind and 1904 was revised by Richard Strauss . Above all, it contains a detailed knowledge of instruments , which deals with the range , sound and character of orchestral instruments and their individual registers. He also deals with the problem of different line-ups and the number of players in the individual groups that are suitable for a good dynamic balance.

Nikolai Rimski-Korsakow went one step further in 1913 in his basics of instrumentation : He also dealt with the possible combinations of different instruments and the efficient distribution of the individual voices in an orchestral chord , which Berlioz considered "not teachable".

Among the more recent works on instrumentation, the thirteen-volume series "Die Instrumentation" by Hans Kunitz (Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, 1956 ff.) Should be mentioned, which also includes numerous examples of the history, sound generation, sound character, sound combinations and technical possibilities for all orchestral instruments the literature of the 20th century ( Orff , Schostakowitsch ) describes.

See also


  • Hector Berlioz, Richard Strauss: Instrumentation theory . Peters, Frankfurt, ISBN 3-87626-030-2 .
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korssakow: Principles of Orchestration . Dover Publications, London 1964 (English), ISBN 0-486-21266-1 .
  • Cecil Forsyth: Orchestration . MacMillan, London 1914 (Reprint: Read Books, 2008).
  • Hermann Erpf: Textbook of instrumentation and instrument science . Schott, Mainz, ISBN 3-7957-2211-X .
  • Bahnert, Herzberg, Schramm: brass instruments . Florian Noetzel, Wilhelmshaven, ISBN 3-7959-0466-8 .
  • Ertugrul Sevsay: Handbook of Instrumentation Practice . Bärenreiter, Kassel, ISBN 3-7618-1726-6 .
  • Hans Kunitz: The instrumentation (in 13 volumes) . Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, ISBN 3-7651-1012-4 etc.
  • Winfried Pape: Instrument manual for string, plucked, wind and percussion instruments in tabular form . 1971, Gerig, Cologne, ISBN 3-89007-008-6 .
  • Jürgen Maehder : Timbre as a component of the musical sentence ─ On the critique of the concept of instrumentation , dissertation University of Bern 1977 (private print).
  • Samuel Adler: The Study of Orchestration . WW Norton, New York 1982, 1989, 2001, ISBN 0-393-97572-X .
  • Ludwig K. Mayer: Instrumentation, in: The music in past and present . Munich / Kassel: dtv, 1989, ISBN 3-423-05913-3 .
  • Christoph Reuter: timbre and instrumentation . Peter Lang, Frankfurt / M., ISBN 3-631-50272-9 .
  • Ulrich Kaiser , Carsten Gerlitz: Arranging and Instrumenting . Kassel 2005, ISBN 3-7618-1662-6 .
  • Gesine Schröder: "Timbre - a foreign word in German-language instrumentation theory", in: Between Composition and Hermeneutics, ed. v. Ariane Jeßulat u. a., Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2005, ISBN 3-8260-3211-X
  • Altuğ Ünlü : Gustav Mahler's world of sound. Instrumentation studies . Peter Lang, Frankfurt / M. 2006, ISBN 3-631-50599-X .
  • Gesine Schröder: "Instrumentation", in: Journal of the Society for Music Theory, pdf online 2005 , also: ZGMTH Vol. 2, Olms, Hildesheim - New York, Zurich 2007, pp. 239–242, ISBN 978-3-487-13514 -4
  • Paul Wiebe: Arranging wind instruments . Wizoobooks Verlag 12/2007, ISBN 978-3-934903-61-6 .
  • Paul Wiebe: Arranging strings . Wizoobooks Verlag 02/2009, ISBN 978-3-934903-70-8 - Ways to the perfect orchestral setting on the computer.
  • Anthony Baines: Lexicon of Musical Instruments . Bärenreiter, Kassel, ISBN 3-7618-1220-5 .

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