Your Five Favorite Orchestrators

Started by classicalgeek, October 26, 2022, 10:52:33 AM

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I was listening to Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé last night (in Seiji Ozawa's wonderful performance), with the score courtesy of IMSLP, and the orchestration just left me speechless. Ravel's gift for orchestral color is pretty well unmatched - how is it that even in his busiest passages, you can hear "right through" the music? That he maintains that wonderful sense of clarity?

I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for great orchestration! When I'm sampling a composer's orchestral music for the first time, this is part of what hooks me in (or leaves me indifferent.) Can he or she really write for the orchestra? If the answer is "yes", I'll enjoy the music that much more.

I didn't see a topic in the "Polling Station" thread, so I thought I'd start a discussion.

Here are my top five:

1) Ravel
To me, Ravel is the master orchestrator! He deploys an infinite variety of colors and effects, and he has that transparency, that clarity, that keeps it endlessly interesting for the listener.

2) Mahler
Whether it's a passage of utmost delicacy (the end of the Adagio of the Fourth Symphony or the end of the Ninth Symphony, to name two examples) or of grandeur past description (the end of the Second and Eighth Symphonies), and everything in between, Mahler could really write for the orchestra like no one else. His mastery of orchestral sonority and unique colors is always evident.

3) Respighi
Much like Ravel, there's a certain clarity in his orchestration that few have equaled. And he really knew how to score a climax! Just listen to the end of Church Windows, Feste Romane, and (of course) Pines of Rome. Wow!

4) Bax
There's this irresistible exoticism (for lack of a better word) in Bax's orchestration that keeps me fascinated and engaged. He has his own magical, mystical sound world (English horn, bass clarinet, muted trombones, violas) that recurs in a lot of his orchestral music. There's no one quite like him.

5) Rachmaninov
I feel like Rachmaninov doesn't get enough love as an orchestrator. I love the sound of his dark, burnished, quintessentially Russian orchestra! And those 'big tunes' have great orchestration to back them up - it's more than just 'give it to the violins'. ;D

So who are your favorite orchestrators? Who has that fabulous knack for orchestral color, that creative use of instrumental timbres, that keeps you coming back?
So much great music, so little time...

j winter

*pokes head above foxhole*

Leopold Stokowski

*dives back into foxhole*

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice



What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. - Henri Matisse


I am not that fond of late romantic/early modern orchestration wizardry although I like some of the pieces like Strauss' Don Juan or Ravel's La valse (not so much Respighi and Rachmaninoff)

My "ideal" orchestral sound is much more early romantic/late classical, roughly Beethoven/Weber/Mendelssohn, i.e. full woodwind and basic brass but no extras like cor anglais or additional brass, percussion, harp etc. Berlioz is already often a bit too extravagant. (And Schubert's Great C major a bit too rough and brassy, it's good but not a favorite as far as sheer sound goes) In a way I miss my ideal early romantic symphony/orchestral piece. The closest are Mendelssohn's "Scottish" as well as his and Weber's famous ouvertures.

Mahler - atmospheric without appearing gimmicky to me, i.e. the sounds don't draw attention to themselves as sounds*
Tchaikovsky - can be a bit too flashy at times but one just has to marvel at bonbons like the ones from the nutcracker suite
Wagner - also incredible setting of moods and meanings
Weber - invented the romantic sound, mostly with Freischütz
Mozart - that's pre-romantic and a different aesthetic but the woodwinds in the piano concertos or basically letting clarinets, bassoons, horns "color" a whole piece like the symphony #39 is extraordinary

*edit: I am a bit unfair here, probably because I overall like Mahler much more than most of the "Orchestral spectacular" stuff. When I heard the beginning of his 9th for the first time I found the stopped horn sounds ugly and irritating (so they certainly drew attention...)
Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos, dans une chambre.
- Blaise Pascal


The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya


Since some of my favorites have been mentioned already, I'll mention other great ones:

Music is the hidden arithmetical exercise of a mind unconscious that is calculating.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

As we acquire knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.

Albert Schweitzer


Mine could be:

R. Strauss
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire." - Gustav Mahler


Recently I've come to think of Lutoslawski as a very striking orchestrator. The way he handled textures, timbres, sonorities, shows his abilities to explode the orchestral palette.
Music is the hidden arithmetical exercise of a mind unconscious that is calculating.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

As we acquire knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.

Albert Schweitzer