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The Music Room => General Classical Music Discussion => Topic started by: Cato on May 22, 2007, 09:05:05 AM

Title: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Cato on May 22, 2007, 09:05:05 AM
That's right!  The orca Cato is talking about is...

Orchestration!

I was reading an essay by George Szell which defended Schumann against the usual platitudes heard about the 4 symphonies: "muddy" orchestration, "piano works" dragged into an unnatural orchestral setting, etc.  Szell begged to differ quite a bit, saying that a good conductor and orchestra simply had to work well together to make the symphonies sound good.  He was against a Mahlerization of the works.

I tend to agree with him: let Schumann be Schumann, and we should shoo any man trying to change the works!

But this led to other questions: how important is the orchestration of a work to you as listener?  If you really love a composition, can you separate out the orchestration and love the "essence" of the melodies, harmonies, counterpoint, or is the orchestration too much a part of that essence?  If a work were orchestrated differently, (i.e. not in a worse way) would you still like it?

E.G.: If Tchaikovsky or Rimsky-Korsakov re-orchestrated Beethoven's Fifth, would that make a difference to you?

Would e.g. Reger's orchestral efforts take better flight if Ravel had punched up the manuscripts?

Can orchestration mask "weakness" in melodic material or inventiveness?  (Richard Strauss and Respighi have been heard in this context.)

Are there works you love, but wish the orchestration were somehow improved?

OR...for those of you who think you could do it...which works would you like to orchestrate or re-orchestrate yourself?   :o
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: greg on May 22, 2007, 09:27:39 AM
An orchestra of Berg's Piano Sonata would be pretty cool.

But I'm against orchestrating piano stuff- there are two good things about it: 1. it's (in a way) good practice and 2. it's nice to hear music you like for piano being orchestrated (especially the andante from Prokofiev's 4th sonata- sweet stuff there!)  8)

The reason i don't like it much is that if the orchestra is playing it, it should be written directly for orchestra (which means having them in mind). It's better to practice composing an orchestral piece not for piano, but for orchestra first so it's more natural that way.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: karlhenning on May 22, 2007, 10:03:17 AM
Great topic, Cato!

I'm going to start out with a piece where I want it both ways!

I don't think there's anything to be "mended" in Schumann's score of his Cello Concerto in A Minor, Opus 129.

This does not at all interfere with my enjoyment of the coloration of Shostakovich's Opus 125 re-scoring of Schumann's orchestral accompaniment.

The mischief-maker in me wants to propose a string orchestra arrangement of the Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind Instruments!  :o
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: MishaK on May 22, 2007, 10:17:07 AM
There aren't many original orchestral compositions of great composers where I take issue with the orchestration. But on this topic, I am now inspired to go home and do some comparative listening of orchestrations of Mussorgsky. Having played the piano original, I have always had serious problems with the Ravel - just atmospherically copmletely on a different planet than Mussorgsky's original. I have Ashkenazy's and Stokowski's versions at home as well and will have to listen to them side by side.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Greta on May 22, 2007, 10:26:08 AM
What's the difference exactly between "transcription" and an "orchestration"? I've been enjoying this CD a whole lot:

(http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/I/51OJ7bjkdNL._AA240_.jpg)

Shouldn't those be called orchestrations more appropriately?

And what do we think of Bach orchestrations? Bastardizations or no? Stokie and Elgar there can be overblown, but still a whole lot of fun. Who says you have to be completely true to the original, why not create something new...
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: BachQ on May 22, 2007, 10:32:52 AM
According to All Music Guide (reprinted in www.Answers.com):


It has often been charged that Robert Schumann's orchestral works are little more than thinly-veiled transcriptions of musical thoughts that fall more naturally on the keyboard, and that he lacked the necessary skill to realize his purely orchestral ideas effectively. Largely due to musicians' popular acceptance of these criticisms, Schumann's four mature symphonies have suffered long periods of neglect. We can freely admit Schumann's inexperience as an orchestrator, and some pianistic traits and mannerisms are bound to sneak across in the works of such an accomplished composer for the keyboard (very few composers are immune to such "seeping" effects) * * *

To which M FOREVER replied:

Horseshit. Some of the stuff Schumann did in the symphonies is fairly demanding and sometimes a little awkward to play, but his orchestration is excellent, a very unique sound world which a lot of people simply don't get because it is rather different from what many other composers did. His symphonies can sound absolutely marvelous in the hands of interpreters who can realize that unique, very differentiated sound. He was basically decades ahead in some aspects of his orchestration. There are even elements in it that point forward to Debussy. You should listen to Barenboim/SB for a very "romantic", "full bodied" approach, Gardiner/ORR for a very lean, transparent and colorful sound, Sawallisch/SD is excellent, too, he allows the sound to unfold and bloom. I also rather liked Dohnanyi's Cleveland recordings. I heard them play the 1st symphony live. It sounded fantastic, very open and finely textured. Other really great readings are Harnoncourt/COE and Muti/WP which get great musical results in their very different way. Muti is very compact and classicist and achieves great transparency and finely tinted textures, while Harnoncourt's readings are very extrovert, bouncy, very lyrical and expressive - probably the most "romantic" readings I have heard - but very "early romantic", not "late romantic".  BTW, whatever some people may have to criticze about the orchestration - and some even tampered rather massively with it, like Mahler did - the symphonies have been very popular for a long time.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Cato on May 22, 2007, 10:38:13 AM
Many thanks for the responses so far!

That the Berg Piano Sonata should come up so early is fascinating!  I would envision a large post-post-Romantic orchestra, complete with 2 or 3 English horns and 2 or 3 alto and bass flutes getting a work-out.   So hop to it, Greg!

O Mensch:
On the Moussorgsky Pictures I was amazed in a negative sense by the Stokowski version, but give us your opinion.  Isn't there also a version by Shostakovich ?  I have a memory that some critics called it "more Russian" (of course!) than the Ravel effort, but I might be mis-remembering.

Alexander Nemtin brilliantly orchestrated things from Scriabin's late piano works for the Universe/Mysterium: Prefatory Action.

Heresy?  True or False: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony should be orchestrated to make it sound bigger, a la Schoenberg's Gurrelieder or Mahler's choral symphonies.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: MishaK on May 22, 2007, 10:38:43 AM
What's the difference exactly between "transcription" and an "orchestration"? I've been enjoying this CD a whole lot:

(http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/I/51OJ7bjkdNL._AA240_.jpg)

Shouldn't those be called orchestrations more appropriately?

And what do we think of Bach orchestrations? Bastardizations or no? Stokie and Elgar there can be overblown, but still a whole lot of fun. Who says you have to be completely true to the original, why not create something new...

Orchestration is simply the term for setting any music (your own or someone else's) for orchestral instruments. Thus any symphonic composer orchestrated his raw musical ideas by assigning different orchestral instruments to the various lines. More generally, not specific to orchestral music, this is called instrumentation. A transcription is taking a complete, existing piece of music and setting it for a different set of instruments than originally conceived. A transcription can be an orchestration when e.g. a Bach toccata or cantata is transcribed for orchestra. But it doesn't have to be: e.g. Brahms's transcription of the Bach Chaconne in D (originally solo violin) for piano left hand.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: MishaK on May 22, 2007, 10:40:41 AM
O Mensch:
On the Moussorgsky Pictures I was amazed in a negative sense by the Stokowski version, but give us your opinion.  Isn't there also a version by Shostakovich ?  I have a memory that some critics called it "more Russian" (of course!) than the Ravel effort, but I might be mis-remembering.

I haven't listened to it in a while (I have the Knussen/Cleveland recording) but I recall being rather positively surprised. Stokie had a knack for Russian music. He understood the importance of bells.

BTW, anyone seriously interested in the subject of orchestration should read Berlioz's (ed. R. Strauss) Treatise on Orchestration.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Drasko on May 22, 2007, 10:43:12 AM
That the Berg Piano Sonata should come up so early is fascinating!  I would envision a large post-post-Romantic orchestra, complete with 2 or 3 English horns and 2 or 3 alto and bass flutes getting a work-out.   So hop to it, Greg!

That has already been done:

(http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/411S244D3PL._SS500_.jpg)
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: karlhenning on May 22, 2007, 10:52:26 AM
True or False: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony should be orchestrated to make it sound bigger

No!  It sounds too big as it is!  We need a chamber orchestra reduction of the Opus 125!  8)
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Cato on May 22, 2007, 11:52:41 AM
That has already been done:

(http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/411S244D3PL._SS500_.jpg)

So, is it any good?

I like the Stokowski/Bach works, which is why my expectations for Stokowski's "Pictures" version were so high.

On Richard Strauss: I read some years ago that he complained about conductors who "unmuddied" his orchestrations and brought the individual lines out.  The "individual lines" were not supposed to be heard like in a chamber work, but were just supposed to be creating an (impressionistic?) atmosphere.  I do not recall if Strauss was talking about a specific work, or just his oeuvre in general.

Cato wrote:


Quote
Heresy?  True or False: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony should be orchestrated to make it sound bigger, a la Schoenberg's Gurrelieder or Mahler's choral symphonies.

Well, you can probably guess that I am voting...True!   0:)

Although Karl's suggestion above is intriguing: but what would happen to the chorus?    :o

Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Brewski on May 22, 2007, 11:55:36 AM
So, is it any good? [Berg's Piano Sonata, orchestrated by Theo Verbey]



It is quite good, based on this recording and hearing Chailly and the orchestra do it live as well.  I'm not familiar with any of Verbey's work other than this, but this to my ears works quite well.  (It won't replace the piano version, of course, but it's an interesting alternative.)

--Bruce
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: karlhenning on May 22, 2007, 11:56:37 AM
Although Karl's suggestion above is intriguing: but what would happen to the chorus?    :o

Double quartet - solisti and coro  ;D
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Bunny on May 22, 2007, 12:15:40 PM
At the risk of being flamed, I'm going to admit that I love Mahler's arrangements of Schumann's symphonies, and espcially the way Chailly has handled them.  That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate Schumann; to the contrary I love the original symphonies as well.  It's just that Mahler really did some excellent work when he did those arrangements, and they can stand on their own merits.  I have more problems with Mahler's Bach arrangements (and Stokowski's as well), but I'm not sure that isn't because of my own conservatism when it comes to Bach's music.  I have gotten used to hearing it in one way, and can't tolerate much change. 

Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: karlhenning on May 22, 2007, 12:20:25 PM
At the risk of being flamed, I'm going to admit that I love Mahler's arrangements of Schumann's symphonies, and espcially the way Chailly has handled them.  That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate Schumann; to the contrary I love the original symphonies as well.

Between you, and my Schumann Cello Concerto, I think we are in the same marina.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Cato on May 22, 2007, 04:01:32 PM
At the risk of being flamed, I'm going to admit that I love Mahler's arrangements of Schumann's symphonies, and espcially the way Chailly has handled them.  That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate Schumann; to the contrary I love the original symphonies as well.  It's just that Mahler really did some excellent work when he did those arrangements, and they can stand on their own merits.  I have more problems with Mahler's Bach arrangements (and Stokowski's as well), but I'm not sure that isn't because of my own conservatism when it comes to Bach's music.  I have gotten used to hearing it in one way, and can't tolerate much change. 



That's what the topic is for.  No fear, my dear!    0:)

Speaking of Mahler: there is the issue of the unorchestrated movements of the Tenth Symphony.  Which version(s) is/are preferable?

Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: jochanaan on May 22, 2007, 04:50:05 PM
It's almost impossible to separate the orchestration from the composition (unless it's one composer/arranger orchestrating another composer's work).  I cannot imagine, for instance, anyone but Bruckner orchestrating Bruckner's symphonies.  Rimsky-Korsakov said it best: "To orchestrate is to create, and that is something that cannot be taught."

For a long time it was thought that certain composers, notably Mussorgsky and Bruckner, were geniuses who could not orchestrate well and had to be polished to be appreciated.  But then the music world began to hear the original versions and realized that what passed for incompetence was actually boldness; the originals' "roughnesses" became more attractive than the polished revisions. :)

(No, Beethoven's Ninth should NOT be reorchestrated! ;D)
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Brian on May 22, 2007, 05:24:48 PM
There's still no satisfactory orchestration of Liszt's famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. I can imagine a quite lovely one in my head, have it all mapped out, but with no knowledge of how to write it down I'll have to keep dreaming.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Cato on May 22, 2007, 05:33:06 PM
There's still no satisfactory orchestration of Liszt's famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. I can imagine a quite lovely one in my head, have it all mapped out, but with no knowledge of how to write it down I'll have to keep dreaming.

What is unsatisfactory about the versions available?

On Mahler: this website offers essays on his orchestration:

http://www.mahlerarchives.net/archives.html

"Does the oboe/clarinet/bass flute/Wagner tube express this phrase/motif/melody in the best way?"  Thousands of such decisions must be made by a composer: it is amazing anything makes it onto paper!
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Bunny on May 22, 2007, 06:10:58 PM
That's what the topic is for.  No fear, my dear!    0:)

Speaking of Mahler: there is the issue of the unorchestrated movements of the Tenth Symphony.  Which version(s) is/are preferable?



A rhetorical question, I presume. 
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: The Mad Hatter on May 22, 2007, 11:33:19 PM
Orchestration is simply the term for setting any music (your own or someone else's) for orchestral instruments. Thus any symphonic composer orchestrated his raw musical ideas by assigning different orchestral instruments to the various lines. More generally, not specific to orchestral music, this is called instrumentation. A transcription is taking a complete, existing piece of music and setting it for a different set of instruments than originally conceived. A transcription can be an orchestration when e.g. a Bach toccata or cantata is transcribed for orchestra. But it doesn't have to be: e.g. Brahms's transcription of the Bach Chaconne in D (originally solo violin) for piano left hand.

I'm not sure if that's true - I think an orchestration is a direct...er...clone of the music, but for orchestra - like Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Picutres, whereas a transcription is a bit freer - allows for slight adaptation and changing notes, etc.

Quote from: Cato
Heresy?  True or False: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony should be orchestrated to make it sound bigger, a la Schoenberg's Gurrelieder or Mahler's choral symphonies.

Well, it shouldn't be. But if it's done well, I won't mind.

I'll add more thoughts to the thread when I have time.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: lukeottevanger on May 23, 2007, 12:07:59 AM
For a long time it was thought that certain composers, notably Mussorgsky and Bruckner, were geniuses who could not orchestrate well and had to be polished to be appreciated.  But then the music world began to hear the original versions and realized that what passed for incompetence was actually boldness; the originals' "roughnesses" became more attractive than the polished revisions. :)

That's the most important point IMO. And you can add Janacek to your list, touched up by Talich etc.There are glaring, blazing errors of orchestration in Janacek's scores which can be lovingly touched up, but for the most part the strangeness, the rough edges and so on are part and parcel of his and Mussorgsky's music. They may be bad textbook orchestration, but in being so they only reveal the limitations of the textbook, at least when the composer is a genius with something individual to say.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: Cato on May 23, 2007, 01:34:58 AM
That's the most important point IMO. And you can add Janacek to your list, touched up by Talich etc.There are glaring, blazing errors of orchestration in Janacek's scores which can be lovingly touched up, but for the most part the strangeness, the rough edges and so on are part and parcel of his and Mussorgsky's music. They may be bad textbook orchestration, but in being so they only reveal the limitations of the textbook, at least when the composer is a genius with something individual to say.

That was Szell's point with Schumann: he also admitted to fixing a few things here and there himself, for balance, and things like timpani notes.  Otherwise, avoid a wholesale overhaul with the genius' accomplishment.

Rhetorical question on the Mahler Tenth versions? 

Quote
Between 1946 and 1975 Deryck Cooke, Clinton Carpenter and Joseph Wheeler attempted to complete Mahler's "10th Symphony." The Cooke version, with "slight adjustments" by Simon Rattle, was recorded with him conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on Angel (CDC 54406). The Carpenter edition has been put out by the Philharmonia Hungarica under the direction of Harold Farberman on a hard-to-find Golden String International CD. The Wheeler effort hasn't made it to CD, although it has been performed in concert.

In an article for "The Musical Quarterly" about the different approaches and objectives of these editors, conductor Theodore Bloomfield wrote: "Cooke's aim was simply to enable the musical ideas to be heard from beginning to end, guided by exemplary humility and candor... Wheeler approached the manuscript still more cautiously, adding an absolute minimum of voices and reinforcements, producing a predominantly lean texture... and Carpenter, on the other hand, set out unabashedly to complete the symphony in Mahlerian style, not identifying his own additions, and therefore overstepping the line between editing and composing. Mr. Mazzetti, with these three versions before him, felt that Cooke and Wheeler had not gone far enough, Carpenter too far; the first two versions were too sparse, the other too dense. His own version falls between them but is no mere synthesis of their best."

http://www.compactdiscoveries.com/CompactDiscoveriesArticles/Mahler.html

(My emphasis above.)  Orchestrating like Mahler ain't easy...especially when not all the notes are there!   8)
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: greg on May 23, 2007, 05:19:40 AM
That has already been done:

(http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/411S244D3PL._SS500_.jpg)
cool  :o
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: MishaK on May 23, 2007, 06:24:07 AM
I'm not sure if that's true - I think an orchestration is a direct...er...clone of the music, but for orchestra - like Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Picutres, whereas a transcription is a bit freer - allows for slight adaptation and changing notes, etc.

If you follow the Mahler links posted earlier (or read the Berlioz/Strauss treatise I mentioned) you will see that your view is incorrect. Orchestration is quite simply the setting of music for orchestra, whether original or someone else's, the latter being an orchestral transcription. If you are changing notes it is no longer a simple transcription but becomes a paraphrase (e.g. see Liszt's Rigoletto paraphrase).
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: The Mad Hatter on May 24, 2007, 02:51:05 AM
If you follow the Mahler links posted earlier (or read the Berlioz/Strauss treatise I mentioned) you will see that your view is incorrect. Orchestration is quite simply the setting of music for orchestra, whether original or someone else's, the latter being an orchestral transcription. If you are changing notes it is no longer a simple transcription but becomes a paraphrase (e.g. see Liszt's Rigoletto paraphrase).

Yeah, I realised this when I was waiting for my train. What I get for posting first thing in the morning.  :-[

Terms I had been looking for were 'transcription' and 'arrangement'. But yeah, 'paraphrase' works too.
Title: Re: The Orca in the Room Nobody Talks About!
Post by: jochanaan on May 24, 2007, 06:44:29 AM
There's still no satisfactory orchestration of Liszt's famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. I can imagine a quite lovely one in my head, have it all mapped out, but with no knowledge of how to write it down I'll have to keep dreaming.
Did Liszt himself ever orchestrate this?  If not, the best thing, if you're going to orchestrate it at all, would be to do so using instruments and instrumental style Liszt would have had available.  Otherwise you'll founder in anachronisms.  (I believe they had valve horns and trumpets then, but I'm not sure whether Liszt would have preferred the old-fashioned natural horns, like Brahms and Wagner.  Maybe he would have done more like Schumann and embraced then-modern technology...)