Orchestration And Instrumentation
( Originally Published 1922 )
Now I want to speak of an entirely different kind of study which also is full of attraction, because it is by its very nature exceedingly varied and because it is only superficial, unlike all those of which we have had to speak hitherto; also because it is a preparatory step towards the most seductive study of all, Orchestration, whose turn will soon come. It is the question of acquiring a simply summary knowledge of the management of one of the instruments belonging to each of the three principal groups of the orchestra: strings, wood and brass. He who, during the time that his studies of Harmony, Counterpoint and Fugue last, manages to spare one hour a day to study a stringed instrument the first year, a wood-wind instrument the second year, and a brass instrument the third year, even though he totally abandons them one after the other, will have scarcely anything more to learn in the matter of instrumentation. By this simple course, he will have acquired an incomparable mastery, for, by each instrument that he will have thus practised, he will have quite a sufficient knowledge of others of the same family ; and, by the union of the three, the whole orchestra. And, I repeat, one hour a day for three years is sufficient for the realization of this ideal, which seems prodigious : the possession of complete knowledge of all the organs of the orchestra.
One instrument or another, it appears to me a mat-ter of indifference which, should be chosen from each group ; however, in preference, I should take the Violoncello, the Clarinet and the Horn. The Violoncello, because it seems to me a little less irritating to the nerves during the first months of study, in which we necessarily play somewhat out of tune; the Clarinet, because of its diverse registers so clearly cut ; the Horn, because incontestably it is the noblest of the family, and also because of the stopped tones that are peculiar to it. If it is easier to find teachers for the violin, flute and trumpet, I see no great objection in that, but the neighbours will be somewhat more to be pitied.
It is necessary that the teacher should fully under-stand what we want, and that he should give his lessons quite differently from the way he would if it were a matter of forming a virtuoso; that what is demanded of him is much less learning to play the instrument than explaining how it is played ; and especially keep in mind that by reason of the general programme of studies that we have adopted, we cannot devote more than about a year to it.
In one year of the violin or violoncello, a pupil of open intelligence may easily gain a knowledge of the following: the fingering of the scales and usual arpeggios, of double chords, triple and quadruple chords, the manner of producing the natural and artificial harmonics, and above all, which is of the most importance, the various effects that result from the variety of bowing. He will execute all this clumsily and awkwardly, but that matters little, he will know how to distinguish between what is possible, easy, difficult and impossible ; that is all that he needs. In a year of the clarinet, he will be able to know the embouchure, the tablature and the various fingering of all the notes, the timbre of the three registers, and the most familiar features.—In a year of the French horn, he will know how the natural and stopped tones are produced, and here again if he succeeds only in sounding them with difficulty, taking lots of time for it, he will be able to form an exact idea of the working of the brass instruments, and what can he demanded of them. A few lessons may be devoted to the valve horn, to complement this.
All this can 'be easily done during the course of the Counterpoint and Fugue studies, for they are not so pleasing as that of Harmony ; instead of four hours, two will suffice when well . employed ; here especially it is advisable to apply the Latin adage : Festina lente, make haste slowly.
Therefore, one of the two hours taken from the writing work may be utilized for this summary study of the instruments. One is left over ; what shall we do with it? Employ it in the way that is the most interesting to him who is already initiated into the history of music by his reading. Take any author whatsoever, according to our own individual sympathies, and decipher all his works that we can procure, chronologically, beginning with the first, so as to follow him step by step and see him develop as we are trying to develop ourselves. After him, take another and then another, as many as are desired, at the same time, if possible, reading their biographies again (there are some who have left autobiographies, or memoirs), and trying to become thoroughly acquainted with the epoch at which such or such a work was written, and under what influence, etc.
Here, as everywhere, the study of the great classics is always the best and most important, and should come first ; but that does not mean to say that we should neglect the moderns and our contemporaries ; that would be a grave fault, a veritable gap in our education. In the material impossibility, for lack of time, of studying them all one after the other, it is better to select a few, those towards whom we are most strongly attracted, and make their intimate acquaintance, rather than to scatter our forces by fluttering through a large number.
(In order really to have an intimate and complete knowledge of a composer, we must read him through three times with constantly sustained attention : the first time, from end to end in the order in which the works were produced ; the second, by categories : symphonic, theatrical, religious, vocal and instrumental,—still chronologically in each category ; the third time, paying attention only to the culminating points and the great masterpieces, and submitting them to profound study.
If we wanted to apply such a process of investigation to Bach, Haydn, or Beethoven, it would absorb a man's lifetime. We indicate without advising it, for it would indeed be too absorbing, and only for the reason of showing how less profound studies may be conducted, while keeping the same methodical principle as a base, or attacking less prolific producers.
By this, we especially mean to say that no one can truly feel convinced that he knows a man of genius to the depths unless he has followed the march of his development and studied his masterpieces down to their smallest details.)
It is by reading much good music in this way and by bringing the spirit of analysis and observation to this reading, that we most surely come to be imbued with the importance of form, as well as to know the musical forms, the scope and the normal proportions to give to a work of any kind whatsoever, as they have been established by the great classic or romantic masters, either by the aid of long gropings, or the powerful deductions of their logical genius. It will be observed that these forms, which vary within wide limits according to the periods, schools and styles, and also in accordance with the fancy of each composer, which never loses its rights, all have a firm, fixed and immutable course, which is characteristic of them, and, together with this, a suppleness and elasticity in their proportions that relieve them of all pedagogic rigidity and give free rein to the imagination.
The art of form, which is of considerable importance with regard to composition, is the art of harmonious proportions, it is the harmony of form as understood in architecture.
Its importance makes itself felt in every detail as in the whole, from the structure of a simple motive to the largest divisions of a long-winded work. " It is not a composer's caprice that has established the different forms and aesthetic exigencies: thus it is that you cannot change the forms of the Sonata without making it simply a thing of fancy,—something that will be neither a Symphony, a Sonata, nor a Concerto. In its elementary laws, architecture is the art that approaches most closely to music. Can anybody rep-resent to himself a house, a church, or any edifice whatever without a fixed form? Can anyone imagine an edifice the façade of which would be that of a church, the other face that of a pavilion, and the sides those of a railway station and a factory? "
A musical work can no more do without logical dimension and equilibrium than a speech or a poetical work can. The poets have their forms : the Sonnet, Madrigal, Ballade, Ode, Meditation, Stanzas, Strophes, Couplets, etc., are also poetical forms. Musicians also have theirs, a complete list of which we have no room to enumerate here, but in which we recognize as principal and typical: Melody, Romance, Air, Glee, Lied, Chanson, Canzonetta, Recitative, Fugue, Symphony, Sonata, Concerto (these last three are closely related), Overture, Marches of various characters, Dance or Ballet airs, etc. 'Without form, the work lacks homogeneity ; genius must learn to submit to it ; it is the duty of talent to use its restraint, at the same time introducing the other indispensable element, variety.
" Variety in unity " is the formula of the work of art, whatever it may be ; now, unity cannot be obtained without respect for form, which is not a constraint, but a support of the idea :
" It is nothing without the mind, it is everything with the idea."
Form is the scaffolding, the skeleton, of all musical construction ; if we do not see it, we must feel it, as we feel the anatomy in painting and sculpture, the body beneath the folds of the vesture, and the skeleton under the flesh. Those musicians who treat this branch of their studies lightly never produce anything but desultory works, disconnected, vague, forceless, lacking in cohesion and good form.
When we have successfully carried through all these studies, that are so truly attractive and full of variety, the rhetoric and philosophy of music, we may begin to recognize in ourselves a certain amount of erudition, to be conscious that we know something, which is far from unpleasant.
Now then, when the time has arrived when we are capable of writing a Fugue in four parts in a satisfactory manner, we may, while still continuing to practise this admirable exercise, begin to occupy ourselves a little with Instrumentation and Orchestration, which constitutes a fresh interlacing of the studies, and consequently enables us to gain time.
To a large extent, the two words Instrumentation and Orchestration are synonymous. There is a shade of difference, however. Properly speaking, Instrumentation is the personal knowledge of each instrument considered individually, that is to say, of all that we can reasonably ask of it and of all the effects that we can obtain from it. Orchestration is the art of grouping them, playing with them, obtaining timbres of infinite variety from their inexhaustible combinations, and mixing them with one another as a painter mixes the colours of his palette.
Instrumentation is a science ; Orchestration is an art.
How do we learn Instrumentation? First, from the special treatises ; next, by reading methods of instruments, above all by having a finger in the pie and trying to play some of them; largely also by reading things that are well written and observing how those masters who are most learned in the matter have treated each member of the orchestra, the specific efforts that they have demanded of it, and the form and nature of the features that are easiest or most familiar to it. Like all other sciences, it is acquired by reading, observation and experiment.
How do we learn Orchestration? By orchestrating.
" The orchestration of a piece of music is like the painting of a picture ; the combination of the instruments is like the mixing of colours according to the tint we wish to obtain. Moreover, there is also light and shadow in instrumentation."
The simplest exercise consists in taking a good arrangement for the piano, for two or four hands, of an Overture or part of Symphony, go and hear it given by an orchestra, swiftly noting as well as we can with eyes as well as ears to which instrument the composer has confided such and such a passage, song phrase, feature, etc., and afterwards try to reorchestrate the same piece in the same way. When this work is finished and we confront it with the original score, we shall be prodigiously astonished. It will scarcely resemble it at all. Then, by comparing the two texts, that of the composer and our own, note by note, part by part, seeking in all the smallest details the cause of the superiority of one over the other (note that I have the politeness not to say which), we shall be giving ourselves the best and most profitable lesson possible in Orchestration.
After having repeated this experiment several times, and having attained an almost satisfactory reconstruction of it, we may, indeed we ought to, increase the difficulty by not hearing it before the orchestra plays it, and, with no other guide than the musical sentiment, try to divine the timbres that the author must have desired. And we shall always compare it with the score afterwards.
The inverse exercise may also be recommended : that is to take an orchestral score and make a faithful and respectful transcription of it for the piano, for two or four hands, or for two pianos, or even for a small number of instruments selected for this purpose. This work of transcription, that is analogous to that of an engraver reproducing a picture, who, being unable to render the colours, nevertheless causes the gradations of tint to be divined by relative values, obliges the pupil to delve to the depths of the orchestration, no detail of which can escape him. This is therefore very instructive.
This is one of the rare branches of musical knowledge that we can study alone, by observation and comparison. If, however, we can have the advice of a talented composer, expert in the matter, this does not stand in the way of our taking advantage of it with the greatest eagerness.
Treatises of Orchestration also exist, and we ought to read them so much the more since they are almost all written by men of indisputable ability. In them we shall learn the theory of Orchestration and see the processes employed by the masters analyzed and explained; and this reading will complete the instruction already acquired by frequent symphonic concerts, etc. It is now more than ever that we must not go to the concert without being provided with as many scores as we can carry with the aid of a few devoted friends ; for now that we have submitted to all the initiations, there is no reason that anything should remain hidden from us. And if we understand everything, every-thing becomes a subject of study.
The ideal lesson for this art that is so subtle and so delicate, the veritable musical colouring, would be to hear our own essays in a concert hall, so as to judge of the effect for ourselves, just as the painter steps back to examine his painting. Some very rich amateurs, or a few rare young artists whose friends supply them with the services of the leader of an orchestra, alone can afford this Oriental luxury or obtain such a favour at rare intervals : the palette of living colours, which a symphonic orchestra is, cannot be procured cheap. Nevertheless, we manage to orchestrate fairly well even if not learnedly and with all the delicacy desirable, by the spirit of observation and being present not only at performances, but perhaps still more even at partial rehearsals, where an able leader makes the various groups play separately be-fore uniting them, thus dissecting the score, so to speak. For the sake of gaining practice, it is even more advantageous to go personally into the orchestra and form a part of it. It is rare that a musician of the orchestra who does not consider his functions too much in the light of a business does not, by simple routine, become capable himself of orchestrating in a perfectly logical manner. So if we have sufficient grasp of the mechanism of an instrument, we may consider it very instructive to take a part, even if it is only as a supernumerary amateur, in a good concert or theatre orchestra. There we shall even learn secrets, feats and tricks, that neither treatises nor professors can teach ; and if some day we ourselves are called to lead an orchestra, we shall highly appreciate having learned to obey before having to command.
To play the kettle-drum really well requires a con-summate musician, as do all the instruments of the battery (this is the name given to the group of percussion instruments : timbales, big drums, cymbals, triangles and other drums), by reason of the responsibility incumbent upon them. A drum-beat given out of place may throw the entire orchestra into con-fusion. All these percussion instruments may be learned in the space of a few days or a few minutes, so if we are not sufficiently skilful on the violin or oboe, we can always solicit one of these posts of confidence, we are sure to find our candidature well received by any orchestral leader if we present our-selves to him as a harmonist or fuguist. I should astonish many people by citing here all the great composers who for many years have held the posts of drummers in the great theatres of Paris and in the Société des Concerts alone, and have owed partly to this the development of their talents in the art of Instrumentation and Orchestration. It is also by participating in symphonic performances that we best learn the art of directing, communicating our will, and making ourselves understood by almost imperceptible gestures. A case may happen when a leader, either to go to the back of the hall to judge of an effect, or to make separate groups rehearse separately, will be disposed to yield his bâton for a moment to a member of the orchestra whom he considers a solid musician. Such opportunities should be seized with the greatest eagerness, as also others of directing private rehearsals of amateur choirs or little orchestras. In a word, never allow an opportunity to escape of having a finger in the pie, and being an active musician in some way or other.
" And how about composition? " I shall be asked, " it has not yet entered into discussion. When shall we speak about it? "
We shall never speak of it, with your kind permission, because it would be absolutely useless after what we have said.
If he who, according to our advice, has gone through solid literary, scientific and philosophical studies, has devoted himself to the serious reading of poets and prose writers, has frequented the mu seums, learning there to admire painters, sculptors and architects, has lived in an intellectual and artistic atmosphere, has travelled, seen and studied the beauties of nature and the civilization of various countries, has studied history, mythology, a little Latin, acoustics and the history of music, has pushed to the utmost his studies of solfeggio, piano, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, score-reading, musical analysis and orchestration, has dipped into those of the violoncello, clarinet and horn, has intelligently at-tended lots of concerts and lyric and dramatic theatrical performances, has been nourished with the sap of the masters,—I say if he is not yet ripe for composing, it is because he really lacks the aptitude, and he will do well to renounce it. But then what is he going to do in that quandary ?
He will not be in that condition, and there is no need to fear it. On the contrary, this is what is very likely to have happened, without my having had, or anybody else, any need to advise him : Almost at the beginning of his studies, if not before, the youth will have caught the plague of composition, and will have composed, perhaps even in secret if he is of a timid nature, or he will have shown his attempts to his masters, in which he will have been quite right. In fact, these first attempts, whatever they may be, should always be encouraged, on condition that they consist only of short pieces, of such importance as a Minuet, a Song without Words, or a little melody on a poetic text, and that they do not encroach upon the time normally devoted to his studies, which must come before everything.
More than this, these essays must be dated and pre-served so that they may serve as a type for comparison later on so as to show his progress and intellectual development. And he must continue thus throughout his labours in Harmony, Fugue and Orchestration, producing little short and unpretentious pieces, as many as he likes, provided this does not interfere in the least with his regular daily studies, and does not take him away from them for a moment.
We may thus take the first eight or ten bars of some work of a master and exercise ourselves in developing them and altering their character while pre-serving as far as possible throughout the piece, the style and go of the opening. This is a very fine exercise, both amusing and instructive, and one that may be varied in many ways that are easy to imagine.
Then at length, a moment will arrive when, having acquired his whole outfit piece by piece, having, moreover, learned by assiduously reading the great masters, the form and structure of a Sonata, a Symphony, or an Oratorio, which are classical forms, also the more modern forms of the Opera, the Lyrical Tragedy and the Symphonic Poem, he will feel him-self armed for dashing into the domain of grand composition and there fly with his own wings, inventing in his turn. On that thrice happy day, Composition will become his one and only study, in which all the others will be merged, as well as all the annex species of knowledge so laboriously but how pleasantly acquired. There will no longer be any reasons for limiting himself to little works of trifling expanse, on the contrary, he will be able to enlarge his frame day to day, give way to his inspiration (always assuming that he has one) and to all his caprices, being certain that the talent is there to maintain it, if necessary in its wanderings and illicit overflowings, and to make it return to the right road by talking to it in the language of reason. He will have that happy feeling that he has acquired the mastery of his art, that he has penetrated all its processes, that none of its secrets is hidden from him, and that now every audacity is allowed him. With this sentiment, another will mingle, another no less noble, still more elevated and above all more fertile, which is that when we know all we know nothing yet, that all this is only a preamble, and that it is only beginning with the day when all the materials are collected at the base of the work, classified, numbered and ticketed, that the edifice commences to rise from the ground.
It is here then that the real studies of the composer begin, since henceforward he has under his hand everything that he requires in order to become his own and sole master. Henceforth, it belongs to him alone to decide how he shall train the branches of the tree the roots of which we have assisted him to plant solidly, to choose the school under whose banner he will be glad to range himself (for he must always belong to one school, or at least attach himself to one before thinking of becoming the head of a school of his own), to judge which of the bases of his erudition are those that lack solidity and that it is desirable to strengthen or to select as a foundation.
Like a veritable Wandering Jew, he will always have to march onwards to the knowledge of the Beautiful, ever to study and ever to seek. But the conditions are changed, and it will be hardly possible any longer for him to assign a precise and invariable hour every day for every kind of work as formerly. The idea is capricious, we must take it when it is willing to come. One day, we shall not do anything ; the next, we shall work every hour. We shall have long periods without the shadow of an inspiration ; and then suddenly our ideas will be in a state of ebullition. This, at least, is what we have always heard people say !