The Evolution of the Orchestra

Symphony orchestra on stage, violins, cello and flute performing.
Symphony orchestra on stage, violins, cello and flute performing.

An orchestra as an entity combines the beautiful sounds of strings, winds, brass, and percussion instruments to create a lovely and rich sound for anyone to enjoy. Since the very beginnings of its origin, it has grown and developed to become the group of instruments that we know today. It was not always large and sweeping, but instead smaller and less diverse. The history and evolution of the orchestra is quite an interesting story.

When instruments and sheet music were first on the scene, there were very few instruments to choose from. Music was not written for specific instruments in mind. Music was written for whatever instruments happened to show up to the group. Additionally, when the orchestra began, there was no such thing as an orchestra’s conductor. People in the audience actually got up and conducted the group of instrumentalists.

By the Baroque Era, there were many different string instruments; violin, viola, cello, and bass. The harpsichord and organ also became popular at this time. If nobody stepped up to conduct, the harpsichord player or organist would “lead” the group.

As time went on, many more aspects of the orchestra evolved. Composers now wrote specific parts for each instrument. This gave songs depth the likes of which had never been seen – or, more accurately, heard – before. Listeners found this new way of writing music far more interesting and exciting.

Certain instruments, like the string section, started gaining prominence and others fell to background sounds. By the late 1800s, conductors were finally needed for the orchestra because it had grown so large. The different sections needed to be directed in order to follow along with the music and come in when they were needed.

The interesting thing to see over time was the addition of new instruments as they were invented and became popular. Brass and wind instruments were slowly added to the strings and keys to help create that full, well-rounded sound of the orchestra that we know and love today.

It’s remarkable to realize that no matter what kind of music you enjoy – a large, sweeping orchestra, the dulcet tones of a small band, or the exhilarating atmosphere of a contemporary rock band – all instrumental music as we know today had its humble origins in just a few instruments conducted by audience members.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the love that people experience while listening to music made by talented artists. That’s the gift that we give people when we play.

Learning More About Film Scores

When we watch a movie, we often do not pay much attention to the music in the background. But something interesting is that we do not always recognize that the music in the background lends more to the scene than we could ever imagine. Without that film score, we would lose a very important part of the story, for instance, what are the Lord of the Rings movies, without that distinct score in the background letting you know that it is a tense or tranquil scene?

A film score helps to convey the emotion in a scene in the most subtle way possible. If you have soft piano and strings sounds in the background, it is often going to be a tranquil scene, one that is usually full of emotion. The score needs to be soft and light enough to help convey this, without drowning out the scene itself.

On the contrary, when you have an action scene, fast-paced music is often used to move the fighting scenes along. The fight scene scores are often punchy and staccato to mimic the fighting and punches on screen. To draw more upon our Lord of the Rings example, sweeping wide-angle camera scenes of a beautiful landscape or an intense battle would not be the same without a dynamic, epic strings-based musical progression. The score somehow gives depth to a scene that could be pretty generic.
For someone who creates the film scores for movies, they must take the time to think about the kind of emotion that they want to convey from a certain scene. They must consider what instruments will be best used to create the score that they are looking to do, and how they want to compose the music to fit the scene. It has to fit in order to make sense in the film and help to tell an underlying story, within a story.

Many movies are known for their scores. In fact, some well-composed scores are so iconic you can simply hear a song from a movie and immediately be able to identify the film. When something is memorable enough for you to know just what movie it comes from, you will be rest assured that that score – and consequently, that film – will not be forgotten anytime soon. For example, how many of us can immediately recognize something from Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Star Wars?

It also can make for a pretty fun and interesting orchestral performance. Check out this video on the Prague Film Orchestra.

 

While the film’s score composer is not the most celebrated cog in the film machine, it certainly can leave the greatest legacy.