What a splendid idea this is. For music students of
all ages, lecturers (it’s an ideal teaching tool), for the general music
lover who wants to increase his knowledge, and (dare I say it) as a
memory aide for composers, arrangers and orchestrators, this is a marvellous
in-depth appreciation of the capabilities and usage of The Instruments
of the Orchestra. Jeremy Siepmann, the author and narrator, born
in America, but for long resident in the U.K., is a classical music
journalist, reviewer and broadcaster (he was appointed Head of Music
at the BBC World Service). He is therefore an ideal choice.
Siepmann uses many, many excerpts from Naxos’s huge
catalogue to demonstrate the compass of the instruments of the orchestra
and the way composers have used them to convey drama, atmosphere and
a wide variety of emotions. The booklet includes a written version of
his narration as well as full details of the excerpts.
The first CD is devoted entirely to the violin, the
backbone of every conventional orchestra. "The violin is amongst
the most versatile and expressive instruments ever conceived …"
Amongst the many examples, Siepmann uses are: the Adagio slow movement
of the Brahms Violin Concerto to illustrate its tender voice, ‘The Triumphal
March of the Devil’ from Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale to illustrate
its earlier devilish reputation and Csárdás Music
to illustrate fiery, passionate gypsy violin music. Violin playing techniques
like tremolando, pizzicato and double stopping are covered too; and
the use of the mute to give a quieter more intimate sound.
The other CDs, again with many examples, cover the
lower strings, woodwind, the brass, percussion and, intriguingly, an
extra session amusingly entitled ‘Interlopers’ (CD6) that includes -
the keyboards: organ, piano and harpsichord; plus more exotic fare like:
sleighbells (Mahler Symphony No. 4 opening) and cowbells (Mahler Symphony
No. 6 ‘Tragic’ 1st movement). Then there is the typewriter
(Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter) sandpaper (Leroy Anderson’s Sandpaper
Ballet) and wind machine (Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 7 ‘Sinfonia
Antarctica’) – and many more.
As can be imagined this is a pleasing and wide-ranging
adventure in learning music: entertaining and amusing as much as instructive.
To appreciate a little more its wide scope, it is worth looking at the
Historical profiles of the major instruments.
This is a major feature covering 36 pages. It is divided into the main
sections of the orchestra commencing with detailed histories of the
developments of the strings: violin, viola, cello and double bass. Then
come the woodwinds: flute, piccolo, oboe, the clarinet family (soprano,
alto bass and contra-bass), saxophone, bassoon and contra-bassoon. The
brass: trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba, and percussion: triangle,
celesta, tambourine, bongo drums, tubular bells, side drum, bass drum,
kettledrums, the xylophone family (xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba,
and vibraphone), and the harp. Line illustrations of each instrument
The greatest instrument makers. This short section
covers the most famous instrument craftsman such as Antonio Stradivari
and Adolphe Sax.
Instrument typecasting. Here Siepmann shows
how instruments are frequently typecast into conveying specific emotions
and asserts that they are often more versatile. For example –
Violin – Romantic, lyrical, sensuous, seductive,
virtuosic, versatile but also in the seventeenth century and earlier,
devilish, vulgar and frivolous. References to examples on the accompanying
CDs are included.
The art of orchestration and transcription
The original instrument debate
Orchestral seating plan (arrangement of the
orchestra on the platform) including "Why have some conductors,
past and present, chosen alternative arrangements – and with what results"
Size and constitution of the orchestra (difference
between a chamber ensemble and an orchestra, and really big orchestras)
A pleasing and wide-ranging adventure in learning music:
entertaining and amusing as well as instructive.