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 and reviewer, broadcaster (he was appointed Head of Music at
a 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 contents:-
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,
celeste, 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
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
A pleasing and wide-ranging adventure in learning music: entertaining and
amusing as well as instructive.