Principles of Orchestration, with Musical Examples Drawn from His Own Works


of Orchestration

with musical examples
drawn from his own works

Edited by

English translation by


[Édition Russe de Musique, Paris, 1922]

Volume I


Editor’s Preface VII—XII
Extract from the Author’s preface (1891) 1
Extract from the Preface to the last edition 5
Chapter I.—General review of orchestral groups
A. Stringed instruments 6
B. Wind instruments:
Wood-wind 12
Brass 21
C. Instruments of little sustaining power:
Plucked strings 26
Pizzicato 27
Harp 27
Percussion instruments producing determinate sounds, keyed instruments
Kettle-drums 29
Piano and Celesta 30
Glockenspiel, Bells, Xylophone 32
Percussion instruments producing indefinite sounds 32
Comparison of resonance in orchestral groups, and combination of different tone qualities 33
Chapter II.—Melody
Melody in stringed instruments 36
Grouping in unison 39
Stringed instruments doubling in octaves 40
Melody in double octaves 44
Doubling in three and four octaves 45
Melody in thirds and sixths 45
Melody in the wood-wind 46
Combination in unison 47
Combination in octaves 49
Doubling in two, three and four octaves 51
Melody in thirds and sixths 52
Thirds and sixths together 53
Melody in the brass 53
Brass in unison, in octaves, thirds and sixths 55
Melody in different groups of instruments combined together 56
A. Combination of wind and brass in unison 56
B. Combination of wind and brass in octaves 57
C. Combination of strings and wind 58
D. Combination of strings and brass 61
E. Combination of the three groups 61
Chapter III.—Harmony
General observations 63
Number of harmonic parts—Duplication 64
Distribution of notes in chords 67
String harmony 69
Wood-wind harmony 71
Four-part and three-part harmony 72
Harmony in several parts 76
Duplication of timbres 77
Remarks 78
Harmony in the brass 82
Four-part writing 82
Three-part writing 84
Writing in several parts 84
Duplication in the brass 85
Harmony in combined groups 88
A. Combination of wind and brass 88
1. In unison 88
2. Overlaying, crossing, enclosure of parts 90
B. Combination of strings and wind 94
C. Combination of the three groups 95
Chapter IV.—Composition of the orchestra
Different ways of orchestrating the same music 97
Full Tutti 101
Tutti in the wind 103
Tutti pizzicato 103
Tutti in one, two and three parts 104
Soli in the strings 104
Limits of orchestral range 106
Transference of passages and phrases 107
Chords of different tone quality used alternately 108
Amplification and elimination of tone qualities 109
Repetition of phrases, imitation, echo 110
Sforzando-piano and piano-sforzando chords 111
Method of emphasising certain notes and chords 111
Crescendo and diminuendo 112
Diverging and converging progressions 113
Tone quality as a harmonic force. Harmonic basis 114
Artificial effects 116
Use of percussion instruments for rhythm and colour 117
Economy in orchestral colour 118
Chapter V.—Combination of the human voice with orchestra. The Stage band
Orchestral accompaniment of solo voices 119
General remarks 119
Transparence of accompaniment. Harmony 120
Doubling voices in the orchestra 122
Recitative and declamation 125
Orchestral accompaniment of the chorus 126
Solo voice with chorus 128
Instruments on the stage and in the wings 129
Chapter VI (Supplementary).—Voices
Technical terms 132
Soloists 133
Range and register 133
Vocalisation 134
Vowels 136
Flexibility 137
Colour and character of voices 137
Voices in combination 139
Duet 139
Trios, quartets etc. 141
Chorus 142
Range and register 142
Melody 144
A. Mixed chorus 145
Chorus in unison 145
Progression in octaves 145
Voices divisi; harmonic use of the mixed chorus 146
B. Men’s chorus and Women’s chorus 148

Volume II

Musical Examples

List of Works

Editor’s Preface.
Rimsky-Korsakov had long been engrossed in his treatise on orchestration. We have in our possession a thick note book of some 200 pages in fine hand writing, dating from the years 1873-1874, containing a monograph on the question of acoustics, a classification of wind instruments and a detailed description of the construction and fingering of the different kinds of flute, the oboe, clarinet and horn.[1]

In his “Memoirs of my musical life” (1st edition, p. 120) the following passage occurs: “I had planned to devote all my energies to the compilation of a full treatise on orchestration. To this end I made several rough copies, jotting down explanatory notes detailing the technique of different instruments. What I intended to present to the world on this subject, was to include everything. The writing of this treatise, or, to be more exact, the sketch for it took up most of my time in the years 1873 and 1874. After reading the works of Tyndall and Helmholtz, I framed an introduction to my work, in which I endeavoured to expound the laws of acoustics as applied to the principles governing the construction of musical instruments. My manual was to begin with a detailed list of instruments, classified in groups and tabulated, including a description of the various systems in use at the present day. I had not yet thought of the second part of the book which was to be devoted to instruments in combination. But I soon realised that I had gone too far. With wind instruments in particular, the different systems were innumerable, and each manufacturer favoured his own pet theory. By the addition of a certain key the maker endowed his instrument with the possibility of a new trill, and-VIII- made some difficult passages more playable than on an instrument of another kind.

“There was no end to such complications. In the brass, I found instruments with three, four, and five valves, the mechanism varying according to the make. Obviously, I could not hope to cover so large a field; besides, of what value would such a treatise be to the student? Such a mass of detailed description of the various systems, their advantages and drawbacks, could not but fail to confuse the reader only too eager to learn. Naturally he would wish to know what instrument to employ, the extent of its capabilities etc., and getting no satisfactory information he would throw my massive work aside. For these reasons my interest in the book gradually waned, and finally I gave up the task.”

In 1891 Rimsky-Korsakov, now an artist of standing, the composer of Snegourotchka, Mlada, and Shéhérazade, a master of the orchestral technique he had been teaching for twenty years, returned to his handbook on instrumentation. He would seem to have made notes at different times from 1891 to 1893, during which period, after the first performance of Mlada, he gave up composition for a while. These notes, occasionally referred to in his Memoirs, are in three volumes of manuscript-paper. They contain the unfinished preface of 1891, a paragraph full of clear, thoughtful writing, and reprinted in this book.[2]

As the author tells us in his Memoirs (p. 297), the progress of his work was hampered by certain troublesome events which were happening at the time. Dissatisfied with his rough draft, he destroyed the greater part of it, and once more abandoned his task.

In 1894 he composed The Christmas Night; this was the beginning of his most fertile period. He became entirely engrossed in composition, making plans for a fresh opera as soon as the one in hand was completed. It was not until 1905 that his thoughts returned to the treatise on orchestration, his musical output remaining in abeyance through no fault of his own. Since 1891 the plan of the work had been entirely remodelled, as proved by the rough drafts still extant. The author had given up the idea of describing different instruments from their technical-IX- standpoint, and was more anxious to dwell upon the value of tone qualities and their various combinations.

Among the author’s papers several forms of the book have been found, each widely differing in detail from the other. At last, in the summer of 1905 Rimsky-Korsakov brought his plans to a head, and outlined the six chapters which form the foundation of the present volume. But the work suffered a further interruption, and the sketches were once more laid aside. In his Memoirs, Rimsky-Korsakov explains the fact by lack of interest in the work and a general feeling of weariness: “The treatise remained in abeyance. To start with, the form of the book was not a success, and I awaited the production of Kitesh, in order to give some examples from that work” (p. 360).

Then came the autumn of 1906. The composer experienced another rush of creative energy; his opera, The Golden Cockerel made rapid strides, and kept him busy all that winter and the following summer. When it was finished, in the autumn of 1907, his thoughts reverted to the treatise on orchestration. But the work made little progress. The author had his doubts as to the adequacy of the plan he had adopted, and, in spite of the entreaties of his pupils and friends, he could not bring himself to broach the latter part of the book. Towards the end of 1907 Rimsky-Korsakov was constantly ailing in health, and this materially affected his energy. He spent the greater part of his time reading old notes and classifying examples. About the 20th of May he set out for his summer residence in Lioubensk, and having just recovered from a third severe attack of inflammation of the lungs, began to work on the first chapter of the treatise in its present, final form. This chapter was finished on June 7/20, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon; the same night, the composer was seized with a fourth attack which proved fatal.

The honour fell on me to prepare this last work of Rimsky-Korsakov for publication. Now that Principles of Orchestration has appeared in print I think it necessary to devote a few words to the essential features of the book, and to the labour imposed upon me in my capacity as editor.

On the first point I will say but little. The reader will observe from the Contents that the work differs from others, not merely by-X- reason of its musical examples, but more especially in the systematic arrangement of material, not according to orchestral division in groups (the method adopted by Gevaert for instance), but according to each constituent of the musical whole, considered separately. The orchestration of melodic and harmonic elements (Chapters II and III) receives special attention, as does the question of orchestration in general (Chapter IV). The last two chapters are devoted to operatic music, and the sixth takes a supplementary form, having no direct bearing on the previous matter.

Rimsky-Korsakov altered the title of his book several times, and his final choice was never made. The title I have selected seems to me to be the one most suitable to the contents of the work, “principles” in the truest sense of the word. Some may expect to find the “secrets” of the great orchestrator disclosed; but, as he himself reminds us in his preface, “to orchestrate is to create, and this is something which cannot be taught.”

Yet, as invention, in all art, is closely allied to technique, this book may reveal much to the student of instrumentation. Rimsky-Korsakov has often repeated the axiom that good orchestration means proper handling of parts. The simple use of tone-colours and their combinations may also be taught, but there the science of instruction ends. From these standpoints the present book will furnish the pupil with nearly everything he requires. The author’s death prevented him from discussing a few questions, amongst which I would include full polyphonic orchestration and the scoring of melodic and harmonic designs. But these questions can be partly solved by the principles laid down in Chapters II and III, and I have no wish to overcrowd the first edition of this book with extra matter which can be added later, if it is found to be necessary. I had first of all to prepare and amplify the sketches made by Rimsky-Korsakov in 1905; these form a connected summary throughout the whole six chapters. Chapter I was completed by the author; it is published as it stands, save for a few unimportant alterations in style. As regards the other five chapters, I have tried to keep to the original drafts as far as possible, and have only made a few changes in the order, and one or two indispensable additions. The sketches made between 1891 and 1893 were too disconnected to be of much use, but, in point-XI- of fact, they corresponded very closely to the final form of the work.

The musical examples are of greater importance. According to the original scheme, as noted on the 1891 MS., they were to be drawn from the works of Glinka and Tschaikovsky; those of Borodin and Glazounov were to be added later. The idea of choosing examples solely from his own works only came to Rimsky-Korsakov by degrees. The reasons for this decision are partly explained in the unfinished preface of 1905, but other motives may be mentioned. If Rimsky-Korsakov had chosen his examples from the works of these four composers, he would have had to give some account of their individual, and often strongly marked peculiarities of style. This would have been a difficult undertaking, and then, how to justify the exclusion of West-European composers, Richard Wagner, for example, whose orchestration Rimsky-Korsakov so greatly admired? Besides, the latter could hardly fail to realise that his own compositions afforded sufficient material to illustrate every conceivable manner of scoring, examples emanating from one great general principle. This is not the place to criticise his method; Rimsky-Korsakov’s “school” is here displayed, each may examine it for himself. The brilliant, highly-coloured orchestration of Russian composers, and the scoring of the younger French musicians are largely developments of the methods of Rimsky-Korsakov, who, in turn, looked upon Glinka as his spiritual father.

The table of examples found among the author’s papers was far from complete; some portions were badly explained, others, not at all. The composer had not mentioned which musical quotations were to be printed in the second volume, and which examples were to indicate the study of the full score; further, no limit was fixed to the length of quotation. All this was therefore left to the editor’s discretion. I selected the examples only after much doubt and hesitation, finding it difficult to keep to those stipulated by the composer, as every page of the master’s works abounds in appropriate instances of this or that method of scoring.

I was guided by the following considerations which agreed with the opinions of the author himself: in the first place the examples should be as simple as possible, so as not to distract-XII- the student’s attention from the point under discussion; secondly, it was necessary that one example should serve to illustrate several sections of the book, and lastly, the majority of quotations should be those mentioned by the author. These amount to 214, in the second volume; the remaining 98 were added by me. They are drawn, as far as possible, from Rimsky-Korsakov’s dramatic music, since operatic full-scores are less accessible than those of symphonic works.[3]

At the end of Vol. II I have added three tables showing different ways of scoring full chords; all my additions to the text are marked with asterisks. I consider that the careful study of the examples contained in the second volume will be of the greatest use to the student without replacing the need for the study of other composers’ scores. Broadly speaking, the present work should be studied together with the reading of full scores in general.

A few words remain to be said regarding Rimsky-Korsakov’s intention to point out the faulty passages in his orchestral works, an intention expressed in his preface to the last edition. The composer often referred to the instructional value of such examinations. His purpose however was never achieved. It is not for me to select these examples, and I shall only mention two which were pointed out by the composer himself: 1. The Legend of Tsar Saltan 220, 7th bar—the theme in the brass is not sufficiently prominent the trombones being tacet (a mistake easily rectified); 2. The Golden Cockerel 233, bars 10-14, if the marks of expression are observed in the brass, the counter-melody on the violas and violoncellos doubled by the wood-wind will hardly be heard. Example 75 may also be mentioned, to which the note on page 63, in the text, refers. I will confine myself to these examples.

In conclusion I desire to express my deep gratitude to Madame Rimsky-Korsakov for having entrusted me with the task of editing this work, thereby providing me with the opportunity of performing a duty sacred to the memory of a master, held so deeply in reverence.

St. Petersburgh, December 1912.



Extract from the Author’s Preface (1891).
Our epoch, the post-Wagnerian age, is the age of brilliance and imaginative quality in orchestral tone colouring. Berlioz, Glinka, Liszt, Wagner, modern French composers—Delibes, Bizet and others; those of the new Russian school—Borodin, Balakirev, Glazounov and Tschaikovsky—have brought this side of musical art to its zenith; they have eclipsed, as colourists, their predecessors, Weber, Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn, to whose genius, nevertheless, they are indebted for their own progress. In writing this book my chief aim has been to provide the well-informed reader with the fundamental principles of modern orchestration from the standpoint of brilliance and imagination, and I have devoted considerable space to the study of tonal resonance and orchestral combination.

I have tried to show the student how to obtain a certain quality of tone, how to acquire uniformity of structure and requisite power. I have specified the character of certain melodic figures and designs peculiar to each instrument or orchestral group, and reduced these questions briefly and clearly to general principles; in short I have endeavoured to furnish the pupil with matter and material as carefully and minutely studied as possible. Nevertheless I do not claim to instruct him as to how such information should be put to artistic use, nor to establish my examples in their rightful place in the poetic language of music. For, just as a handbook of harmony, counterpoint, or form presents the student with harmonic or polyphonic matter, principles of construction, formal arrangement, and sound technical methods, but will never endow him with the talent for composition, so a treatise on orchestration can demonstrate how to produce a well-sounding chord-2- of certain tone-quality, uniformly distributed, how to detach a melody from its harmonic setting, correct progression of parts, and solve all such problems, but will never be able to teach the art of poetic orchestration. To orchestrate is to create, and this is something which cannot be taught.

It is a great mistake to say: this composer scores well, or, that composition is well orchestrated, for orchestration is part of the very soul of the work. A work is thought out in terms of the orchestra, certain tone-colours being inseparable from it in the mind of its creator and native to it from the hour of its birth. Could the essence of Wagner’s music be divorced from its orchestration? One might as well say that a picture is well drawn in colours.

More than one classical and modern composer has lacked the capacity to orchestrate with imagination and power; the secret of colour has remained outside the range of his creative faculty. Does it follow that these composers do not know how to orchestrate? Many among them have had greater knowledge of the subject than the mere colourist. Was Brahms ignorant of orchestration? And yet, nowhere in his works do we find evidence of brilliant tone or picturesque fancy. The truth is that his thoughts did not turn towards colour; his mind did not exact it.

The power of subtle orchestration is a secret impossible to transmit, and the composer who possesses this secret should value it highly, and never debase it to the level of a mere collection of formulæ learned by heart.

Here I may mention the case of works scored by others from the composer’s rough directions. He who undertakes such work should enter as deeply as he may into the spirit of the composer, try to realise his intentions, and develop them in all their essential features.

Though one’s own personality be subordinate to that of another, such orchestration is nevertheless creative work. But on the other hand, to score a composition never intended for the orchestra, is an undesirable practice. Many musicians have made this mistake and persist in it.[4] In any case this is the lowest form of in-3-strumentation, akin to colour photography, though of course the process may be well or badly done.

As regards orchestration it has been my good fortune to belong to a first-rate school, and I have acquired the most varied experience. In the first place I have had the opportunity of hearing all my works performed by the excellent orchestra of the St. Petersburgh Opera. Secondly, having experienced leanings towards different directions, I have scored for orchestras of different sizes, beginning with simple combinations (my opera The May Night is written for natural horns and trumpets), and ending with the most advanced. In the third place, I conducted the choir of the Military Marine for several years and was therefore able to study wind-instruments. Finally I formed an orchestra of very young pupils, and succeeded in teaching them to play, quite competently, the works of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Glinka, etc. All this has enabled me to present this work to the public as the result of long experience.

As a starting-point I lay down the following fundamental axioms:

I. In the orchestra there is no such thing as ugly quality of tone.

II. Orchestral writing should be easy to play; a composer’s work stands the best chance when the parts are well written.[5]

III. A work should be written for the size of orchestra that is to perform it, not for some imaginary body, as many composers persist in doing, introducing brass instruments in unusual keys upon which the music is impracticable because it is not played in the key the composer intends.

It is difficult to devise any method of learning orchestration without a master. As a general rule it is best to advance by degrees from the simplest scoring to the most complicated.

The student will probably pass through the following phases: 1. the phase during which he puts his entire faith in percussion instru-4-ments, believing that beauty of sound emanates entirely from this branch of the orchestra—this is the earliest stage; 2. the period when he acquires a passion for the harp, using it in every possible chord; 3. the stage during which he adores the wood-wind and horns, using stopped notes in conjunction with strings, muted or pizzicato; 4. the more advanced period, when he has come to recognise that the string group is the richest and most expressive of all. When the student works alone he must try to avoid the pitfalls of the first three phases. The best plan is to study full-scores, and listen to an orchestra, score in hand. But it is difficult to decide what music should be studied and heard. Music of all ages, certainly, but, principally, that which is fairly modern. Fairly modern music will teach the student how to score—classical music will prove of negative value to him. Weber, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer (The Prophet), Berlioz, Glinka, Wagner, Liszt, and modern French and Russian composers—these will prove his best guides. It is useless for a Berlioz or a Gevaert to quote examples from the works of Gluck. The musical idiom is too old-fashioned and strange to modern ears; such examples are of no further use today. The same may be said of Mozart and of Haydn (the father of modern orchestration).

The gigantic figure of Beethoven stands apart. His music abounds in countless leonine leaps of orchestral imagination, but his technique, viewed in detail, remains much inferior to his titanic conception. His use of the trumpets, standing out above the rest of the orchestra, the difficult and unhappy intervals he gives to the horns, the distinctive features of the string parts and his often highly-coloured employment of the wood-wind,—these features will combine causing the student of Beethoven to stumble upon a thousand and one points in contradiction.

It is a mistake to think that the beginner will light upon no simple and instructive examples in modern music, in that of Wagner and others. On the contrary, clearer, and better examples are to be found amongst modern composers than in what is called the range of classical music.


Extract from the Preface to the last edition.
My aim in undertaking this work is to reveal the principles of modern orchestration in a somewhat different light than that usually brought to bear upon the subject. I have followed these principles in orchestrating my own works, and, wishing to impart some of my ideas to young composers, I have quoted examples from my own compositions, or given references to them, endeavouring to show, in all sincerity, what is successful and what is not. No one can know except the author himself the purpose and motives which governed him during the composition of a certain work, and the practice of explaining the intentions of a composer, so prevalent amongst annotators, however reverent and discreet, appears to me far from satisfactory. They will attribute a too closely philosophic, or excessively poetic meaning to a plain and simple fact. Sometimes the respect which great composers’ names command will cause inferior examples to be quoted as good; cases of carelessness or ignorance, easily explained by the imperfections of current technique, give rise to whole pages of laborious exposition, in defence, or even in admiration of a faulty passage.

This book is written for those who have already studied instrumentation from Gevaert’s excellent treatise, or any other well-known manual, and who have some knowledge of a number of orchestral scores.

I shall therefore only just touch on such technical questions as fingering, range, emission of sound etc.[6]

The present work deals with the combination of instruments in separate groups and in the entire orchestral scheme; the different means of producing strength of tone and unity of structure; the sub-division of parts; variety of colour and expression in scoring,—the whole, principally from the standpoint of dramatic music.


Chapter I.

A. Stringed Instruments.
The following is the formation of the string quartet and the number of players required in present day orchestras, either in the theatre or concert-room.

Full orchestra Medium orchestra Small orchestra
Violins I 16 12 8
” II 14 10 6
Violas 12 8 4
Violoncellos 10 6 3
Double basses 8-10 4-6 2-3

In larger orchestras, the number of first violins may amount to 20 and even 24, the other strings being increased proportionately. But such a great quantity of strings overpowers the customary wood-wind section, and entails re-inforcing the latter. Sometimes orchestras contain less than 8 first violins; this is a mistake, as the balance between strings and wind is completely destroyed. In writing for the orchestra it is advisable to rely on a medium-sized body of strings. Played by a larger orchestra a work will be heard to greater advantage; played by a smaller one, the harm done will be minimised.-7-

Whenever a group of strings is written for more than five parts—without taking double notes or chords into consideration—these parts may be increased by dividing each one into two, three and four sections, or even more (divisi). Generally, one or more of the principal parts is split up, the first or second violins, violas or violoncellos. The players are then divided by desks, numbers 1, 3, 5 etc. playing the upper part, and 2, 4, 6 etc., the lower; or else the musician on the right-hand of each desk plays the top line, the one on the left the bottom line. Dividing by threes is less easy, as the number of players in one group is not always divisible by three, and hence the difficulty of obtaining proper balance. Nevertheless there are cases where the composer should not hesitate to employ this method of dividing the strings, leaving it to the conductor to ensure equality of tone. It is always as well to mark how the passage is to be divided in the score; Vns I, 1, 2, 3 desks, 6 ‘Cellos div. à 3, and so on. Division into four and more parts is rare, but may be used in piano passages, as it greatly reduces volume of tone in the group of strings.

Note. In small orchestras passages sub-divided into many parts are very hard to realise, and the effect obtained is never the one required.

String parts may be divided thus:

a { Vns I div.
Vns II div.
b { Vns II div.
Violas div.
c { Violas div.
‘Cellos div.
d { ‘Cellos div.
D. basses div.

Possible combinations less frequently used are:

e { Vns I div.
Violas div.
f { Vns II div.
‘Cellos div.
g { Violas div.
D. basses div. etc.

Note. It is evident that the tone quality in b and e will be similar. Still b is preferable since the number of Vns II (14-10-6) and Violas (12-8-4) is practically the same, the respective rôles of the two groups are more closely allied, and from the fact that second violins generally sit nearer to the violas than the first, thereby guaranteeing greater unity in power and execution.

The reader will find all manner of divisions in the musical examples given in Vol. II. Where necessary, some explanation as to the method of dividing strings will follow in due course. I dwell on the subject here in order to show how the usual composition of the string quartet may be altered.-8-

Stringed instruments possess more ways of producing sound than any other orchestral group. They can pass, better than other instruments from one shade of expression to another, the varieties being of an infinite number. Species of bowing such as legato, detached, staccato, spiccato, portamento, martellato, light staccato, saltando, attack at the nut and at the point, downbow and upbow (down bow and up bow), in every degree of tone, fortissimo, pianissimo, crescendo, diminuendo, sforzando, morendo—all this belongs to the natural realm of the string quartet.

The fact that these instruments are capable of playing double notes and full chords across three and four strings—to say nothing of sub-division of parts—renders them not only melodic but also harmonic in character.[7]

From the point of view of activity and flexibility the violin takes pride of place among stringed instruments, then, in order, come the viola, ‘cello and double bass. In practice the notes of extreme limit in the string quartet should be fixed as follows:

for violins: Music: A7, for violas: Music: A7,

for ‘cellos: Music: A4, for double basses: Music: G4.

Higher notes given in Table A, should only be used with caution, that is to say when they are of long value, in tremolando, slow, flowing melodies, in not too rapid sequence of scales, and in passages of repeated notes. Skips should always be avoided.

Note. In quick passages for stringed instruments long chromatic figures are never suitable; they are difficult to play and sound indistinct and muddled. Such passages are better allotted to the wood-wind.

A limit should be set to the use of a high note on any one of the three lower strings on violins, violas and ‘cellos. This note should be the one in the fourth position, either the octave note or the ninth of the open string.-9-

Nobility, warmth, and equality of tone from one end of the scale to the other are qualities common to all stringed instruments, and render them essentially superior to instruments of other groups. Further, each string has a distinctive character of its own, difficult to define in words. The top string on the violin (E) is brilliant in character, that of the viola (A) is more biting in quality and slightly nasal; the highest string on the ‘cello (A) is bright and possesses a “chest-voice” timbre. The A and D strings on the violin and the D string on the violas and ‘cellos are somewhat sweeter and weaker in tone than the others. Covered strings (G), on the violin (G and C), on the viola and ‘cello are rather harsh. Speaking generally, the double bass is equally resonant throughout, slightly duller on the two lower strings (E and A), and more penetrating on the upper ones (D and G).

Note. Except in the case of pedal notes, the double bass rarely plays an independent part, usually moving in octaves or in unison with the ‘cellos, or else doubling the bassoons. The quality of the double bass tone is therefore seldom heard by itself and the character of its different strings is not so noticeable.

The rare ability to connect sounds, or a series of sounds, the vibration of stopped strings combined with their above-named qualities—warmth and nobility of tone—renders this group of instruments far and away the best orchestral medium of melodic expression. At the same time, that portion of their range situated beyond the limits of the human voice, e.g. notes on the violin higher than the extreme top note of the soprano voice, from

Music: E6

upwards, and notes on the double bass below the range of the bass voice, descending from

Music: D3 (written sound)

lose in expression and warmth of tone. Open strings are clearer and more powerful but less expressive than stopped strings.

Comparing the range of each stringed instrument with that of the human voice, we may assign: to the violin, the soprano and-10- contralto voice plus a much higher range; to the viola, the contralto and tenor voice plus a much higher register; to the ‘cello, the tenor and bass voices plus a higher register; to the double bass, the bass voice plus a lower range.

The use of harmonics, the mute, and some special devices in bowing produce great difference in the resonance and tone quality of all these instruments.

Harmonics, frequently used today, alter the timbre of a stringed instrument to a very appreciable extent. Cold and transparent in soft passages, cold and brilliant in loud ones, and offering but little chance for expression, they form no fundamental part of orchestral writing, and are used simply for ornament. Owing to their lack of resonant power they should be used sparingly, and, when employed, should never be overpowered by other instruments. As a rule harmonics are employed on sustained notes, tremolando, or here and there for brilliant effects; they are rarely used in extremely simple melodies. Owing to a certain tonal affinity with the flute they may be said to form a kind of link between string and wood-wind instruments.

Another radical change is effected by the use of mutes. When muted, the clear, singing tone of the strings becomes dull in soft passages, turns to a slight hiss or whistle in loud ones, and the volume of tone is always greatly reduced.

The position of the bow on the string will affect the resonance of an instrument. Playing with the bow close to the bridge (sul ponticello), chiefly used tremolando, produces a metallic sound; playing on the finger-board (sul tasto, flautando) creates a dull, veiled effect.

Note. Another absolutely different sound results from playing with the back or wood of the bow (col legno). This produces a sound like a xylophone or a hollow pizzicato. It is discussed under the heading of instruments of little sustaining power.

Table A. String group.
(These instruments give all chromatic intervals.)

Table A


Black lines on each string denote the general range in orchestral writing, the dotted lines give the registers, low, medium, high, very high.

The five sets of strings with number of players given above produce a fairly even balance of tone. If there is any surplus of strength it must be on the side of the first violins, as they must be heard distinctly on account of the important part they play in the harmonic scheme. Besides this, an extra desk of first violins is usual in all orchestras, and as a general-12- rule they possess a more powerful tone than second violins. The latter, with the violas, play a secondary part, and do not stand out so prominently. The ‘cellos and double basses are heard more distinctly, and in the majority of cases form the bass in octaves.

In conclusion it may be said that the group of strings, as a melodic element, is able to perform all manner of passages, rapid and interrupted phrases of every description, diatonic or chromatic in character. Capable of sustaining notes without difficulty, of playing chords of three and four notes; adapted to the infinite variety of shades of expression, and easily divisible into numerous sundry parts, the string group in an orchestra may be considered as an harmonic element particularly rich in resource.

B. Wind instruments.
Apart from the varying number of players, the formation of the string group, with its five constituent parts remains constant, satisfying the demands of any orchestral full score. On the other hand the group of wood-wind instruments varies both as regards number of parts and the volume of tone at its command, and here the composer may choose at will. The group may be divided into three general classes: wood-wind instruments in pair’s, in three’s and in four’s, (see table on page 13).

Arabic numerals denote the number of players on each instrument; roman figures, the parts (1st, 2nd etc.). Instruments which do not require additional players, but are taken over by one or the other executant in place of his usual instrument, are enclosed in brackets. As a rule the first flute, first oboe, first clarinet and first bassoon never change instruments; considering the importance of their parts it is not advisable for them to turn from one mouth-piece to another. The parts written for piccolo, bass flute, English horn, small clarinet, bass clarinet and double bassoon are taken by the second and third players in each group, who are more accustomed to using these instruments of a special nature.

in pair’s
in three’s
in four’s
(II—Piccolo). (III—Piccolo). 1 Piccolo (IV).
2 Flutes I. II. 3 Flutes I. II. III. 3 Flutes I. II. III.
(II—Bass flute). (III—Bass flute).
2 Oboes I. II. 2 Oboes I. II. 3 Oboes I. II. III.
(II—Eng. horn). 1 Eng. horn (III). 1 Eng. horn (IV).
(II—Small clarinet). (II—Small clarinet).
2 Clarinets I. II. 3 Clarinets I. II. III. 3 Clarinets I. II. III.
(II—Bass clarinet). (III—Bass clarinet). 1 Bass clarinet (IV).
2 Bassoons I. II. 2 Bassoons I. II. 3 Bassoons I. II. III.
1 Double bassoon (III). 1 Double bassoon (IV).

The formation of the first class may be altered by the permanent addition of a piccolo part. Sometimes a composer writes for two piccolos or two Eng. horns etc. without increasing the original number of players required (in three’s or four’s).

Note I. Composers using the first class in the course of a big work (oratorio, opera, symphony, etc.) may introduce special instruments, called extras, for a long or short period of time; each of these instruments involves an extra player not required throughout the entire work. Meyerbeer was fond of doing this, but other composers, Glinka for example, refrain from increasing the number of performers by employing extras (Eng. horn part in Rousslân). Wagner uses all three classes in the above table (in pair’s: Tannhäuser—in three’s: Tristan—in four’s: The Ring).

Note II. Mlada is the only work of mine involving formation by four’s. Ivan the TerribleSadkoThe Legend of Tsar SaltanThe Legend of the Invisible City of Kitesh and The Golden Cockerel all belong to the second class, and in my other works, wood-wind in pair’s is used with a varying number of extras. The Christmas Night, with its two oboes, and two bassoons, three flutes and three clarinets, forms an intermediate class.

Considering the instruments it comprises, the string group offers a fair variety of colour, and contrast in compass, but this diversity of range and timbre is subtle and not easily discerned. In the wood-wind department, however, the difference in register and quality of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons is striking to a degree. As a rule, wood-wind instruments are less flexible than-14- strings; they lack the vitality and power, and are less capable of different shade of expression.

In each wind instrument I have defined the scope of greatest expression, that is to say the range in which the instrument is best qualified to achieve the various grades of tone, (fortepianocresc.dim.sforzandomorendo, etc.)—the register which admits of the most expressive playing, in the truest sense of the word. Outside this range, a wind instrument is more notable for richness of colour than for expression. I am probably the originator of the term “scope of greatest expression”. It does not apply to the piccolo and double bassoon which represent the two extremes of the orchestral compass. They do not possess such a register and belong to the body of highly-coloured but non-expressive instruments.

The four kinds of wind instruments: flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons may be generally considered to be of equal power. The same cannot be said of instruments which fulfil a special purpose: piccolo, bass flute, Eng. horn, small clarinet, bass clarinet and double bassoon. Each of these instruments has four registers: low, middle, high and extremely high, each of which is characterised by certain differences of quality and power. It is difficult to define the exact limits of each register; adjacent registers almost blend together and the passage from one to another is scarcely noticeable. But when the instrument jumps from one register to another the difference in power and quality of tone is very striking.

The four families of wind instruments may be divided into two classes: a) instruments of nasal quality and dark resonance—oboes and bassoons (Eng. horn and double bassoon); and b) instruments of “chest-voice” quality and bright tone—flutes and clarinets (piccolo, bass flute, small clarinet, bass clarinet).

These characteristics of colour and resonance—expressed in too simple and rudimentary a form—are specially noticeable in the middle and upper registers. The lower register of the oboes and bassoons is thick and rough, yet still nasal in quality; the very high compass is shrill, hard and dry. The clear resonance of the flutes and clarinets acquires something nasal and dark in the lower compass; in the very high register it becomes somewhat piercing.

Note to Table B.

In the following Table B the top note in each register serves as the bottom note in the next, as the limits to each register are not defined absolutely. The note G fixes the register of flutes and oboes, C for the clarinets and bassoons. In the very high compass those notes are only given which can really be used; anything higher and not printed as actual notes are either too difficult to produce or of no artistic value. The number of sounds obtainable in the highest compass is indefinite, and depends, partly on the quality of the instrument itself, partly on the position and application of the lips. The signs resonance are not to be mistaken for crescendo and diminuendo; they indicate how the resonance of an instrument increases or diminishes in relation to the characteristic quality of its timbre. The scope of greatest expression for each typical instrument is marked thus, bracket under the notes; the range is the same in each instrument of the same type.

Table B. Wind group.

These instruments give all chromatic intervals.

Note. It is a difficult matter to define tone quality in words; we must encroach upon the domain of sight, feeling, and even taste. Though borrowed from these senses, I have no doubt as to the appropriateness of my comparisons, but, as a general rule definitions drawn from other sources are too elementary to be applied to music. No condemnatory meaning however should be attached to my descriptions, for in using the terms thick, piercing, shrill, dry, etc. my object is to express artistic fitness in words, rather than material exactitude. Instrumental sounds which have no musical meaning are classed by me in the category of useless sounds, and I refer to them as such, giving my reasons. With the exception of these, the reader is advised to consider all other orchestral timbres beautiful from an artistic point of view, although it is necessary, at times, to put them to other uses.

Further on, a table of wind instruments is appended, outlining the approximate limit of range, defining different qualities of tone and indicating the scope of greatest expression (the piccolo and double bassoon excepted).

Flutes and clarinets are the most flexible wood-wind instruments (the flutes in particular), but for expressive power and subtlety in nuances the clarinet supersedes them; this instrument can reduce volume of tone to a mere breath. The nasal instruments, oboe and bassoon, are less mobile and supple; this is accounted for by their double reed, but, having to effect all sorts of scales and rapid passages in common with the flutes and clarinets, oboes and bassoons may be considered melodic instruments in the real sense of the word, only of a more cantabile and peaceful character. In very quick passages they often double the flutes, clarinets or strings.

The four families are equally capable of legato and staccato playing and changing from one to the other in different ways, but distinct and penetrating staccato passages are better suited to the oboes and bassoons, while the flutes and clarinets excel in well-sustained legato phrases. Composite legato passages should be allotted to the first two instruments, composite staccato passages to the latter pair, but these general directions should not deter the orchestrator from adopting the opposite plan.

In comparing the technical individualities of the wood-wind the following fundamental differences should be noted:

a) The rapid repetition of a single note by single tonguing is common to all wind instruments; repetition of a single note by means of double tonguing is only possible on the flute, a reedless instrument.

b) On account of its construction the clarinet is not well adapted to sudden leaps from one octave to another; these skips are easier on flutes, oboes and bassoons.-19-

c) Arpeggios and rapid alternation of two intervals legato sound well on flutes and clarinets, but not on oboes and bassoons.

Wood-wind players cannot manage extremely long sustained passages, as they are compelled to take breath; care must be taken therefore to give them a little rest from time to time. This is unnecessary in the case of string players.

In the endeavour to characterise the timbre of each instrument typical of the four families, from a psychological point of view, I do not hesitate to make the following general remarks which apply generally to the middle and upper registers of each instrument:

a) Flute.—Cold in quality, specially suitable, in the major key, to melodies of light and graceful character; in the minor key, to slight touches of transient sorrow.

b) Oboe.—Artless and gay in the major, pathetic and sad in the minor.

c) Clarinet.—Pliable and expressive, suitable, in the major, to melodies of a joyful or contemplative character, or to outbursts of mirth; in the minor, to sad and reflective melodies or impassioned and dramatic passages.

d) Bassoon.—In the major, an atmosphere of senile mockery; a sad, ailing quality in the minor.

In the extreme registers these instruments convey the following impressions to my mind:

Low register Very high register
a) Flute— Dull, cold Brilliant
b) Oboe— Wild Hard, dry
c) Clarinet— Ringing, threatening Piercing
d) Bassoon— Sinister Tense.

Note. It is true that no mood or frame of mind, whether it be joyful or sad, meditative or lively, careless or reflective, mocking or distressed can be aroused by one single isolated timbre; it depends more upon the general melodic line, the harmony, rhythm, and dynamic shades of expression, upon the whole formation of a given piece of music. The choice of instruments and timbre to be adopted depends on the position which melody and harmony occupy in the seven-octave scale of the orchestra; for example, a melody of light character in the tenor register could not be given to the flutes, or a sad, plaintive phrase in the high soprano register confided to the bassoons. But the ease with which tone colour can be adapted to expression must not be forgotten, and in the first of these two cases it may be conceded that the mocking character of the bassoon could easily and quite naturally assume a light-hearted aspect, and-20- in the second case, that the slightly melancholy timbre of the flute is somewhat related to the feeling of sorrow and distress with which the passage is to be permeated. The case of a melody coinciding in character with the instrument on which it is played is of special importance, as the effect produced cannot fail to be successful. There are also moments when a composer’s artistic feeling prompts him to employ instruments, the character of which is at variance with the written melody (for eccentric, grotesque effects, etc.).

The following remarks illustrate the characteristics, timbre, and employment of special instruments:

The duty of the piccolo and small clarinet is, principally, to extend the range of the ordinary flute and clarinet in the high register. The whistling, piercing quality of the piccolo in its highest compass is extraordinarily powerful, but does not lend itself to more moderate shades of expression. The small clarinet in its highest register is more penetrating than the ordinary clarinet. The low and middle range of the piccolo and small clarinet correspond to the same register in the normal flute and clarinet, but the tone is so much weaker that it is of little service in those regions. The double bassoon extends the range of the ordinary bassoon in the low register. The characteristics of the bassoon’s low compass are still further accentuated in the corresponding range of the double bassoon, but the middle and upper registers of the latter are by no means so useful. The very deep notes of the double bassoon are remarkably thick and dense in quality, very powerful in piano passages.

Note. Nowadays, when the limits of the orchestral scale are considerably extended (up to the high C of the 7th octave, and down to the low C, 16 ft. contra octave), the piccolo forms an indispensable constituent of the wind-group; similarly, it is recognised that the double bassoon is capable of supplying valuable assistance. The small clarinet is rarely employed and only for colour effects.

The English horn, or alto oboe (oboe in F) is similar in tone to the ordinary oboe, the listless, dreamy quality of its timbre being sweet in the extreme. In the low register it is fairly penetrating. The bass clarinet, though strongly resembling the ordinary clarinet, is of darker colour in the low register and lacks the silvery quality in the upper notes; it is incapable of joyful expression. The bass flute is an instrument seldom used even today; it possesses the same features as the flute, but it is colder in-21- colour, and crystalline in the middle and high regions. These three particular instruments, apart from extending the low registers of the instruments to which they belong, have their own distinctive peculiarities of timbre, and are often used in the orchestra, as solo instruments, clearly exposed.

Note. Of the six special instruments referred to above, the piccolo and double bassoon were the first to be used in the orchestra; the latter, however, was neglected after Beethoven’s death and did not reappear until towards the end of the 19th century. The Eng. horn and bass clarinet were employed initially during the first half of the same century by Berlioz, Meyerbeer, and others, and for some time retained their position as extras, to become, later on, permanent orchestral factors, first in the theatre, then in the concert room. Very few attempts have been made to introduce the small clarinet into the orchestra (Berlioz etc.); this instrument together with the bass flute is used in my opera-ballet Mlada (1892), and also in my most recent compositions, The Christmas Night, and Sadko; the bass flute will also be found in The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitesh, and in the revised version of “Ivan the Terrible“.

Of late years the habit of muting the wood-wind has come into fashion. This is done by inserting a soft pad, or a piece of rolled-up cloth into the bell of the instrument. Mutes deaden the tone of oboes, Eng. horns, and bassoons to such an extent that it is possible for these instruments to attain the extreme limit of pianissimo playing. The muting of clarinets is unnecessary, as they can play quite softly enough without artificial means. It has not yet been discovered how to mute the flutes; such a discovery would render great service to the piccolo. The lowest notes on the bassoon,

 and on the oboe and Eng. horn

are impossible when the instruments are muted. Mutes have no effect in the highest register of wind instruments.


The formation of the group of brass instruments, like that of the wood-wind is not absolutely uniform, and varies in different scores. The brass group may be divided into three general classes corresponding to those of the wood-wind (in pair’s, in three’s, and in four’s).

Group corresponding
to the wood-wind
in pair’s
Group corresponding
to the wood-wind
in three’s
Group corresponding
to the wood-wind
in four’s
(II—Small trumpet).
2 Trumpets I, II. 3 Trumpets I, II, III. 3 Trumpets I, II, III.
(III—Alto trumpet (III—Alto trumpet or
or: Bass trumpet.)
{ 2 Cornets I, II.
{ 2 Trumpets I, II.)
4 Horns I, II, III, IV. 4 Horns I, II, III, IV. 6 or 8 Horns I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII.
3 Trombones. 3 Trombones I, II, III. 3 Trombones I, II, III.
1 Tuba. 1 Tuba[8]. 1 Tuba.

The directions are the same as in the preceding table for wood-wind. It is evident that in all three classes the formation may vary as the composer wishes. In music for the theatre or concert room page after page may be written without the use of trumpets, trombones and tuba, or some instrument may be introduced, temporarily as an extra. In the above table I have given the most typical formations, and those which are the most common at the present day.

Note I. Besides the instruments given above, Richard Wagner used some others in The Ring, notably the quartet of tenor and bass tubas, and a contrabass trombone. Sometimes these additions weigh too heavily on the other groups, and at other times they render the rest of the brass ineffective. For this reason composers have doubtless refrained from employing such instruments, and Wagner himself did not include them in the score of Parsifal. Some present-day composers (Richard Strauss, Scriabine) write for as many as five trumpets.

Note II. From the middle of the 19th century onward the natural brass disappeared from the orchestra, giving place to valve instruments. In my second opera, The May Night I used natural horns and trumpets, changing the keys, and writing the best notes “stopped”; this was purposely done for practise.

Though far less flexible than the wood-wind, brass instruments heighten the effect of other orchestral groups by their powerful resonance. Trumpets, trombones, and tubas are about equal in-23- strength; cornets have not quite the same force; horns, in forte passages, are about one half as strong, but piano, they have the same weight as other brass instruments played softly. To obtain an equal balance, therefore, the marks of expression in the horns should be one degree stronger than in the rest of the brass; if the trumpets and trombones play pp, the horns should be marked p. On the other hand, to obtain a proper balance in forte passages, two horns are needed to one trumpet or one trombone.

Brass instruments are so similar in range and timbre that the discussion of register is unnecessary. As a general rule quality becomes more brilliant as the higher register is approached, and vice versa, with a decrease in tone. Played pp the resonance is sweet; played ff the tone is hard and “crackling”. Brass instruments possess a remarkable capacity for swelling from pianissimo to fortissimo, and reducing the tone inversely, the sf decrescendo p effect being excellent.

The following remarks as to character and tone quality may be added:

a) 1. Trumpets (B♭-A). Clear and fairly penetrating in tone, stirring and rousing in forte passages; in piano phrases the high notes are full and silvery, the low notes troubled, as though threatening danger.

2. Alto trumpet (in F). An instrument of my own invention, first used by me in the opera-ballet Mlada. In the deep register (notes 2 to 3 in the trumpet scale) it possesses a fuller, clearer, and finer tone. Two ordinary trumpets with an alto trumpet produce greater smoothness and equality in resonance than three ordinary trumpets. Satisfied with the beauty and usefulness of the alto trumpet, I have consistently written for it in my later works, combined with wood-wind in three’s.

Note. To obviate the difficulty of using the alto trumpet in ordinary theatres and some concert rooms, I have not brought into play the last four notes of its lowest register or their neighbouring chromatics; by this means the alto trumpet part may be played by an ordinary trumpet in B♭ or A.

3. Small trumpet (in E♭-D). Invented by me and used for the first time in Mlada to realise the very high-24- trumpet notes without difficulty. In tonality and range the instrument is similar to the soprano cornet in a military band.

Note. The small trumpet, (B♭-A) sounding an octave higher than the ordinary trumpet has not yet appeared in musical literature.

b) Cornets (in B♭-A). Possessing a quality of tone similar to the trumpet, but softer and weaker. It is a beautiful instrument though rarely employed today in theatre or concert room. Expert players can imitate the cornet tone on the trumpet, and vice versa.

c) Horn (in F). The tone of this instrument is soft, poetical, and full of beauty. In the lower register it is dark and brilliant; round and full in the upper. The middle notes resemble those of the bassoon and the two instruments blend well together. The horn, therefore, serves as a link between the brass and wood-wind. In spite of valves the horn has but little mobility and would seem to produce its tone in a languid and lazy manner.

d) Trombone. Dark and threatening in the deepest register, brilliant and triumphant in the high compass. The piano is full but somewhat heavy, the forte powerful and sonorous. Valve trombones are more mobile than slide trombones, but the latter are certainly to be preferred as regards nobility and equality of sound, the more so from the fact that these instruments are rarely required to perform quick passages, owing to the special character of their tone.

e) Tuba. Thick and rough in quality, less characteristic than the trombone, but valuable for the strength and beauty of its low notes. Like the double bass and double bassoon, the tuba is eminently useful for doubling, an octave lower, the bass of the group to which it belongs. Thanks to its valves, the tuba is fairly flexible.

Table C. Brass group.

These instruments give all chromatic intervals.[A] [B]

The group of brass instruments, though uniform in resonance throughout its constituent parts, is not so well adapted to expressive playing (in the exact sense of the word) as the wood-wind group. Nevertheless, a scope of greatest expression may be distinguished-26--25- in the middle registers. In company with the piccolo and double bassoon it is not given to the small trumpet (E♭-D) and tuba to play with any great amount of expression. The rapid and rhythmical repetition of a note by single tonguing is possible to all members of the brass, but double tonguing can only be done on instruments with a small mouth-piece, trumpets and cornets. These two instruments can execute rapid tremolando without difficulty. The remarks on breathing, in the section devoted to the wood-wind, apply with equal force to the brass.

The use of stopped notes and mutes alters the character of brass tone. Stopped notes can only be employed on trumpets, cornets and horns; the shape of trombones and tubas prevents the hand from being inserted into the bell. Though mutes are applied indiscriminately to all brass instruments in the orchestra, tubas rarely possess them. Stopped and muted notes are similar in quality. On the trumpet, muting a note produces a better tone than stopping it.

In the horn both methods are employed; single notes are stopped in short phrases, muted in longer ones. I do not propose to describe the difference between the two operations in detail, and will leave the reader to acquire the knowledge for himself, and to form an opinion as to its importance from his own personal observation. Sufficient to say that the tone is deadened by both methods, assuming a wild “crackling” character in forte passages, tender and dull in piano. Resonance is greatly reduced, the silvery tone of the instrument so lost and a timbre resembling that of the oboe and Eng. horn is approached. Stopped notes (con sordino) are marked + underneath the note, sometimes followed by no mute, denoting the resumption of open sounds, senza sordini. Brass instruments, when muted, produce an effect of distance.

C. Instruments of little sustaining power.

Plucked strings.

When the usual orchestral string quartet (Vns I, Vns II, Violas, ‘Cellos, D. basses) does not make use of the bow, but plucks the strings with the finger, it becomes to my mind a new and inde-27-pendent group with its own particular quality of tone. Associated with the harp, which produces sound in a similar manner, I consider it separately under the heading of plucked strings.

Note. In this group may be classed the guitar, zither, balalaïka; instruments plucked with a quill, such as the domra,[9] the mandoline etc., all of which may be used in an orchestra, but have no place in the scope of the present book.


Although capable of every degree of power from ff to pppizzicato playing has but small range of expression, and is used chiefly as a colour effect. On open strings it is resonant and heavy, on stopped strings shorter and duller; in the high positions it is rather dry and hard.

Table D on page 31 indicates the range in which pizzicato may be used on each stringed instrument.

In the orchestra, pizzicato comes into operation in two distinct ways: a) on single notes, b) on double notes and chords. The fingers of the right hand playing pizz. are far less agile than the bow; pizz. passages therefore can never be performed as quickly as those played arco. Moreover, the speed of pizzicato playing depends upon the thickness of the strings; on the double basses, for instance, it must always be much slower than on the violins.

In pizzicato chords it is better to avoid open strings, which produce a more brilliant tone than of covered strings. Chords of four notes allow of greater freedom and vigour of attack, as there is no danger of accidentally touching a wrong note. Natural harmonics played pizz. create a charming effect; the tone is weak however, and they are chiefly successful on the violoncello.


In the orchestra, the harp is almost entirely an harmonic or accompanying instrument. The majority of scores require only one harp part, but in recent times composers have written for two or even three harps, which are sometimes compressed into the one part.-28-

Note. Full orchestras should include three or even four harps. My operas SadkoThe Legend of the Invisible City of Kitesh, and The Golden Cockerel are designed for two harps, Mlada for three.

The special function of the harp lies in the execution of chords, and the florid figures springing from them. As only four notes at the most can be played by each hand, the notes of a chord should be written close together, with not too great a space between one hand and the other. The chords must always be broken (arpeggiato); should the composer wish otherwise he should notify it (non arpeggiato). In the middle and lower octaves the resonance of the strings is slightly prolonged, and dies away gradually. In changes of harmony the player stops the vibration of the strings with his hands, but, in quick modulations, this method is not feasible, and the mixture of one chord with another produces a discordant effect. It follows that more or less rapid figures can only be realised clearly and neatly in the upper register of the harp, where the strings are shorter and harder in tone.

As a general rule, in the whole range of the harp:

only the notes of the first to the fourth octave are used; the extreme notes in both compasses may be employed in special circumstances, and for doubling in octaves.

The harp is essentially a diatonic instrument, since all chromatic passages depend on the manipulation of the pedals. For this reason the harp does not lend itself to rapid modulation, and the orchestrator is advised to bear this fact in mind. But the difficulty may be obviated by using two harps alternately.[10]

Note. I would remind the reader that the harp is not capable of double sharps or double flats. For this reason, certain modulations from one key to another one, adjacent to it can only be accomplished enharmonically. For instance, the transition from C flat, G flat or D flat, major to their minor subdominant chords or keys is not possible owing to double flats. It is therefore-29- necessary to start enharmonically from the keys of BF sharp or C sharp, major. Similarly, on account of double sharps, it is impossible to change from A sharp, D sharp or G sharp, minor to their respective dominant major chords or keys; B flat, E flat and A flat, minor must be the starting-points.

The technical operation known as glissando is peculiar to the harp alone. Taking for granted that the reader is conversant with the methods of acquiring different scales by means of double-notched pedals, it will be sufficient to remark that glissando scales produce a discordant medley of sound owing to the length of time the strings continue to vibrate, and therefore, as a purely musical effect, glissando can only be used in the upper octaves, quite piano, where the sound of the strings is sufficiently clear, yet not too prolonged. Forte glissando scales, entailing the use of the lower and middle strings are only permissible as embellishments. Glissando passages in chords of the seventh and ninth, enharmonically obtained, are much more common, and as the above reservations do not apply, every dynamic shade of tone is possible. Chords in harmonics can only consist of three notes written close together, two for the left hand and one for the right.

The tender poetic quality of the harp is adapted to every dynamic shade, but it is never a very powerful instrument, and the orchestrator should treat it with respect.

At least three, if not four harps in unison are necessary, if they are to be heard against a full orchestra playing forte. The more rapidly a glissando passage is played, the louder it will sound. Harmonic notes on the harp have great charm but little resonance, and are only possible played quite softly. Speaking generally, the harp, like the string quartet, pizzicato, is more an instrument of colour than expression.

Percussion instruments producing determinate
sounds, keyed instruments.


Kettle-drums, indispensable to every theatre and concert orchestra occupy the most important place in the group of percussion instruments. A pair of kettle-drums (Timpani), in the tonic and dominant keys, was the necessary attribute of an orchestra up to, and-30- including Beethoven’s time, but, from the middle of the 19th century onward, in western Europe and in Russia, an ever-increasing need was felt for the presence of three or even four kettle-drums, during the whole course or part of a work. If the expensive chromatic drum, permitting instant tuning is rarely met with, still, in the majority of good orchestras, three screw drums are generally to be found. The composer can therefore take it for granted that a good timpanist, having three kettle-drums at his command, will be able to tune at least one of them during a pause of some length.

The limits of possible change in Beethoven’s time was considered to be:

F2-C3 (chromatically) Small
B♭2-F3 (chromatically)

In these days it is difficult to define the precise extent of high compass in the kettle-drums, as this depends entirely on the size and quality of the smallest one, of which there are many kinds, but I advise the composer to select:

E2-G♯3 (chromatically)

Note. A magnificent kettle-drum of very small size was made for my opera-ballet Mlada; this instrument gave the D♭ of the fourth octave.

Kettle-drums are capable of every dynamic shade of tone, from thundering fortissimo to a barely perceptible pianissimo. In tremolando they can execute the most gradual crescendodiminuendo, the sfp and morendo.

To deaden the sound, a piece of cloth is generally placed on the skin of the drum, according to the instruction: timpani coperti (muffled drums).

Table D.



The black notes are dry and hard, without resonance, and should only be used when doubled with the wood-wind.

* Table E.

Glockenspiel, celesta, xylophone.


Piano and Celesta.

The use of a piano in the orchestra (apart from pianoforte concertos) belongs almost entirely to the Russian school.[11] The object is two-fold: the quality of tone, either alone, or combined with-32- that of the harp, is made to imitate a popular instrument, the guzli, (as in Glinka), or a soft peal of bells. When the piano forms part of an orchestra, not as a solo instrument, an upright is preferable to a grand, but today the piano is gradually being superseded by the celesta, first used by Tschaikovsky. In the celesta, small steel plates take the place of strings, and the hammers falling on them produce a delightful sound, very similar to the glockenspiel. The celesta is only found in full orchestras; when it is not available it should be replaced by an upright piano, and not the glockenspiel.

Glockenspiel, Bells, Xylophone.

The glockenspiel (campanelli) may be made of steel bars, or played with a keyboard. The first type is the more satisfactory and possesses greater resonance. The use of the glockenspiel is similar to the celesta, but its tone is more brilliant and penetrating. Big bells in the shape of hollow discs or metal tubes,[12] or real church bells of moderate size may be considered more as theatrical properties than orchestral instruments.

The xylophone is a species of harmonica composed of strips or cylinders of wood, struck with two little hammers. It produces a clattering sound, both powerful and piercing.

To complete this catalogue of sounds mention should be made of the strings playing col legno, that is with the wood or back of the bow. The sound produced is similar to the xylophone, and gains in quality as the number of players is increased.

A table is appended showing the range of the celesta, glockenspiel and xylophone.

Percussion instruments producing indefinite sounds.

Instruments in this group, such as triangle, castanets, little bells, tambourine, switch or rod (Rute. Ger.), side or military drum, cymbals, bass drum, and Chinese gong do not take any harmonic or melodic part in the orchestra, and can only be considered as ornamental instruments pure and simple. They have no intrinsic-33- musical meaning, and are just mentioned by the way. The first three may be considered as high, the four following as medium, and the last two as deep instruments. This may serve as a guide to their use with percussion instruments of determinate sounds, playing in corresponding registers.

Comparison of resonance in orchestral groups and
combination of different tone qualities.

In comparing the resonance of the respective groups of sound-sustaining instruments we arrive at the following approximate conclusions:

In the most resonant group, the brass, the strongest instruments are the trumpets, trombones and tuba. In loud passages the horns are only one-half as strong, 1 Trumpet = 1 Trombone = 1 Tuba = 2 Horns. Wood-wind instruments, in forte passages, are twice as weak as the horns, 1 Horn = 2 Clarinets = 2 Oboes = 2 Flutes = 2 Bassoons; but, in piano passages, all wind-instruments, wood or brass are of fairly equal balance.

It is more difficult to establish a comparison in resonance between wood-wind and strings, as everything depends on the number of the latter, but, in an orchestra of medium formation, it may be taken for granted that in piano passages, the whole of one department (all 1st Violins or all 2nd Violins etc.) is equivalent in strength to one wind instrument, (Violins I = 1 Flute etc.), and, in forte passages, to two wind instruments, (Violins I = 2 Flutes = 1 Oboe + 1 Clarinet, etc.).

It is still harder to form a comparison with instruments of little sustaining power, for too great a diversity in production and emission of sound exists. The combined force of groups of sustained resonance easily overpowers the strings played pizz. or col legno, the piano played softly, or the celesta. As regards the glockenspiel, bells, and xylophone, their emphatic tone will easily prevail over other groups in combination. The same may be said of the kettle-drums with their ringing, resounding quality, and also of other subsidiary instruments.

The influence of the timbre of one group on another is noticeable when the groups are doubled; for instance, when the wood-wind timbre is closely allied to the strings on the one hand, and to the brass on the other. Re-inforcing both, the wind thickens the strings-34- and softens the brass. The strings do not blend so well with the brass, and when the two groups are placed side by side, each is heard too distinctly. The combination of the three different timbres in unison produces a rich, mellow and coherent tone.

All, or several wind instruments in combination will absorb one department of added strings:

2 Fl. + 2 Ob. + Vns I,
or: 2 Ob. + 2 Cl. + Violas,
or: 2 Cl. + 2 Fag. + ‘Cellos.

One department of strings added to the wood-wind in unison produces a sweet coherent quality, the wood-wind timbre still predominating; but the addition of one wind instrument to all or part of the strings in unison, only thickens the resonance of the latter, the wood-wind timbre being lost in the process:

Vns I + Vns II + 1 Ob.,
or: Violas + ‘Cellos + 1 Cl.
or: ‘Cellos + D. basses + 1 Fag.

Muted strings do not combine so well with wood-wind, as the two tone qualities remain distinct and separate. Uniting plucked strings and percussion with instruments of sustained resonance results in the following: wind instruments, wood and brass, strengthen and clarify pizzicato strings, harp, kettle-drums and percussion generally, the latter lending a touch of relief to the tone of the wood-wind. Uniting plucked strings and percussion with bowed instruments does not produce such a satisfactory blend, both qualities being heard independently. The combination of plucked strings with percussion alone, is excellent; the two blend perfectly, and the consequent increase in resonance yields an admirable effect.

The relationship which exists between string harmonics and the flute or piccolo constitutes a link between the two groups in the upper range of the orchestra. Moreover, the timbre of the viola may be vaguely compared to the middle register of the bassoon and the lowest compass of the clarinet; hence, in the medium orchestral range, a point of contact is established between the quartet of strings and the wood-wind.

The bassoon and horn provide the connection between wood-wind and brass, these two instruments being somewhat analogous-35- in character when played piano or mezzo-forte; the flute also, in its lowest register, recalls the pianissimo trumpet tone. Stopped and muted notes in horns and trumpets are similar in quality to the oboe and Eng. horn, and blend tolerably well with the latter instrument.

Concluding this survey of orchestral groups I add a few remarks which seem to me of special importance.

The principal part in music is undertaken by three instrumental groups of sustained resonance, representing the three primary elements, melody, harmony and rhythm. Instruments of little sustaining power, though sometimes used independently, are chiefly employed for ornament and colour; instruments producing indeterminate sounds play no melodic or harmonic part, their functions being purely rhythmical.

By glancing at the order in which the six orchestral groups are placed, strings, wood-wind, brass, plucked strings, percussion producing definite, and those producing indefinite sounds, the reader will be able to determine the part played by each in the art of orchestration, from the secondary standpoint of colour and expression. As regards expression, the strings come first, and the expressive capacity of the other groups diminishes in the above order, colour being the only attribute of the last group of percussion instruments.

The same order obtains from the standpoint of general effect in orchestration. We can listen to strings for an almost indefinite period of time without getting tired, so varied are their characteristics (vide the number of string quartets, suites, serenades etc. written for strings alone). The addition of a single group of strings will add lustre to a passage for wind instruments. On the other hand, the quality of wind instruments soon becomes wearisome; the same may be said of plucked strings, and also percussion of every kind which should only be employed at reasonable intervals in orchestral composition.

It cannot be denied that the constant use of compound timbres, in pair’s, in three’s etc. eliminates characteristics of tone, and produces a dull, neutral texture, whereas the employment of simple, elementary combinations gives infinitely greater scope for variety in colour.

7 (20) June 1908.


Chapter II.


Whether it be long or short, a simple theme or a melodic phrase, melody should always stand out in relief from the accompaniment. This may be done by artificial or natural means; artificially, when the question of tone quality does not come into consideration, and the melody is detached by means of strongly accentuated dynamic shades; naturally, by selection and contrast of timbres, strengthening of resonance by doubling, tripling, etc., or crossing of parts (violoncellos above the violas and violins, clarinets or oboes above the flutes, bassoons above the clarinets etc.).

Melody planned in the upper parts stands out from the very fact of position alone, and likewise, to a less degree when it is situated in the low register. In the middle of the orchestral range it is not so prominent and the methods referred to above come into operation. They may also be employed for two part melody (in thirds and sixths) and for polyphonic writing.

Melody in stringed instruments.

Instances of the melodic use of stringed instruments are innumerable. The reader will find many examples in the present treatise. With the exception of the double basses,—dull in tone and of little flexibility, chiefly employed in unison or in octaves with the violoncellos,—each of the other stringed instruments, taken independently, is qualified to assume full responsibility for the melodic line.

a) Violins.

Melody in the soprano-alto register and an extra-high compass usually falls to the lot of the 1st Violins, sometimes to the 2nd Violins or to both in unison, a process which produces fuller resonance without impairing quality of tone.


The Tsar’s Bride 84.[C]—Pianissimo melody (Vns I) of a -37-troubled dramatic character. Harmonic accompaniment (Vns II and Violas tremolando—middle parts; the Violoncellos forming the bass).

Antar, before 70.—Descending melodic phrase, Vns I con sordini piano.

No. 1. Shéhérazade 2nd movement B. A piano melody (Vns I) graceful in character.

Antar 12. Light graceful melody, oriental in style; a dance measure (Vns I con sord.), the mutes producing a dull ethereal quality of tone.

No. 2. The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitesh 283.

No. 3. Spanish Capriccio J. Vns I in the upper register doubling the high register of the wood-wind. Choice resonance.

b) Violas.

Melody in the alto-tenor register and a still higher compass is assigned to the violas. Cantabile melodies however are not so frequently written for violas as for violins and ‘cellos, partly because the viola tone is slightly nasal in quality and better fitted for short characteristic phrases, partly because the number of viola players in an orchestra is smaller. Melodies confided to the violas are generally doubled by other strings or by the wood-wind.


No. 4. Pan Voyevoda, duet in Act II 145. A long cantabile melody in the violas, dolce, in unison with the mezzo soprano voice.

No. 5. The Golden Cockerel 193.—Flowing cantabile.

No. 6. Sadko. Symphonic tableau 12.—Muted violas. A short dance theme, piano in D♭ major. (The same theme in Eng. horn-38- in the 6th scene of the opera Sadko is slightly more penetrating in tone).

c) Violoncellos.

Violoncellos, representing the tenor-bass range + an extra-high compass are more often entrusted with tense passionate cantabile melody than with distinctive figures or rapid phrases. Such melodies are usually laid out for the top string (A) which possesses a wonderfully rich “chest” quality.


Antar 56Cantabile on the A string.

Antar 63. The same melody in D♭ maj. on the D string (doubled by the bassoons).

No. 7. Pan Voyevoda 134, nocturne, “Moonlight”. A broad melody dolce ed espressivo, afterwards doubled by the first violins an octave higher.

No. 8. Snegourotchka 231. At the fifth bar, a melody on the A string cantabile ed espressivo, imitating the first clarinet.

No. 9. Snegourotchka 274. Melodic phrase with embellishments.

d) Double basses.

Owing to its register—basso profondo + a still lower compass,—and its muffled resonance, the double bass is little capable of broad cantabile phrases and only in unison or in octaves with the ‘cellos. In my own compositions there is no phrase of any importance given to the double bass without the support of ‘cellos or bassoons.


* No. 10. Legend of Kitesh 306. Double bass solo, doubled first by the double bassoon, later by the bassoon. This example affords an instance of the rare use of the alto clef (in the last few notes).

* No. 11. The Golden Cockerel 120.—D. basses + D. bassoons.-39-

Grouping in unison.

a) Vns I + Vns II.—It goes without saying that this combination entails no alteration in colour; it gains in power and richness of tone by reason of the increased number of players, and is usually attended by doubling of the melody in some departments of the wood-wind. The large number of violins prevents the wood-wind predominating, and the tone quality remains that of the string quartet, enriched and amplified.


No. 12. Shéhérazade, beginning of the third movement. Cantabile for Vns I and II on the D string, then on the A.

The May Night, overture D. Quick piano melody, beginning cantabile and divided later in octaves

( Vns I ] 8 )
Vns II

with florid embellishment.

No. 13. The Golden Cockerel 170.—Vns I + II muted.

b) Violins + Violas.—The combination of violins and violas presents no special characteristics, as in the preceding case. The violins remain predominant, and the resonance is rich and full.


No. 14. Sadko 208.—Vns I + II + Violas (G string). Quiet cantabile melody pp, in unison with the altos and tenors of the chorus.

The Golden Cockerel 142.—Same combination.

c) Violas + ‘Cellos.—Produces a rich full resonance, the ‘cello quality predominating.


No. 15. Snegourotchka 5.—Apparition of Spring. Violas + ‘Cellos + Eng. horn. The same melody, mezzo-forte cantabile as in Ex. 9; but in a brighter key, a third higher, its resonance is more brilliant and tense. The addition of the Eng. horn makes no essential difference to the compound tone; the ‘cellos stand out above the rest.

No. 16. The Golden Cockerel 71. Violas + ‘Cellos muted.-40-

d) Violins + ‘Cellos.—A combination similar to the preceding one. The ‘cello tone prevails and the resonance is fuller.


No. 17. Snegourotchka 288. “Spring descends upon the lake”. Vns I + Vns II + ‘Cellos + Eng. horn. The same cantabile as in Ex. 9, and 15. The Eng. horn is absorbed in the musical texture, the principal colour being that of the ‘cellos. Still more powerful in resonance.

No. 18. The May Night. Act III L. Chorus of Roussâlki. The combination of the solo ‘cello with the violins gives the latter a touch of the ‘cello timbre.

e) Vns I + II + Violas + ‘Cellos.—Combining violins, violas and ‘cellos in unison is not possible except in the alto-tenor register; this process unites the full resonance of the instruments into an ensemble of complex quality, very tense and powerful in forte passages, extremely full and rich in piano.


No. 19. Shéhérazade, 2nd movement P.—Energetic phrase ff.

Mlada, Lithuanian dance, before 36.

Mlada, Act III. 40.—Cleopatra’s dance. Cantabile embellished in oriental fashion.

f) Violoncellos + D. basses.—A combination of rich full resonance, used occasionally for phrases in the very low register.


No. 20. Sadko 260.—A persistent forte figure, severe in character.

No. 21. Legend of Kitesh 240.—A pianissimo phrase, sinister and horrible in character.