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My thoughts on detailed response - Printable Version

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My thoughts on detailed response - caters - 04-27-2019

So I got a detailed response about my orchestration of the Pathetique Sonata here:

Pathetique Sonata for Orchestra

Here is the detailed response I got:


Quote:Very unbalanced and unidiomatic orchestration. There's a lot to go through here, but let's start with the first chord. The woodwind writing is horrible. The flute is in it's lower mid-register and will not be heard over the massive forte of the other instruments. The oboe is way to low in it's register to succesfully play the C in piano. It is very unclear how many of each instrument you have so that has to be clearly written out (my concern is primarily the clarinets and horns). The chord is voiced very badly with very thick harmony at the bottom and rather sparse higher up. Try to write tutti chords according to the harmonic series.

I don't understand at all why you want to double the melody line with the flute. And you don't use the piccolo as it's own instrument but rather as an extension of the flutes register. I also don't understand the need for bass clarinet, contrabassoon and alto trombone. You can do just fine without them.

Bar 11 you write the eighth note tremolo from the original score and write super fast double-tounge in the contrabassoon. This is super unidiomatic as well as tiring and on the border of unplayability for a longer period of time.

These are just a few things to think about. Balance is important too, remember that. I'm also working on orchestrating the Pathetique right now (not on musescore), as well as all the other Beethoven sonatas. It's a very big project and it takes time but it is definitely worth it!


Here are my thoughts on the response as I was reading it(response in quotes, my thoughts in bold text):


Quote:Very unbalanced and unidiomatic orchestration.
What else would you expect? I am taking the piano score and orchestrating it. Of course its going to be unidiomatic for orchestra. The Liszt transcription of Beethoven's 5th is unidiomatic for piano but that doesn't make it a bad score. It is far from being a bad score. In fact, it is possibly better than the original orchestral score that Beethoven wrote.

Quote:There's a lot to go through here, but let's start with the first chord. The woodwind writing is horrible. The flute is in it's lower mid-register and will not be heard over the massive forte of the other instruments.

At least I'm not putting a forte dynamic in the first octave of the flute. That would be impossible, even for an advanced flutist. And you don't often hear the flute as a separate entity in tutti chords anyway, just listen to Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Do you hear the flute as a flute sound in the beginning tutti chords of the first movement? Probably not. But it would sound different if the flute wasn't there. All the woodwinds add color to the predominant strings and brass but aren't really heard over the massive forte of the other instruments. Are you saying that my flute part is worse than Beethoven's because the flute won't be heard over the massive forte? Because Beethoven's flute part isn't heard over the massive forte either in his Eroica symphony.

Quote:The oboe is way to low in it's register to succesfully play the C in piano. It is very unclear how many of each instrument you have so that has to be clearly written out (my concern is primarily the clarinets and horns).

At least I am not going lower than piano in dynamics here. Pianissimo is hard on the oboe. About the same amount of pressure is used to play pianissimo on the oboe as is used to play fortissimo on the clarinet, mainly because of the double reed vs single reed difference. And are you suggesting that I raise the entire oboe part up an octave in the Grave? As for the number of each instrument, that is indeterminate at this point. I have no idea if I will be premiering this with a smaller, less experienced orchestra like a high school orchestra or if I will be premiering this with a professional but still local orchestra like the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. And what if I wrote it for 6 horns but I only have 4 horns in the actual orchestra? Who would take the 5th and 6th horn parts? 2nd and 3rd clarinet? 2 trombones?

Quote:The chord is voiced very badly with very thick harmony at the bottom and rather sparse higher up. Try to write tutti chords according to the harmonic series.

Without using horns and trumpets in the first 4 bars of this there is nothing I can really do to improve it without simply not having the bass woodwinds which I would rather not do or using the piccolo which I was told was unfit for the Grave. And writing this C minor chord according to the harmonic series in all the instruments playing it is simply impractical. The flute would be like what, 2 octaves up from where it is now? Given that it is in the second octave already, that would mean that I essentially would be writing the flute part in the piccolo staff. Also, you can see writing according to the harmonic series in the C minor chord if you look at the cellos and double basses. The cellos being an octave up from the lowest double basses in terms of pitch and the double basses themselves being divisi.

Quote:I don't understand at all why you want to double the melody line with the flute. And you don't use the piccolo as it's own instrument but rather as an extension of the flutes register.

Are you talking about the first violins being doubled with the flute? That makes sense if you consider the fact that the first violins are in general the highest strings at any given moment and the flute is the highest of the woodwinds that doesn't transpose up or down an octave. As for the piccolo not being used as its own instrument, look again at the apotheosis. The piccolo while it may be doubling the flute, is an octave above the flute. That is enough for me to consider the piccolo to be doing its own role. As for the registral extension of the flute with the piccolo, it all has to do with which notes are difficult and which ones are impossible on the C concert flute. If the notes are just difficult, I consider lowering the flute by an octave. If that leads to the lower notes being impossible, then I resort to putting the difficult and/or impossible notes in the piccolo and then when it goes into the easier range, I have the flute playing again. And besides, this also gives the flutist a well needed break to take a deep breath before it starts playing again.

Quote:I also don't understand the need for bass clarinet, contrabassoon and alto trombone. You can do just fine without them.

If I am writing for orchestra, a contrabassoon part will be expected unless it is for an orchestra that doesn't have a contrabassoon. The bass clarinet has a more predominant role in the second Grave section where it plays the bass notes while the bassoonist gets a break after playing the very lowest note possible on bassoon. It also makes it possible to play a 4 note chord in the bass woodwinds if there are only 3 bassoonists in the orchestra. Alto trombone extends the range of the trombones to higher notes that are typically trumpet pitches. So I could use the alto trombone in call and response with the trumpet if I ever decide to do that. Also, it helps in the case of the trombones and tuba chorale that I have starting at bar 5. It prevents there from being difficult notes for tenor trombone(which just shows up as trombone in Musescore)

Quote:Bar 11 you write the eighth note tremolo from the original score and write super fast double-tounge in the contrabassoon. This is super unidiomatic as well as tiring and on the border of unplayability for a longer period of time.

I honestly didn't think about that when having the contrabassoon double the double basses. Perhaps I should have the bassoon play this an octave above the double basses. Or maybe keep the contrabassoon part and just have it pulse on the beat instead of on the half beat, so having a quarter note pulse in the contrabassoon against an eighth note tremolo in the double basses. And the eighth note tremolo is way easier for the orchestra to time right than my initial idea of alternating the octaves between the instruments because there aren't eighth rests all over the place.


What do you think of my orchestration so far?


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - Mattias Westlund - 04-27-2019

So you want feedback on your response to feedback? Smile

Any way you could post that piece played back with samples that sound like actual instruments rather than Sound Blaster 16 MIDI? I find it extremely difficult to hear what's going on when I can't identify some instruments, and it's in mono to boot.


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - caters - 04-27-2019

(04-27-2019, 06:23 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: So you want feedback on your response to feedback? Smile

Any way you could post that piece played back with samples that sound like actual instruments rather than Sound Blaster 16 MIDI? I find it extremely difficult to hear what's going on when I can't identify some instruments, and it's in mono to boot.

How can I post the piece played back with samples that sound like actual instruments when I don't have an orchestra of my own to record? Musescore by default uses the FluidR3 soundfont which is what you are hearing in the piece that I linked. I know that the people producing Musescore are working on a more realistic soundfont but I have no idea when it will be ingrained into the software. I mean it is when Musescore 3.1 is released that I will be using a more realistic soundfont, but there is no set date on that release yet, it is still in the beta testing stage. I have always waited until the beta testing stage has passed before updating my Musescore software.

And I don't have any other notation software, mostly because the more realistic sounding Sibelius is super expensive. Musescore is the closest free notation software I have found to Sibelius, both in audio and sophistication. And every major update gets it ever closer to Sibelius but without the huge price.


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - Mattias Westlund - 04-27-2019

Oh, OK. You do know that notation software isn't the only way to simulate an orchestra on your computer... right? I've never ever used a program like that myself.

With a DAW and a software sampler plus a decent sample library you can create mockups that are ten times more convincing than that. I just assumed that someone on a virtual orchestration forum is familiar with the technical details, so sorry for sounding snarky about sound quality. Looks like you might have a pleasant surprise in store for you Smile


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - caters - 04-27-2019

(04-27-2019, 10:17 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: Oh, OK. You do know that notation software isn't the only way to simulate an orchestra on your computer... right? I've never ever used a program like that myself.

With a DAW and a software sampler plus a decent sample library you can create mockups that are ten times more convincing than that. I just assumed that someone on a virtual orchestration forum is familiar with the technical details, so sorry for sounding snarky about sound quality. Looks like you might have a pleasant surprise in store for you Smile

That's okay, I know you didn't mean to sound snarky about the sound quality. And yeah, it looks like I might with the more realistic soundfont and single note dynamics in the next major update. I have been keeping my eyes on it to see when the update will be released to the general public and I will definitely update my piece when I start using the more realistic soundfont(which will probably also coincide with some major progress in the orchestration of the sonata).

I use notation software, primarily because I am used to looking at staff paper from all my years as a pianist/composer and also, I find it easier to know the lengths of the notes in notation software than in a DAW because in a DAW, 2/2 and 4/4 might look identical and thus I only get relative lengths in a DAW. This is okay if I know the time signature beforehand, but if I have no clue about the time signature, I could easily make a mistake in my assessment just using a DAW. In notation software, I don't have this problem because I can see the time signature.


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - Mattias Westlund - 04-27-2019

I understand completely. Sticking to what you're used to is perfectly natural and we all do that in one way or another. But surely there are ways to export your notation software compositions to audio without having to rely on a website (limited by storage and bandwidth) to provide the samples?


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - Samulis - 05-01-2019

Just some quick thoughts-
- Alto Trombones are rare as hen's teeth in real life. Even a community orchestra tenor trombonist can be expected to comfortable play up to the Bb above middle C, with professional players expected to play up to the C or D above that. If you want higher than that, have a trumpet or horn play it. Wink
- Bassoonists and double-reeds in general have quite a bit of endurance. The lower notes tend to be easier and more comfortable than the higher ones (this is actually a good rule of thumb on virtually all instruments, although with brass the lowest notes do begin to become more difficult).
- While the clarinet parts you noted might be playable by a skilled modern player, they would be next to impossible in Beethoven's day.
- It is particularly common, regardless of experience or preference, to feel the need to keep everything going and thus orchestrate too much. Sometimes allowing things to drop to just 2-3 instruments is the best thing you can do for the texture.
- Sometimes it is best to make a map of the overall shape of the piece, then break it into manageable segments (e.g. 4-bar or 8-bar phrases), then assign an 'orchestration trope' to that segment that fits the emotional/dynamic level.

For example, in the idiom of late-Classical/early-Romantic orchestration one might consider these orchestration choices based on dynamics/emotional quality, from gentlest to strongest passages:
1: middle strings; low strings pizz
2: add high strings OR solo/duo woodwinds
3: low strings arco
4: add flute or oboe
5: add bassoon or clarinet
6: add horns
7: add timpani
8: add other brass
9: add other percussion

Additionally, it is up to the orchestrator (i.e. you) what particular textures fit the moment or work together. Much as combining all possible colors of paint creates the appearance of an ugly 'brown', orchestration is at its best when just two or three textures are combined or contrasted. A blue sky would be boring without green grass or a yellow sun, just as white clouds may pass overhead creating slithering textures of shadows upon the ground below. Substituting one instrument for another, or blending two instruments together on a single line is as much a part of orchestration as picking which octave or chord tone to give the voice in the first place.

Consider taking a look at how Beethoven treats WW & Brass in his own orchestrations- about 50% of his music is strings alone, 40% strings + ww, and maybe 10% at best with brass (and perc) included on top of the former. In Beethoven's time, sparser orchestration was the name of the game- often times, an entire section might be driven by a single section or even a single instrument, possibly with a light counter-melody. Anyone who isn't (A) playing the melody, (B) playing a simple harmony (3rds or 6ths to melody), or © a bass figure, is playing either sustained chord tones or arpeggios. There is no "block homophony" to the melody (wherein the voices may all move together with the melody between chord tones, like in a barber shop quartet or hymn), but rather a clear divide between 'melody' and 'harmony', whereas the harmonic voices merely provide a 'bed' on which the melodic portions can flow over with sustained tones, arpeggios, and occasional ostinati/'licks'.

Consider this as a good rule of thumb then- give someone the melody, if necessary double it with one of the strings, about 20% of the time assign a simple harmony of 3rds or 6ths else have no more than 4 other instruments playing harmony figures.

In Beethoven's time, 'single' or 'double' woodwinds were most common (double winds typically just means two of the same: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons), with triple woodwinds being quite rare until the height of the Romantic period. Bass clarinets, contrabassoons, and other such aux woodwinds were generally the equivalent of novelties until the latter half of the 1800's when manufacturing tolerances and techniques finally reached a sufficient level to allow the affordable and widespread construction of such large or specialty instruments.

Consider thinking primarily in larger strokes at first. For example, given an 8-bar phrase, you might decide to give a part to 'the oboes', perhaps doubled by the 'violas', and a bass line to the 'cellos and basses' (the latter of whom frequently play exactly what the cellos play just 8vb), with violins arpeggiating over the chord structure and 'clarinets' holding whole notes of the chords. This might potentially be realized like this-
https://instaud.io/3Cwx (basic Finale soundfont output)
[attachment=62]
... that is already approaching about as full of a texture as Classical period works want to be.

The 2nd Movement of Beethoven's 5th is an excellent example of typical late-Classical orchestration: the piece almost always begins with a minimal string choir, with woodwinds taking over, then finally either a bit of trading or the two groups together. Brass are added only occasionally and almost always in a harmonic context (e.g. horns playing whole, half, or quarter notes outlining the chord). At about a minute in, we hear trumpets and horns playing the melody in harmony with the high strings arpeggiating the chords. Afterwards, brass largely disappear for much of the piece until called upon again for another climax.

Beethoven's 6th, 1st and 2nd movements also follow this general formula too, as do many pieces by other composers from this period.

Even if your goal is a modernized orchestration, looking at works from this period will give you a good lens into understanding how the composers themselves thought about orchestration and the role of instruments in the orchestra.


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - Melchizedek - 05-01-2019

(04-27-2019, 11:02 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: But surely there are ways to export your notation software compositions to audio without having to rely on a website (limited by storage and bandwidth) to provide the samples?

I've occasionally composed in MuseScore as well (though I mainly use it to transcribe/orchestrate pieces I've composed in my DAW if I need printable parts) and you can export the MIDI files and load them into any DAW. The end result is still a bit robotic but at least you can use better samples. You might to experiment with that, Caters. Hearing your orchestration played with more realistic samples may even open up some new ideas for you  Smile


RE: My thoughts on detailed response - peastman - 05-02-2019

Quote:you can export the MIDI files and load them into any DAW.

That's how I always work.  It produces a mechanical but accurate performance, and then I spend a long time tweaking velocities, tempos, etc. to turn it into a more natural sounding performance.  It's a slow way of doing it, but it works for me.  I'm not much of a performer, so if I simply played it in I wouldn't be happy with the result.  Given that I'll have to fine tune everything by hand, I find it a lot easier to do that from a starting point where all the notes are exactly on the beat and all the velocities are the same.