[Pt.I Proj.3] ~Research point – Instruments of the Orchestra

Research point

Use the internet to look for video clips of orchestras and orchestra sections (woodwind, brass, strings, percussion) to familiarise yourself with where each section sits. Look for clips of individual instruments that you’re less familiar with, to get an idea of their shape and sound. Now read through the notes and guidance on suggested listening before you decide which sections of the orchestra and which instruments you want to follow up in more depth. The exercise that follows the notes will ask you to do this in a structured way.



Mozart – Serenade No 10 in B flat K361 Gran Partita

Reicha – Wind Quintets

Reicha’s Wind Quintets are absolutely beautiful and demonstrate the full scope of what winds have to offer. The agility of these instruments is fully showcased with swirling, soaring melodies and note flourishes. It is truly like birdsong. The other striking feature is the warmth and depth of the tones. It is so warm and gentle and the blend of the wind quintet is rich and intimate whilst covering a large frequency and pitch range. Magical earthy music.

Poulenc – Sextet


Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man

Janacek – Sinfonietta

Malcolm Arnold – Quintet for Brass Op 73

Malcom Arnold’s – Quintet for Brass Op 73 opens with an Allegro. The Allgero immediately brings to mind fanfares and marches and gives a sense of pace. The raspy, percussive and sometimes shrill timbre of brass is what makes them so exciting and I guess the reason they are so well suited for action sequences on film soundtracks. The second movement II Chaconne show the brass quintet in a more emotional and lyrical light. I really love this and find the venerability expressed very affecting and unusual.


Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis

Elgar – Serenade for Strings

Elgar’s Serenade for Strings is one of my favourite pieces of music. It is absolutely stunningly atmospheric.  Strings really can express emotions with such accuracy. There are endless nuances and I feel like a whole story is told, unfolds as you travel along with the piece. I find strings easily can maintain melodic independence and make it easy to hear multiple and contrapuntal lines, whilst resting on a harmonic and perfectly blended bead in another, often lower, register. In my view, a string section is the most fully rounded and ’complete’ section of the orchestra.

Shostakovich – Sting Quartets


Varèse – Ionisation

I’m a fan of Varèse, but I couldn’t resist listening to Ionisation yet again. I chose to watch (on YouTube) Boulez’ and Ensemble InterContemporain’s performance of it.  To me this piece has structure and melodic phrases just like any other piece. It definitively sings even though it is performed entirely on percussions and some sirens. The way this video is shot with small inserts of the various instruments ending with a fish eye lens is also completely fitting. Love it!

Steve Reich – Drumming

BartÓk – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta


Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker Suite.

Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Exercise Listening to instruments in the orchestra

Select at least one of the suggested examples above for each the orchestra sections, and make notes on your responses to the music. Then choose one section that you’re less familiar with and find out more about at least two or three instruments in that section. Look up video material on the internet if you’re not familiar with a particular instrument, and then listen to extracts of some of the suggested music for your chosen instruments in Appendix B.

Do any of the instruments create particular associations? Do they convey a particular colour or emotional feeling? Write down your thoughts on which instruments or pieces of music appeal to you most, and why.