The string instrument
family is perhaps the section of the orchestra that offers the greatest
range of expression, intensity, and nuance. It is in essence the foundation
of the orchestra. The reason is the number of different instruments that
belong to the family. On one side of the family are the bowed instruments
like the violin, which require that the strings be played by a bow. On
the other end are the instruments that are plucked such as the guitar,
the harp, and even the piano.
The violin and the cello have developed into the
most prominent instruments in the orchestra because of their evocative
nature and their range of tones. Violins have existed since the mid 16th
century, but it wasn't until the 17th that violin makers like Stradivari
perfected the violin's richness and agility. Since then, the musical texture
of most orchestras have been defined by the violin. Unlike the violin
which is held by the chin and the left hand, the cello is straddled by
the musician and rests on the floor. While the violin usually provides
the main melodic line, the cello is equally as important because it acts
as the background or contrast to that melody. The cello has a lower pitch
then the violin, which makes its tones more lyrical and warm. In any one
orchestra, the bowed instruments make up about 2/3 of an orchestra.
The most renowned plucked instrument, of course,
is the piano though it doesn't have a real place within the orchestra.
The range of notes and its charm have made it the instrument that is most
often played solo. For this reason, pianos
take a leading role when combined with the rest of the orchestra. Pieces
of this nature are called piano sonatas. Guitars are equally as famous,
but they have never been fully integrated into the orchetra. Harps, which
have been around since biblical times, are consistent invitees to symphonic
orchestras since the 18th century. Harps are used to add color and delicacy
to the symphony.