A Tribute to the Most Celebrated Classical Composers

  Introduction to the Symphonic Orchestra



    Epochs of
Classical Music


    Percussion Instruments
    String Instruments      


Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

    Well into the 20th century, symphonic orchestras continue delighting audiences across the world. In the U.S, for instance, around 1,500 orchestras exist across the country. The musical genre, as we have come to understand it today, began in the middle of the 18th when composers such as Joseph Haydn composed short orchestral pieces that played as an opening for operas. Initially, the symphony (which is Greek for "sounding together") was a piece that came in three movements that lasted only half an hour. Today (to the lament of some), symphonies may last over 2 hours.

    The first orchestras performed in royal palaces for kings and queens, such as King Louis XIV of France, that sually staffed a personal composer and dozens of musicians. Early in the history of symphonies, composers depended on these patrons for their livelihood. Beethoven was the first major composer to successfully make a career out of composing music. He worked for no single individual instead beingcommisioned by different entities to produce works.

    Part of the mainstream success of the symphonic orchestras, and of what we refer to as 'classical' music in general, came precisely because of the new freedom with which composers were allowed to work. The other important develoment that further popularized symphonic orchestras was that public halls, particluarly in Milan, Vienna, and Paris, began hosting these orchestras. From 1720-1810, 12,000 symphonies were written for public consumption.

    From their inception,, symphonic orchestras gave the most prominence to the string section of the orchestra. Even today, the violins and the cellos sit closest to the conductor. The woodwind insturments such as the flutes and oboes became a greater part of the orchestra because of their sweet sounding higher pitch. The brass and percussion sections became part of symphonic scores that highlighted larger ceremonial occassions.
    The form of the movements or parts of the symphonic score also developed from the standard three or four part movements reminiscent of Mozart, into potic undertakings that musically narrated such stories as Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' (Mendelssohn) or Nietzche's 'Zarathustra' (Richard Strauss), or evoked a particular mood, such as Debussy's La Mer which depicted the sea.

    Though many of the great composers have long passed away, their music and their inspiration lives on in both those that still appreciate their creations and those living composers who have dedicated their lives to music.


Orchestra   Chopin   Tchaikovsky   Beethoven   Liszt   Strauss Jr.   Brahms

©Jorge Aguilar 2003
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