A history of the orchestra (1)

the orchestra in the 17th century The way the orchestra went on becoming the modern symphony orchestra was long and colorfull. It also took fourhunderd years. All aspects of the concert life existing now arose separately, varying from the conductor to the presence of a paying audience. Even the term “orchestra ” meaning a number of musicians playing together is only after 1750 slowly becoming established:  the French “Dictionaire” by Rousseau presents it in 1754 in its modern meaning.  Prior to the “Dictionaire” the word symfonists” is used,  or an ensemble is simply referred to as “stromenti musicali (Gabrieli, 1587). The absence of a word indicating the organised performance of music prior to the 18th century is no language deficiency;  more permanent instrumental ensembles simply don’t exist: the formation of ensembles is mostly based on the coincidental presence of musicians and not on the requirements of the score. In the 17th century the instrumentalists, until that moment being free and playing mostly improvised music,  are somewhat uneasy brought together. opera The opera was a new development in the musical world  which offered the circumstances necessary to make a number of musicians work together. In 1600 one of the first  opera’s  had it’s first performance in Florence.                   This opera,  “Euridice”  of Jacopo Peri was accompanied by four instruments:   a harpsichord, a small and a bigger lute and a  “lira grande”,  a bowed instrument. These instruments were not accidentally chosen: musicians playing keyboard  instruments and lutenists ware skilled musicians with their own highly developed music notation. They were capable to accompany the voices improvising on a line of single bass notes, called “basso continuo”.  Consequently the harpsichord player will be the leader of the orchestra for more than 200 years. The growing popularity of the new medium called  “opera”  guaranteed a steady increase of the number of musicians playing in the orchestra. When the first opera of by Monteverdi premieres in Mantua in 1607  an exeptionally large ensemble is involved:  it numbered  41 musicians including harpsichords, strings, recorders  and brass. No orchestra pit however existed;  instrumentalists had an only secondary role during the performance of the opera and were usually  placed behind the scenery. Later they were sometimes visible on stage, but only in an acting role,  costumed and dancing while playing. The musicians involved were sometimes lute players,  but mainly  violinists, traditionally accompanying dances and ballets. Lully on ballet shoes Jean-Baptiste Lully came to Paris at the age of 14. In France he was not only  trained as a violinist but equally as a ballet dancer. A lightning career at the court  of Louis XIV made him responsible for one of the first orchestras: the  musicians in permanent employment of the French king, called “La Grande Bande”  or  “Les Quatre-vingt Violons du Roi”  [The Twentyfour Violins of the King ].  Lully introduced with considerable effort a strict discipline to his troupe,  at least according to temporary standards.    He unleashed for instance a true revolution among his violinists by demanding they played the notes accurately as written in their parts. But at the end he succeeded  and for long the orchestra of the Paris’ Opéra was famous for its dicipline. In the meantime a start was made on giving some guidance to the ever increasing number of musicians.  Especially in vast spaces like churches with often an additional choir one proceeded to pounding the floor with a stick in order to keep the time.  The use of this kind of forceful means  is well illustrated by the tragic death of Lully:  while indicating the right tempo during  the performance  of  his         Te Deum in the church of Feuillants on the 8th of January 1687  he hit his foot so   hard with the stick,  he died a few weeks later as a result of the injury. woodcutter This audible marking of the time in the opéra of Paris was to stay for a long time.  In 1767, a hunderd years later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau complained about the noise: in the theatre this not very discrete way of conducting was clearly noticed not only by the orchestra but also by the audience. Due to this kind of irritation the status of the man labouriously beating the floor was not very high, indicated by a name like “the woodcutter”. Nevertheless  all the elements of the modern symphony orchestra are present  by the end of the 17th century: In the orchestra exists organisation and cooperation. Musicians in the orchestra abandon improvisation and playing from memory; they start playing the notes in their part.  Only that way its possible to have a synchronous  performance of the same notes by  multiple players,  being the essential difference between orchestral music and chamber music. All parts of the orchestra, - strings, wood, brass and percussion -, have arrived and even the element of conducting made his entrance. . But it will take another century before the orchestra detached itself from its subordinate position in the theatre and took a seat on the podium of the concert hall. Rob van Haarlem    “The History of the Orchestra” was published in the magazine of the symphony orchestra of Rotterdam called “Ouverture” in four  parts between September 1975 en May 1976. It was reprinted in 1977 in the anniversary edition van “Klankbord”, the magazine of the Association of Dutch Orchestras.                                                                                                                      next
geschiedenis orkest 17e eeuw - dansende luitspeler