A history of the orchestra (2)

the orchestra in the 18th century With a few exceptions the development of the orchestra in the 18th century took place at the European courts. The musicians in these court orchestras lived in the castle or palace of their Lord and belonged there to the normal staff wearing a livery and powdered tail wigs.  Their duties were heavy and their rights minimal: they belonged to their lord almost with body and soul and could not even leave the service without the permission of the noble employer. In 1717 even Johann Sebastian Bach would have a painfull experience in this matter; he became jailed. The obligations of these little orchestras were extensive: in the morning there was the performance of music in the private chapel often followed by table music along the different meals. In between one had to rehearse for the evening: possibly for a concert or the playing of dance music in the dance hall, the accompaniment of singers in the theatre or the outdoor performance of a serenade or “nachtmusik”. Herr Kapellmeister The responsibility for everything in the orchestra was carried by the Kapellmeister”,  a function almost every great composer from the 18th century fulfilled, for instance  Händel,  Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Joseph Haydn and Georg Philipp Telemann. The “kapellmeister” of the king or the “cantor” of the church had a difficult task: this high-ranking servant was responsible for the attendance, appearance and skillfulness of his musicians. According to the whishes of his lord he had to  compose concerto’s, sinfonia’s, cantates, church music and opera’s. In addition he had to take care of rehearsals by the orchestra and possible choirs and vocalists in due time and had finally to conduct the orchestra during the performance from the harpsichord or organ. A perfect exemple is “papa” Haydn, who had been in the service of a Hungarian royal,  prince Esterházy, for almost thirty years. The current name  “orchestra” seems a bit exaggerated for an average 18th century ensemble: in Leipzig Bach was leading a group of 18 musicians, in Salzburg Mozart performed his symphonies with 20 musicians and the orchestra of prince Esterházy in Eisenstadt counted 23, including Haydn himself. For comparison: just the number first and second violins  in the contemporary symphonic orchestra exceeds frequently 20. In this orchestra the strings are fundamental. The averidge 18th century formation of the strings can be found in the Salzburg orchestra of Mozart: four first violins, four second violins, two violas, two cellos and two double basses (4-4-2-2-2). Bach had in Leipzig less strings (3-3-2-2-1) and in Eisenstadt Haydn had more (6-5-2-2-2).  Remarkably in the 18th century no distinction was made between the first and second violins: the Kapellmeister simply divided the number of violinists in equal parts without any hierarchical distinction. Commonly no differences occur between the parts of the cello and the double bass before 1750: they share the same part with only the double bass sounding one octave below the cello. the horn goes hunting The remaining parts of the orchestra were oboes and bassoons. Oboes in particular were numerous: opposite ten or twelve string players stood on average three to six oboes. These woodwinds had no separate parts but joined the violins on the two highest staves. The bassoons too are always in abundance present: three bassoons next to two violoncelli and one double bass was quite common. In the minor orchestras the flute had no separate place:  incidental music to be played by the flute was just taken over by one of the oboists. The recorder, referred to as “flauto”, appeared regularly in the orchestra  like in the Brandenburg Concerto no.2,  in contrast to the flute, called “traverso”,  in the Brandenburg Concerto no.5. The few trumpeters or horn players ordinarily did not realy belong to the orchestra; their main duties were found in the army and with hunting and not in the few notes they were allowed to play at the ending of an ouverture. The notes the ketteldrummer - the only percussionist in the orchestra - played were based on tradition and experience: for him no place in the score; he was the only musician left who could improvise his part. Timpanist and trumpeters were inseparable in the music. all together on four staves As a rule the orchestral score in the 18th century has only four staves: the upper one for first violins and first oboes, the second stave for second violins and second oboes and the third stave for the altos without wind instruments. On the fourth and lowest stave it was seriously crowded: together with cellos, double basses and bassoons,  the harpsichord or the organ played this part, sometimes even joined by the altos, sounding one octave above the cellos. For the orchestration a few indications suffied,  like “senza violini”  [without the violins]  or “oboi soli”  [only the oboes]. After 1750 the orchestra is developing rapidly:  The clarinet appears in the orchestra and after a struggle with the oboe acquires a permanent seat in it at the end of the century. Oboes and bassoons get their own parts;  the importance of horns and flutes in the music increases and the almost traditional parts executed by trumpets and kettledrums, - which had become a cliche -,  slowly disappears. And finally the number of string players is increasing enormously. not too complicated please The technical simplicity, which is obvious in many scores in the 18th century is not due to naivety or shortage of imagination of the composers. There is a lack of technical ability among the musicians of the orchestra and it was often clearly noticeable. Charles Burney described in 1770 the sound of the double basses in Italy  “no more musical than the stroke of a hammer”. Having a private teacher was the only way to master a musical instrument. Once finished the curriculum, one could enter an orchestra as a student, called Accessist” or “Probationer”.  men dan meestal een altviool of een contrabas in de handen gedrukt kreeg. In addition to a few probationers and sometimes plain amateurs in the minor court orchestras in particular frequently employed other servants of the court to fill the vacancies in the orchestra. New domestic servants to the count in Chulmetz for instance were hired only when they proved to be musical: so a chef making questionable omelettes, but able to do a nice tune on the bassoon was instantly hired. In Italy some “conservatoria” already existed, but it is not clear what exactly happened there. Burney described in 1770 a conservatoire in Napels: In the first flight of stairs was a trumpeter, screaming upon his instrument till he was ready to burst; on the second was a French horn, bellowing in the same manner. In the common practising room there was a Dutch concert, consisting of seven or eight harpsichords, more than as many violins and several voices, all performing different things, and in different keys …”  Taken in account the poor education and training and the deficient guidance of the musicians the average 18th century orchestra could in no way have met current musical standards. Some major orchestras in the 18th century enjoyed a good reputation:                 to mention are the Berlin court orchestra of emperor Frederick the Great led by  Karl Heinrich Graun with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach at the harpsichord, the Mannheim court orchestra led by Johann Stamitz en in Dresden the orchestra of the Polish king, where Quantz played the flute. The end of the 18th century means an end to most of the minor courts.         Their position as employers of the orchestral musician is taken by larger organisations like states, cities en societies. The 18th century orchestra was a court orchestra, that being part of the wigs, crinolines and palaces, vanished,  like the courts did. 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.    previous                                                                                                               next