" Instrumentation" is the best term that can be found for that aspect of musical art which is concerned with timbre.
The narrower term "orchestration" is applied to the instrumentation of orchestral music. Since the most obvious differences of timbre are in those of various instruments, the art which blends and contrasts timbre is most easily discussed as the treatment of instruments; but we must use this term with philosophic breadth and allow it to include voices.
Instrumentation is in all standard text-books treated as a technical subject, from the point of view of practical students desirous of writing for the modern orchestra.
Throughout the 19th century so fatal was the hold obtained on the popular mind by the technical expert's view of instrumentation, that it was impossible to hear the works of Handel and Bach without "additional accompaniments" conceived in terms of art as irrelevant to those of 18th-century polyphonys as the terms of Turnerian landscape are irrelevant to the decoration of the outside walls of a cathedral.
There is some reason to hope that the day of these misconceptions is passed; although there is also some reason to fear that on other grounds the present era may be known to posterity as an era of instrumentation comparable, in its gorgeous chaos of experiment and its lack of consistent ideas of harmony and form, only to the monodic period at the beginning of the 17th century, in which no one had ears for anything but experiments in harmonic colour.
Our task is simply to furnish the general reader with an account of the types of instrumentation prevalent at various musical periods, and their relation to other branches of the art.
In the 16th century instrumentation was, in its normal modern sense, non-existent; but in a special sense it was at an unsurpassable stage of perfection, namely, in the treatment of pure vocal harmony.
Thus we justify, on grounds of instrumentation, laws usually known as laws of harmony and counterpoint.
The chief work done in instrumentation in the 17th century is undoubtedly that of the Italian writers for the violin, who developed the technique of that instrument until it proved not only more resourceful but more artistically organized than that ' of the solo voice, which by the time of Handel had become little better than an acrobatic monstrosity.
In the art of [Bach and Handel, instrumentation, as distinguished from choral;writing, has attained a definite artistic coherence.
- The difference between decorative and symphonic instrumentation is admirably shown by Gluck.
To write an account of symphonic instrumentation in any detail would be like attempting a history of emotional expression; and all that we can do here is to point out that the problem which was, so to speak, shelved by the polyphonic device of the continuo, was for a long time solved only by methods which, in any hands but those of the greatest masters, were very inartistic conventions.
Similar principles apply in infinite detail to the treatment of wind instruments, and we must never lose sight of them in speculating as to the reasons why the genius of Beethoven was able to carry instrumentation into worlds of which Haydn and Mozart never dreamt, or why, having gone so far, it left anything unexplored.
This brings us to the latest radical change effected in instrumentation, the change from symphonic to dramatic principles.
Least of all can it conduce to the formation of sound critical standards for the new instrumentation which is now in process of development for the future forms of instrumental music. These, we cannot doubt, will be as profoundly influenced by Wagner as the sonata style was influenced by Gluck.
He understood their problem and it helped galvanize him to volunteer to help them.
The instrumentation of solo combinations, is one of the largest and most detailed subjects in the.
Richard Strauss, in his edition of Berlioz's works on Instrumentation, paradoxically characterizes the classical orchestral style as that which was derived from chamber-music. Now it, is true that in Haydn's early days orchestras were small and generally private; and that the styles of orchestral and chamber music were not distinct; but surely nothing is clearer than that the whole history of the rise of classical chamber-music lies in its rapid differentiation from the coarse-grained orchestral style with which it began.
Where this is so there need be no confusion of style; but the danger of such confusion is great, and with the rise of modern dramatic instrumentation it may be doubted whether there are any standards of criticism in current use for chamber-music of other than the sonata style.
The development of pianoforte technique since Beethoven has been in some ways even more revolutionizing than that of the brass instruments; and pianoforte instrumentation, both in solo and in chamber-music, is a study for a lifetime.
See also ARIA, HARMONY, INSTRUMENTATION, MUSIC, OPERA, and OVERTURE.