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Preface Contents of this page. It therefore seemed worthwhile to reproduce here substantial extracts from the work, with particular emphasis on those passages where Berlioz tries to define and explore the expressive possibilities of each instrument of the orchestra.
These extracts are collected here on a page devoted entirely to the treatise also available in the original French. The organisation of the Treatise in chapters has therefore not been followed beyond chapter 1.
Comparison may also be made with the Report bsrlioz by Berlioz on the musical instruments exhibited in at the Great Exhibition in Hecyor, and available on this site both in the original French and in an English translation. A new edition of the original Treatise was published in as volume 24 of the New Berlioz Edition.
The Treatise is also available in an up-to-date English translation with detailed commentary: For further details see Berlioz: Musical and Literary Works. The treatise is illustrated with a wealth of musical examples taken partly from Berlioz himself, but for the most part from the works of previous composers, especially GluckBeethoven and Weberand a few contemporaries, notably Meyerbeer ; a list of these is given elsewhere on this site.
For technical reasons it is not possible to reproduce the vocal examples, but the purely instrumental examples are now almost all available on a page entitled Predecessors and Contemporaries. References could of course be multiplied.
The table below outlines the contents of this page. The texts, photos, images and musical scores on all pages of this site are covered by UK Law and International Law. All rights of publication or reproduction of this material in any form, including Web page use, are reserved. Their use without our explicit permission is illegal. At no time in the history of herlioz has so much been said as at present about Instrumentation.
Hector Berlioz’s Treatise on instrumentation and orchestration
The reason for this probably lies in the development of this branch of art, and perhaps also in the proliferation of critical opinions, varied doctrines, pronouncements whether reasonable or unreasonable, spoken or written, which is elicited by even the slightest works of the most insignificant composers.
Great importance seems to be attached nowadays to this art of instrumentation, which was unknown at the start of the instrumentstion century; sixty years ago, many who were regarded as true friends of music tried to hinder its development.
Attempts are being made at this moment to block the progress of music on other fronts.
This has always been the case, and there is therefore no cause for surprise. At first some would only accept as music sequences of consonant harmonies, interspersed with a few dissonant suspensions. When Monteverdi tried to add to them the dominant seventh chord without preparation, he was assailed with criticism and invective of every kind.
But once the dominant seventh was accepted after all, together with suspended dissonances, those who called themselves erudite came to look down on any composition harmonised in a way that was simple, gentle, clear, sonorous and natural.
To please these people it was absolutely essential to saturate compositions with major or minor seconds, sevenths, ninths, fifths and fourths, used without reason or purpose, unless it is assumed that the point of this harmonic style is to offend the ear as often as possible.
These musicians had developed a taste for dissonant chords, rather like certain animals have a taste for salt, prickly plants and thorny shrubs. This was reaction taken to exaggeration. Behind all these fine combinations melody was non-existent. When it did make its appearance, there was an outcry: Clearly all was lost. Melody did all the same take hold, but the reaction over melody was not long in coming.
There were fanatics of melody, for whom every piece of music with more than three parts was unbearable. There instrumentatoin those who insisted instrumenhation most of the time the melody should only be accompanied by a bass, and that the listener should have the satisfaction of supplying himself the notes missing from the chords. Some went further and wanted to dispense altogether with any accompaniment, pretending that harmony was a barbarous invention.
Then came the turn of modulations. At the time when the practice was to modulate only to related keys, the first to venture to a distant key was greeted with abuse, as he could have expected. Whatever the effect of this new modulation, it was severely censured by the masters.
It was no good for the innovator to say: On the contrary, that is the pointin everything and everywhere.
Unrelated modulations soon appeared in great works, and led to effects that were as felicitous as they were unexpected. Almost at once a new kind of pedantry arose: A distinction is now drawn between use and abuse, reactionary vanity and pig-headed obstinacy, and there is general agreement nowadays on the subject of harmony, melody and modulations: The authority of a hundred old men, be they all agedshould not persuade us to find ugly what beriloz beautiful, nor beautiful what is ugly.
As for instrumentation, expression and rhythm, that is another matter.
Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes, Op.10 (Berlioz, Hector)
Their turn to be noticed, rejected, accepted, repressed, liberated and exaggerated only came later. Hence it has not as yet been possible for them to reach the point of the other branches of the art of music.
Let us just say that instrumentation is at the head of the march and has reached the stage of exaggeration. It takes a long time to discover the Mediterraneans of music, and longer still to learn to navigate them. Table of contents Top of the page. Any sounding body that is used by a composer is a musical instrument. Hence the following classification of the means currently available to him:.
The art of instrumentation consists in using these various sound elements and applying them, either to colour the melody, harmony and rhythm, or to produce effects that are sui generis whether motivated by an expressive intention or notindependently of the part played by the three other musical forces.
From a poetical point of view, this art is as little susceptible of being taught as that of inventing beautiful melodies, fine successions of chords or rhythmic forms that have originality and power.
One can learn what is suitable for the various instruments, what can or cannot be played on them, what is easy or difficult, and what sounds well or not. One can also say that one particular instrument is more suitable than another to produce certain effects or to express certain feelings.
As for grouping them together, whether in small or large ensembles, and the art of combining and blending them so that the sound of some is modified by others, or in order to draw from the ensemble a special sound that none of them could produce in isolation or when combined with instruments of the same family — for that the only viable approach is to draw attention to the results obtained by the masters and indicate the methods they used.
These results will probably be modified in a thousand other ways, good or bad, by composers who adopt them. The purpose of the present work is therefore first to indicate the range of some essential parts of the mechanism of the instruments, then to proceed to the study, hitherto much neglected, of the nature of the timbrethe peculiar character and expressive potential of each of them, and finally to that of the best methods known of combining them in an appropriate manner.
But to try to go beyond this would be to trespass on the territory of inspiration, where only genius is capable of making discoveries, because genius alone is able to range over it. It has a stormy and violent character when played fortissimo on the middle range of the A and E strings.
But it becomes ethereal and seraphic when used in several parts and is played pianissimo on the higher notes of the E string. One may mention here that the usual practice in the orchestra is to divide the violins into two groups, first and second, but there is no reason why they should not each be subdivided further into two or three parts, depending on what the composer is trying to achieve.
The effect produced by such sustained chords is very remarkable, if the subject of the piece calls for it and it integrates well with the rest of the orchestral writing.
I used them for the first time in three parts, in the scherzo of a symphony [ Romeo and JulietQueen Mab scherzobar and following], above a fourth, non-harmonic, violin part which consists of a continuous trill on the lower note. The extreme delicacy of the harmonics is enhanced in this passage by the use of mutes; with the sound thus reduced the notes come from the highest regions of the musical scale, which could hardly be reached by the use of normal violin sounds.
Mutes are small devices made of wood which are placed on the bridge of stringed instruments to reduce their sonority, and which give them at the same time a sad, mysterious and gentle character; this can be used to good effect in every kind of music.
Mutes are normally used in slow pieces, but they are no less effective for quick and light figuration when the subject of the music calls for it, or for accompaniments in an urgent rhythm. Pizzicato plucked strings is also widely used with bowed instruments. The resulting sounds produce accompaniments which singers appreciate, as they do not cover their voices. They can also be used to excellent effect in symphonic music, even in vigorous passages, whether played by all the string sections together, or by only one or two parts.
Here is a delightful example of the use of pizzicato in the second violins, violas and basses, while the first violins play arco. In this passage the contrasting sounds blend in truly wonderful fashion with the melodic sighs of the clarinet and enhance their expressiveness Example: Beethoven, 4th symphony, 2nd movement, bars [ When pizzicato is used in a passage played forte it is in general necessary that it should be written neither too high nor too low, since the highest notes are thin and dry in sound, and the lower ones are too dull.
For accompaniments pizzicato figures played piano are always graceful in effect; they relax the listener and when used with discretion give variety to the orchestral texture. It is likely that in future far more original and arresting effects will be produced with pizzicato than is the case nowadays.
Since violinists do not regard pizzicato as an integral part of the art of violin playing they have hardly studied it. Up till now they have only used the thumb and the index finger for plucking, and the result is that they are unable to play passages or arpeggios involving more than semiquavers in common time and at a very moderate tempo.
Treatise on Instrumentation – Hector Berlioz, Richard Strauss – Google Books
But if they were to put their bow aside and used the thumb and three fingers, with the right hand supported by the little finger resting on the body of the violin, as is done when playing the guitar, they would soon be able to play with ease and at speed passages such as the following, which at the moment are impossible.
The double or triple repetition of the upper notes in the last two examples is made very easy by using in succession the index finger and the third finger on the same string. Tied grace notes are also feasible in pizzicato playing. One common practice to give great power to a passage for the violins is to have the first violins doubled by the seconds playing an octave below; but if the passage is not written too high it is much better to have all the violins playing in unison.
The effect then becomes incomparably more powerful and beautiful. In such a case when the violins are playing in unison the composer may want to increase their power even further, and has them doubled by the violas playing an octave below them. But this doubling in the lower part is too weak and out of proportion to the upper part, and the result is a superfluous buzzing sound, which tends to obscure rather than enhance the vibration of the higher notes on the violins.
If the viola part cannot be written in a distinctive way it is better to use it to add volume to the sound of the cellos by having both parts written in unison and not an octave apart as far as the lower range of the instrument permits. This is what Beethoven has done in the following passage Example: Stringed instruments are the essential foundation of any orchestra. They possess the greatest expressive power and an unquestionable variety of timbres. The violins in particular can express a vast range of nuances that seem at first sight incompatible.
A violin section has power, lightness and grace, it can express sombre or joyful feelings, reverie and passion. It is just a matter of knowing how to let them speak.
There is incidentally no need, as there is for wind instruments, to calculate the duration of a held note, or to provide them with pauses from time to time. The composer can be sure that they will not run out of breath. Violins are faithful, intelligent, active and tireless servants.
Slow and gentle melodies, which too often are given to wind instruments, are never better expressed than by a mass of violins. Nothing can compare with the penetrating gentleness of the E string of some twenty violins in the hands of experienced players. An imperceptible movement of the arm, an unsuspected emotion on the part of the player, might produce no noticeable effect when played by a single violin.
But when multiplied by many instruments playing in unison, it results in magnificent nuances and irresistible surges of emotion that penetrate to the depth of the heart.