Friday, May 08, 2009

The Joy of Orchestration vs. The Orchestrator's Companion

Over lunch (a plate of left-over chicken momos), skimming through Rimsky-Korsakov's Principles of Orchestration (skimming because you can't really read it, unless, perhaps, you have a thing for excerpts from Kashtschei the Immortal or The Legend of the invisible city of Kitesh or Snegourotchka) , noticed that almost all of the scoring suggestions for string and woodwind ensembles are based upon the reinforcement of score order (flutes over oboes over clarinets over bassoons and strings from high to low) and more eccentric skips and mixtures within the score-ordered lists depricated with, ultimately, the goal of smooth part-writing (especially avoiding voice crossings and cross-relations) and an ideal spacing (approximately that of a harmonic series (intervals getting smaller as the register ascends)).  

Well, okay, Nikolay, but how come almost all of my favorite moments in orchestrated music (violins and contrabasses doubling aeveral octaves apart, bassoon over clarinet over oboe over flute...)  happen to make just exactly the moves you advise against?  Perhaps the Principles could be thought of as the collection of bland, everyday orchestration recipes (bland, but trusted and familar, like The Joy of Cooking) , the default setting you want to avoid whenever you want your music to be something other than bland and everyday (attractive in an exotic and maybe dangerous way, like The Gentleman's Companion).  

4 comments:

a Chipewa in Anaphoria said...

somehow none of this kept Igor S. back.

Dan said...

mmmmm.... momos

Jason Charney said...

Now I'm craving momos...

I think having that the foundation of bland orchestration helps one later - knowing what the rules are to break them later and have greater effect, knowing to what degree you've really turned convention on its head.

sfmike said...

Like most of the other famous Russian composers in that group of five, he didn't start out as a musician, so I think he overcompensated in his correctness, particularly after taking over the reins of the Music Conservatory. His desecrations of Moussorgsky's weirdnesses was criminal, but in his defense I've got to say I love some of his music.