What is a symphony?
A symphony is a lengthy musical composition created for an
orchestra. It consists of several large sections, or movements,
at least one of which probably employs sonata form. A sonata is
a form of musical composition that consists of three or four
movements that are contrasted in rhythm and mood but related in
Growing in size
There are about ninety to one hundred and twenty players
comprising a symphony orchestra. However, it has not always been
so. Up to early eighteenth century, the orchestra was much
smaller. For instance, when George Frederick Handel composed the Water Music,
his orchestra was relatively small.
With the advent of Romantics and their
elaborate music, a need was felt for a larger group in order
that justice may be rendered to their compositions. With the
turn of the century, the size of the orchestra had increased to
forty or fifty members. Before the beginning of the twentieth
century, the size of a symphony orchestra had almost doubled and
today’s orchestra comprises of about one ton players.
The four sections
There are four types of instruments that are used in the orchestra.
These are percussion instruments, brass instruments, stringed
instruments and woodwind instruments.
The stringed section consists of thirty violins, twelve
violas, ten cellos and eight double basses. All these instruments
produce sound through vibration. The violin is employed to carry the
melody in the orchestra and is usually the highest pitched in this
section. For producing the lowest notes, the double bass is
employed. Usually the strings are played with a bow; however, they
may be plucked too.
The brass section includes four French horns, a bass tuba and
three trombones. These instruments contain valves; by using the
valves and the players’ lips, the pitch is controlled. The trombone
is the bass core in this section, while it is the French horn that
carries the melody.
There are two clarinets, two oboes, two flutes and two bassoons in
the woodwind section. The instruments are either blown
through a mouth hole or played using a vibrating reed, as happens in
the case of the oboe and the clarinet. The oboe is typically
employed for the plaintive notes that it can produce. The clarinet
(which is a single reed instrument as against the oboe, which is a
double reed instrument) produces smooth and warm sounds. When felt
necessary, a piano or a harp is also brought in. Sometimes the
piccolo, cor anglais and the double bassoon are used too. The
piccolo is the smallest woodwind instrument. It is a kind of flute
with a very high pitch. The flute is used in a symphony orchestra
because it can cope with any pace of music.
It’s a variety that comprises the percussion section. Drums,
rattles, xylophones, tambourines, cymbals, triangles, chimes and you
name it. There are gongs used too. These instruments are played by
hitting the instrument or striking with a beater or the hand. The
rattling sound that you hear in a symphony orchestra is produced by
the snare drum that has wires across the bottom, which give the
Some of the world renowned symphony creators are Joseph Haydn,
Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert
Schumann, Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms and Hector Berlioz. Modern
day symphonists include the French composer Arthur Honegger; Paul
Hindemith from Germany; Charles Ives, Walter Piston, and Roy Harris
from America, Nikolay Myaskovsky, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Sergey
Prokofiev from the Soviet Union; British composers Ralph Vaughan
Williams, Frederick Delius, Sir William Walton, and Sir Michael
Tippett; and Sergey Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky, emigrants from
the Soviet Union.