You are on page 1of 243
ONE THE INSTRUMENTS OF THE ORCHESTRA CHAPTER ONE me STRINGED INSTRUMENTS inovoHtour the comparatively brief history of orchestration the | string group—violins, violas, ‘cellos, and double-basses—has maintained its position as dominant element of the symphony orchestra’ Countless scores from all periods bear evidence that their composers regarded woodwind and brass rather as accessories and were hesitant to entrust much of their essential music: stringed instruments ‘Such an attitude is partly justifiable because of the superiority of the stri virtually any kind of music. They have a greater dynamic range than wind instruments and far more expressive capacity. The ton of the string group is fairly homogeneous from top to bottom, varia~ tions in the different registers being much more subt Ac the same time, stringed instrum ing different kinds of sound. As string tone is rich in overtones all is practical. One does not tire of hear- ing string tone as soon as one tires of wind tone; in fact, there exists a sizable literature of compositions written for string orchestra without wind instruments. The string section of a typical symphony orchestra usually consists of sixteen first violins, fourteen second violins, twelve violas, ten violoncellos, and eight double-basses. Variations in these proportions may be found, reflecting the predilections of individual conductors, or perhaps determined by some such circumstance as the size of the con- material to any but in so many important respects. Strings are tireless and can play 1¢ color le than in the winds. are the most versatile in produc. manner of close and open spacing cert stage. , INSTRUMENTS TUNING ‘The four strings of cach of these instruments are tuned as follows. dontlebes viol ile ello Fig. 1 Inthe case of the double-bass the actual sound isan octave lower than the written notes. The pitch of a vibrating string can be expressed in terms of the frequency, or rapidity, of its vibrations. For instance, the upper string of the viola sounds the A which in present-day tuning has a frequency of 440 vibrations per second. A stretched string can be varied in pitch by varying the tension, Stringed instruments are tuned by turning the tuning pegs to which the strings are attached. Tightening a string increases the frequency of its vibration; hence raises its pitch. The weight of the string has an important influence on the frequency of its vibration. Thus the four strings on the same instrument may be identical in length, but may differ widely in pitch because they are made to differ in weight. Furthermore, by making use of this principle, can be tuned to their various pitches without the necessity of too great a difference in their tensions. The lower-pitched strings are not only thicker, bur they are made still heavier by winding the gut orsteel with fine wire of copper, silver, aluminum, or other metals. Variation in the length of the string produces proportional variation in pitch, A longer string vibrates more slowly than a shorter one, other conditions being equal. It is found, for example, that halving the string length doubles the frequency and raises the pitch an octave. FINGERING The action of the left-hand fingers stopping the string firmly against the fingerboard shortens the sounding length of the string, thereby raising the pitch. STRINGED INSTRUMENTS 5 ogeepoora wesge Fig. 2. Violin m, note that the sounding length of the string, to be set in motion by the bow, is that between the stopping finger and the ‘The remainder of the string will of course be silent, Since halving the string length raises the pitch an octave, the point at which a string is stopped to sound the octave above its open, or un- stopped, pitch will be exactly one-half the distance from nut to bridge. If we wish to raise the pitch another octave we will find the point of stopping one-half the distance from this middle point to the bridge, or three-fourths the total string length from the nut. ‘The principle demonstrated is that fingering a given interval does not imply covering a fixed length of string, but a length that diminishes as the hand moves toward the bridge. When playing a succession of equal intervals on one string, the fingers measure off not equal divisions of string length but proportional divisions. For example, on the viola a major second above an open string means a distance of about 1%4 inches, whereas the same interval in a very high position measures less than % inch. A major second above an open string on the violin meas- tures about 1%4 inches, on the ’cello about 23% inches, and on the bass about 4% inches. Another characteristic of string fingering is that when the hand is in a given position on one string the fingers can readily stop tones on any of the four strings, without the necessity of moving the hand. Each