A Conversation for Introduction to Orchestral Music

Looking Under the Hood

Post 1

Steve K.

A good entry for a vast subject. I would quibble with a few choices (Bach before Vivaldi to get a handle on the Baroque), but just personal preferences really.

I got interested enough some years ago to audit a year long music theory course at my alma mater. Quite an experience for an engineering major. For those who want to go beyond listening and try to see what the composers are doing, it can be quite interesting.

The textbook was "Tonal Harmony" by Kostka and Payne, available from Amazon for as little as $12 used. I think the more recent editions have a companion CD with the examples played by an orchestra - a big plus for those who can't sight read the music. It also covers Baroque through the 20th century and, as you might guess, is about harmony - not orchestration or other aspects. The "tonal" part means the way scales and chords were used in this period, basically major and minor keys with 5 whole tone steps and two semitone. E.g. the C major scale is the white notes on a piano.

I still get the book out once in a while, pretty interesting stuff.


Looking Under the Hood

Post 2

Not Mongo

Some other texts you may want to read are Paul Cooper's "Perspectives in Music Theory" and any of the works of Dr. John Baur. These provide in-depth historical analysis of the development of Western music.

I find sadly lacking any comphensive texts about the evolution of tone color and orchestration in Western music. Most music theory texts concentrate on melodic and harmonic aspects with only a brief nod to the rich use of tone colorization in the modern orchestra.

It's kinda funny, you majored in engineering and dabbled in music theory, I have a degree in theory and also took engineering courses. Very few people realize that there is a connection, maybe music theory should be renamed music engineering?


Looking Under the Hood

Post 3

Steve K.

The name Paul Cooper rings a bell - any association with Rice University/Shepherd School of Music in Houston? I think I may have attended a lecture by him years ago.

Maybe because of the lack of texts you point out, I know very little about orchestration, only a few anecdotes like Beethoven was the master, virtually perfect. And a personal preference for Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition". But I actually prefer solo piano pieces, e.g. Mussorgsky's original piano suite - the analytical side of my brain gets confused by orchestration, and the other side has probably long since atrophied. smiley - erm

I think "music engineering" sounds good, but my theory prof (a composer) would cringe. He once said that he hoped his music could never be reduced to formulas ...

My favorite is J. S. Bach, I think other non-music types might feel this way. The appeal is some cases has a mathematical aspect, to me anyway. Like a fugue with it intertwining lines that match perfectly. Plus anybody that named works "Inventions" ... smiley - smiley (Stravinsky said something similar, BTW, calling himself an "inventor" of music).


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