Learning Log

Project 5.1: Introduction to the Orchestra

Exercise 1: Percussion in the orchestra

For the first exercise of this unit, I was asked to listen to the following 6 pieces, particularly paying attention to the percussion used. For each piece, I tried to focus on the following three questions in my study folder. My comments on the music can also be found in my Listening Log.

  • What role does the percussion play in the music?
  • How does this differ between pieces?
  • Is there a general chronological development? If so, what changes can you observe? Is there anything which doesn’t change?

Within “The funeral of queen Mary, the Percussion section, consisting of a single drum, plays a dominant part within the piece. It also seems to lead the brass section in terms of articulation and dynamics. The first movement of Beethoven’s 8th was rather different considering the percussion. Instead of playing a dominant role, a timpani is used to underline the accented notes. As mentioned in my Listening Log, if I hadn’t been asked to listen to this particular section, I probably would have barely noticed it, as it blend well with the rest of the orchestra. The third piece, Berloiz’ Symphony Fantastique is quite similar to Beethoven’ 8th. It still has a more leading role within the first half of the piece, for example by using a long tremolo crescendo, to lead the other instruments to a peak point. Within the second half the timpani is also used to underline accented parts of the piece again.

Messiaen’s Couleurs de la Cité Céleste is the first piece of this collection, coming from a more modern era (written in 1963). The piece manages to create several different images, by alternating instrumental groups and the amount of instruments playing. Most of the percussion instruments are tuned, for example, a xylophone can be heard clearly over the rest of the orchestra playing a repeating pattern. As the piece continues, some untuned percussion can be heard as well. In this case, it is not used to underline anything, but even seems to be of the same importance as the other instruments. Grabstein für Stephan seems to be a reverse – version of The funeral of Queen Mary considering the percussion. Instead of the rest of the music adapting to it, several untuned percussion instruments are used to reflect the character of the music played by the tuned instruments. Furthermore, Kurtàg didn’t just focus on one section or even a single percussion instrument, but made use of several characteristically very different ones, which always seem to be chosen correctly to encourage the melody lying on top. Within the last piece, Thomas Adès Chamber Symphony the main focus seems to be on the percussion section itself. In comparison to the previous pieces, the other instruments of the orchestra are used to underline it by adapting to it’s character or reflecting a played pattern.

Reseach Point 5A: Rimsky – Korsakov’s Book on orchestration.

For this short research point, I was asked to read the author’s preface from the book Principles of Orchestration, written by Nikolay, Rimsky-Korsakov. Within the preface, Korsakov mentions, that orchestration shouldn’t be seen as a different task from composing itself, but rather as a part of it. According to him, a suitable comparison would be the colours used to draw a picture. Furthermore, Korsakov is convinced, that proper orchestration can be hardly taught and has to be done by heart.

Some extracts from the following Listening Log entry are copied in my Listening Log.

The first movement introduces several musical colours. The composer starts with a strong fanfare like theme in forte played unison by the lower brass section and strings. Without any transition, two more themes are introduced, not only played quieter but also with the use of different instruments. A song l, longing solo lead by a single violin and a harp can be heard. Over the course of the whole orchestral work, he seemed to have used almost every possible combination of instrumental groups, creating a high variety of warm, soft or darker, moodier themes. I personally couldn’t make out any consisting themes within the piece, it mostly consisted of different parts contrasting one another in musical colour and dynamics.Interestingly even if there are barely any transitioning parts between these themes, none of them come unexpectedly nor have a surprising effect.

As mentioned in the text above, Korsakov seems to not only focus on creating different melodies, but a high variety of colouristic material achieved just by the types of instruments he used. I was mostly surprised by the rapid, yet almost seamless transitions between these colours, which are mainly aligned in a contrasting way. He really didn’t seem to focus on working with thematic material, as it may have been common within the Classical Era. Instead he “drew” all sorts of imaginary landscapes, which seem to be woven into one another.
In a historical context, Korsakov didn’t only have a huge impact on Stravinsky, one of his students. Some other composers adapted to of his approach to orchestration in general, not using it as an additional tool which is meant to support a harmony or melody, but rather using instrumentation and orchestration directly to create the music. 

Project 5.2. Orchestral Colour

Exercise 2: 20th Century Colours

For this exercise, I was asked to listen to different works for orchestra and pay attention to how the colour of sound is achieved. These entries can be found in my Listening Log.

The first piece, Stravinsky’s The Rite of SpringSecond Part, is started with hectic and agonized sounding orchestral passages. Slowly, a theme is being developed, moving the piece into a more humoristic, yet slightly unsettling atmosphere, this effect is created through some rapid movements of low woodwinds, for example the bassoon. In Five pieces for Orchestra, it was more noticeable for me, that the composer, Webern, payed deliberately close attention to the instrumentation of his piece. This was especially noticeable within the third movement, where he presented the same chord repetitively, using different ways of instrumentation. I really admired how Britten managed it to create soft, fast, yet very effective transitions between strong emotional, and softer quieter parts. I noticed, that he often used one element from a former part, leading the piece into the next. This technique probably helped to create such smooth transitions. In terms of alternating musical colours, Pithoprakta was probably the most successful piece. I was especially surprised that a section consisting only of percussion can have such a calming effect, as I personally have always only used it to underline accented parts of pieces. In contrast to this first, rain – like section, was the disharmonic, scratchy sound of the string section. Even though Xenakis made an effort to let those two parts melt into one another, the transition wasn’t as seamless as in Britten’s Four Sea Interludes.

Exercise 3: Colour Experiments

I was asked to orchestrate four short fragments for different types of instruments the results can be seen and heard below.

Fragment 1:

Fragment 2:

Fragment 3:

Project 5.3: The Modern Orchestra

Exercise 4: Electronics and the Orchestra

I was asked to listen to Xi for electronic instruments mixed with orchestral ones and answer a series of short questions following the score whilst listening to it. My very first response to the piece, which also sums up the last point of the questionaire about my personal opinion can be found in my Listening Log. The questions I could make out from the text provided in my Listening Log are the following:

  • How does the instrumental part relate to the sampler & tape in b.53?

Before bar 53, all instruments (including the tape and sampler) seemed to be moving in waves. As I described it in my Listening Log, it even seemed to breathe. In bar 53, some of the tension that has been building itself up, seems to be released within one big cluster chord. As almost all instruments are playing mostly scratchy, displeasing sounds, the sounds of the sampler and tape seem to disappear within this chord. I found it interesting how dynamical swells of the tape aren’t marked as crescendos/decrescendos, but as waves, resembling mountains.

  • What happens in bar 83?

At bar 83, the time signature is changed from 5/4 to 3/4. To be honest, whilst only listening to the piece, I wouldn’t have noticed this change at all. Nonetheless, considering the instruments, one can notice, that instead of using the whole orchestra to produce swelling movements, the composer focused on using only small instrumental groups in an antiphonal arrangement, seemingly “talking” to one another.

  • Alien sounding wind multiphonics at b. 180

From bar 180 to around bar 200, Chin tries to imitate the sound of electronics by using mostly extended techniques for the natural instruments. At the end of the section, the sounds become more and more jittery and are almost impossible to tell apart from “real” electronic sounds.

  • Change of texture in bar 228?

In bar 228, the overall texture seems to put more focus on individual melodic lines, similar to a polyphonic structure. Most of the previous parts involved a more homophobic looking structure. Again, I found it difficult to listen to any difference considering the sound.

  • Why do you think the composer used the bowed tam tam at bar 389?

For the bars just before 389, only the tape was audible, before the tam tam can be heard, the time signature is changed again to 4/4. As I listened to it for the first time, I had the impression, that the piece would come to an end at this point, but was surprised to be “woken up” again by the sound of the tam tam, which also seemed to introduce a slow awakening for the rest of the orchestra.

Exercise 5: The Musical Theatre Orchestra

For this exercise, I was asked to arrange George Gershwin’s The Man I Love for an amateur orchestra, using the piano score below, arranged by the composer himself, as a basis.

The arrangement is supposed to be for the following instruments:

  • Flute doubling clarinet
  • Oboe
  • Violin
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Electric Bass
  • Keyboard (with piano and string sounds)

Whilst arranging the piece, I was also asked to keep note on some challenging points, how I approached and solved them.

The first hurdle I had to come over was to distribute the instruments to the different voicings of the piano version. As I knew the piece before and was quite used to the sound of the piano performing it, I initially almost copied most of the piano part directly for the keyboard, leaving only a small amount to do for the other voices. Nonetheless, as I wanted to give all instruments a roughly equal amount of work, I rearranged the voices for a bit until I found a solution that I thought was appropriate.

I wanted to combine the strings and woodwinds to play the melody, but as the piano version seemed much stronger, I decided to use the woodwinds alongside the keyboard and the strings as accompaniment. This also fitted much better to the bass line, for which I used the cello playing in pizzicato and the electric bass. As those two, alongside the left hand of the piano played either unison, in octaves or wide chords, there weren’t any problems with these low voices sounding too “muddy”.

There is a slight change of character between bar 5 and 6, within the piano version it suddenly becomes much lighter, I tried to approach this change by letting all strings play pizzicato for a while. In bar 9, I swapped some of the voices to get some variation for the audience as well as the performers. For the third repetition of the “theme”, I swapped the voices once again, putting the piano in the foreground this time. As the main tune is octaved twice within the original score, I tried to do the same within the different instrumental groups, this in addition to a small alteration of dynamics, allowed the melody to stick out more. Even with these small changes, I wanted the piece to still have a romantic and calm character, which I hopefully managed to maintain.

I found it very challenging to imagine which parts might be more difficult to play for other instruments than the piano, nonetheless, as I had the opportunity to distribute the voices from the piano score almost equally for all instruments and managed to include almost everything from it. Another hurdle to overcome would have been a “pulse” to the piece, without the use of a drum kit. I personally think, that this problem was already solved by Gerwshin himself, as the main theme consists of dotted notes, which rhythmically lead the piece forward.

Exercise 6: World Orchestras

For this short exercise, I was encouraged to listen to other orchestras that have developed around the world, apart from the symphony orchestra, which is widely known and used within the western culture.

The suggested orchestras were the following:



  • Composer: Unknown
  • Year of composition: Unknown
  • Performed by: Surkarta Sekaten Gamelan
  • Listened to: 22.06.2021

The metal sounding tuned percussion had something very meditative. Even though there were a few instruments which are more noticeable than others, the overall sound seems to be more of a polyphonic mix of different arpeggios. Interestingly, the played notes seem to come from the same family of instruments, even though the single notes sound slightly distorted, mostly due to the unusually dominant overtones of the instruments. The “theme” played seems to be moving in circles, continuously increasing and decreasing in volume and always repeating the same melodic pattern, which seems to be moving in fifths.


  • Composer: Unknown
  • Year of composition: Unknown
  • Performed by: Surkarta Sekaten Gamelan
  • Listened to: 220.06.2021

In comparison to the previous piece, this one made a slightly more distressing effect on me. Some other instruments, at least two forms of drums have been added, and the metal sounding ones were not in the foreground anymore. The combination of the low drums and shakers, which seemed to imitate chirps from crickets only had this disorientating effect due to the (at least for me) unusual sounding intonation. On top of all that, there was a female voice singing, mostly singing melismatic. Whilst the instrumental repeated the same pattern over the whole piece, the voice changed it’s melody continuously.

Chinese Orchestras

Bells from the Temple

  • Composer: Unknown
  • Year of composition: Unkown
  • Instruments: Erhu, Pipa, Zheng, Xiao
  • Performed by: Loo Kah Chi, Lam Fung, So Chun Bo, Wong Kuen
  • Listened to: 22.06.2021

The combination of the instruments and pentatonic scale made the piece sound foreign, probably mostly due to a similar usage in films, I automatically associated it with Asian culture. I find it interesting how many differences there are to the western orchestra. The music is overall really enjoyable, even though it sounds very unfamiliar. Interestingly, there isn’t a instrument that has been chosen to play the melody; instead most of the time, all instruments play an alternating melodic line in parallel moving octaves or fifths.

Beyond the Frontier

  • Composer: Unknown
  • Year of composition: Unkown
  • Instruments: Erhu, Pipa, Zheng, Xiao
  • Performed by: Loo Kah Chi, Lam Fung, So Chun Bo, Wong Kuen
  • Listened to: 22.06.2021

For this piece the instruments moved more independently. Thrills and tremolos were often used as a reappearing effect. Due to the lower pitched notes and the slower tempo, it had a slightly more calming effect than the previous one. Furthermore, the melody, seemed to be moving forward instead of just repeating itself. Here again, the performers used the effect of doubling the melody in octaves or fifths. For me the most fascinating aspect was, that no or only a small amount of background music was used (similar to Bells from the Temple) and the piece nevertheless didn’t sound empty.

Laptop Orchestra

Here we go again

  • Composer: Michael Mulshine
  • Year of composition: 2008
  • Performed by: Princeton Laptop Orchestra
  • Listened to: 2.06.2021

I really enjoyed listening to this piece. The first part was only made with “natural” instruments, and had a jazzy style. A recitative is started accompanied by the performers on the computers typing the spoken words on their computers. A mix of light, seemingly improvising jazz and a few synths from the computers combine with the a – rhythmical recitative creating a slightly chaotic seeming atmosphere. This part is also stopped abruptly and a new one, stylistically similar to the first one can be heard again, between these thematically very different parts aren’t any transitions. I had the impression of listening to a completely new type of music, which combines “classical” acoustic sounds with different types of only recently discovered ones.

Project 5.4. Orchestrating the Orchestra

Exercise 7: Orchestral Miniatures

I was asked to arrange the following three pieces for different types of ensembles/orchestras. Knowing that I found it difficult to change some original voices whilst rearranging pieces, I tried to add another feature to each piece. I am aware, that I only chose small ensembles for each piece, although, I felt the amount of instruments was appropriate to represent the composers’ piano versions.

  • Piece 1:

  • Second Piece:

  • Third Piece