Instruments | The Classical Orchestra | Classical Era | Classical

Just as the individual instruments were changing in the classical period, so the way in which they were grouped together was also changing accordingly. As virtuosity became possible on a wider range of instruments, so the domination of violins in the ensemble was reduced and the more balanced four-part string section (first violins, second violins, violas and cellos) emerged. The recorder was dropped in favour of the developing flute.

Direction of the classical orchestra, continuing to follow the Baroque model, was shared between a violin-playing concert master, leading from the first violins, and a director playing the harpsichord, located in the continuo group. As the fortepiano proved capable of undertaking more of what the classical composer required, the harpsichord was dropped. By the first few years of the nineteenth century the entire continuo section found itself disbanded, and the piano was to return to the orchestra as a regular member only in the modern age.

In the early classical period, the orchestra was still not standardized. Haydn wrote a part for the oboe da caccia (‘oboe of the hunt’, an ancestor of the modern English horn) in his Symphony No. 22, first played by the orchestra at Eisenstadt in 1764, but he had to rewrite it for performances elsewhere, since the instrument was not otherwise available.

Nevertheless, improved communications meant that news travelled and comparisons were made between different orchestras. The Mannheim ensemble was particularly influential in orchestral development, but commentators at the time also noted the Elector of Saxony’s orchestra and the opera orchestra in Turin. The classical orchestra settled down as a four-part string section plus two each (sometimes three or four) of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, plus timpani.

Styles & Forms | Classical Era | Classical
Instruments | Pianoforte | Early Romantic | Classical


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