Performance | The Orchestra | Late Baroque | Classical
Modern writers refer to the mixed instrumental chamber ensembles of the Renaissance as broken consorts. Different kinds of instruments were brought together with choirs for special occasions, but there was no large ensemble encompassing different families of instruments and performing its own recognizable genres of music, until the Baroque period. The introduction by Monteverdi of string players into the 16-strong brass ensemble of St Mark’s, Venice, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, is usually seen as a significant indicator of the way things were going.
Away from the opera pit, the early Baroque orchestra that developed became string-heavy. Lully’s Paris orchestra, playing in five parts rather than the three or four favoured in Italy, consisted of a substantial number of violins, a smaller number of alto and tenor instruments of different sizes, tuned like the viola but assigned to three different parts in the music, and a group of bass violins (tuned like the cello though a tone lower), with a supporting role for wind instruments, usually a combination of oboes and bassoon.
This orchestra provided a model that other court orchestras followed. But in the later Baroque, the revolution in wind instruments that French makers had pioneered in the mid and late seventeenth century, meant that the flute, recorder, oboe, bassoon and horn (and more rarely the sackbut) all began to secure regular employment as orchestral instruments. Trumpet and timpani were included more occasionally, the former often doubling on horn. There was invariably a continuo group within the orchestra providing support to the bass line. In concerti grossi there would be a division between a smaller group of instruments, the concertino, and a larger one, the ripenio.
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