Orchestral music is almost universally known as old fancy music. Nothing else is quite like it. Not many songs nowadays require a seventy-person band to produce. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of better than you, because I like classical music or something like that. Classical music is alright and modern music is great too.
Everyone should just enjoy the music that they like. Even if it’s just the main theme of your favorite online casino.
But I’ve always wondered about the history of orchestras. How far back can we trace bands of such large size working together. Is it like some other historical facts that there are specific places that they were invented at?
Like some king named Orchestrai the Third or something that created the first one and everyone after is named after him. I didn’t know.
So I decided to learn. And because it’s my job I decided to tell you.
Where it started
Bands have been around practically as long as music. A band is just a group of people with instruments who decide to play together.
The earliest beginnings of something like an orchestra come from when songs started being written down so that they could be played by any musician who got a hold of the sheet music. Of course, written down songs predate sheet music.
There are very old song lyrics, that were most likely accompanied by music, that we have records of yet they just have the words. No sheet music or anything.
Stuff like sheet music or tunes weren’t created at first with a specific group of instruments or even specific instruments. It was written for whatever instruments you found around yourself.
Instruments were expensive and it was almost impossible to assume that a place that wanted to play your music would have access to a specific instrument.
So you wrote it so it could be played with practically any instrument being able to be substituted for another. This was the standard for hundreds of years. It took the construction of instruments becoming more streamlined and the invention of the printing press to make the sheet music production easier before someone decided to list what instruments were meant to be played for each part.
It was the Baroque orchestra which was probably closest to what you think of today as an orchestra. Although even that was very different from what we’re used to.
It had no standardized size, it was all just based on whatever the composer requested or they had available.
But it featured heavily in string and wind instruments and even had a sort of early conductor to lead the musicians. The size of these events varied from around only ten or so to almost a hundred and fifty at large concerts!
The role of the conductors was a little different back then. In the earliest orchestras, the conductor didn’t lead with hand motions but would tap the beat out on the floor with a pole. There was one conductor by the name of Jean-Baptiste Lully who was a conductor and ahead of music in the French court back in the 1600s.
He accidentally hit his foot with the pole while banging it and developed gangrene from it. He died.
Now that the orchestra has a kill count let’s talk about when and how it became standardized.
It is now the 1800s. This is the time of Beethoven and Haydn, incredibly famous composers.
At this point, the orchestra has been set up with parts of string instruments, wind instruments, percussion instruments, etc. There was a short time when apparently these sections had names that designated the exact configuration of instruments inside of them, but this disappeared quickly.
At this point pianos and the like were less prominent in the orchestra, at least until Beethoven got interested in them.
Composers had to write for specific instruments now. This made their jobs much more complex but also more important. To be a good composer you could no longer just figure out the tune of the song and go from there.
You had to know each individual instrument’s “language” so to speak. You had to know the range of each one, how it sounds and how it can be paired with others.
This led to songs being able to be made with much more precision and style to them but it also meant that individual instrument players in an orchestra became more important. The role of the conductor also became important to make sure that only the right instruments are playing at the right time.
The size of the orchestra still varied massively among events and in actuality there never was really a true standard size for orchestras.
In the 1900s there was set a supposed standard size, and anything larger or smaller than this was abnormal. But this wasn’t actually followed that often.
There weren’t many songs that always needed the entire orchestra or perhaps they needed more than the “standard” orchestra could offer.
By the 20th century, it became very common for composers to throw in obscure and strange instruments into their songs for a specific sound they were going for. I mean, Tchaikovsky all the way back in 1812 put cannons in his song.
There isn’t much outside of the “standard” orchestra than that.