String section

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing with a jazz group. The string sections are at the front of the orchestra, arrayed in a semicircle around the conductor's podium. Chicago Symphony Orchestra 2005.jpg
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing with a jazz group. The string sections are at the front of the orchestra, arrayed in a semicircle around the conductor's podium.

The string section is composed of bowed instruments belonging to the violin family. It normally consists of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. It is the most numerous group in the typical Classical orchestra. In discussions of the instrumentation of a musical work, the phrase "the strings" or "and strings" is used to indicate a string section as just defined. An orchestra consisting solely of a string section is called a string orchestra. Smaller string sections are sometimes used in jazz, pop and rock music and in the pit orchestras of musical theatre.

Violin family class of stringed instruments

The violin family of musical instruments was developed in Italy in the 16th century. At the time the name of this family of instruments was viole da braccio which was used to distinguish them from the viol family. The standard modern violin family consists of the violin, viola, cello, and double bass.

Viola bowed string instrument

The viola (; Italian pronunciation: [ˈvjɔːla]) is a string instrument that is bowed or played with varying techniques. It is slightly larger than a violin and has a lower and deeper sound. Since the 18th century, it has been the middle or alto voice of the violin family, between the violin (which is tuned a perfect fifth above) and the cello (which is tuned an octave below). The strings from low to high are typically tuned to C3, G3, D4, and A4.

Cello musical instrument

The cello ( CHEL-oh; plural celli or cellos) or violoncello ( VY-ə-lən-CHEL-oh; Italian pronunciation: [vjolonˈtʃɛllo]) is a bowed (and occasionally plucked) string instrument of the violin family. Its four strings are usually tuned in perfect fifths: from low to high, C2, G2, D3 and A3, an octave lower than the viola. Music for the cello is generally written in the bass clef, with tenor clef and treble clef used for higher-range passages.


Seating arrangement

One possible seating arrangement for an orchestra. First violins are labelled "Vln I"; second violins "Vln II", violas "Vla", and double basses (in German "Kontrabasse") are "Kb" ). Orchestra sections sv labels.png
One possible seating arrangement for an orchestra. First violins are labelled "Vln I"; second violins "Vln II", violas "Vla", and double basses (in German "Kontrabässe") are "Kb" ).

The most common seating arrangement in the 2000s is with first violins, second violins, violas and cello sections arrayed clockwise around the conductor, with basses behind the cellos on the right. [1] The first violins are led by the concertmaster (leader in the UK); each of the other string sections also has a principal player (principal second violin, principal viola, principal cello and principal bass) who play the orchestral solos for the section, lead entrances and, in some cases, determine the bowings for the section (the concertmaster/leader may set the bowings for all strings, or just for the upper strings). The principal string players sit at the front of their section, closest to the conductor and on the row of performers which is closest to the audience.

Concertmaster profession; leader of the first violin section in an orchestra (or clarinet in a concert band) and the instrument-playing leader of the orchestra

The concertmaster is the leader of the first violin section in an orchestra and the instrument-playing leader of the orchestra. After the conductor, the concertmaster is the second-most significant leader in an orchestra, symphonic band or other musical ensemble. Another common term in the U.S. is "First Chair." In the U.K., Australia and elsewhere in the English-speaking world, the term commonly used is "leader."

In the 19th century it was standard [2] to have the first and second violins on opposite sides (violin I, cello, viola, violin II), rendering obvious the crossing of their parts in, for example, the opening of the finale to Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. If space or numbers are limited, cellos and basses can be put in the middle, violins and violas on the left (thus facing the audience) and winds to the right; this is the usual arrangement in orchestra pits. [3] The seating may also be specified by the composer, as in Béla Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta , which uses antiphonal string sections, one on each side of the stage. In some cases, due to space constraints (as with an opera pit orchestra) or other issues, a different layout may be used.

Symphony No. 6 (Tchaikovsky) symphony by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, also known as the Pathétique Symphony, is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's final completed symphony, written between February and the end of August 1893. The composer entitled the work "The Passionate Symphony", employing a Russian word, Патетическая (Pateticheskaya), meaning "passionate" or "emotional", that was then (mis-)translated into French as pathétique, meaning "solemn" or "emotive".

Orchestra pit

An orchestra pit is the area in a theater in which musicians perform. Orchestral pits are utilized in forms of theatre that require music or in cases when incidental music is required. The conductor is typically positioned at the front of the orchestral pit facing the stage.

Béla Bartók Hungarian composer and pianist

Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century; he and Franz Liszt are regarded as Hungary's greatest composers. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later became ethnomusicology.

"Desks" and divisi

In a typical stage set-up, the first and second violins, violas and cellos are seated by twos, a pair of performers sharing a stand being called a "desk", Each principal (or section leader) is usually on the "outside" of the first desk, that is, closest to the audience. When the music calls for subdivision of the players the normal procedure for such divisi passages is that the "outside" player of the desk (the one closer to the audience) takes the upper part, the "inside" player the lower, but it is also possible to divide by alternating desks, the favored method in threefold divisi. [4] The "inside" player typically turns the pages of the part, while the "outside" player continues playing. In cases where a page turn occurs during an essential musical part, modern performers may photocopy some of the music to enable the page turn to take place during a less important place in the music.

There are more variations of set-up with the double bass section, depending on the size of the section and the size of the stage. The basses are commonly arranged in an arc behind the cellos, either standing or sitting on high stools, usually with two players sharing a stand; though occasionally, due to the large width of the instrument, it is found easier for each player to have their own stand. There are not usually as many basses as cellos, so they are either in one row, or for a larger section, in two rows, with the second row behind the first. In some orchestras, some or all of the string sections may be placed on wooden risers, which are platforms that elevate the performers.

Numbers and proportions

The size of a string section may be expressed with a formula of the type (for example) 10-10-8-10-6, designating the number of first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, and basses. The numbers can vary widely: Wagner in Die Walküre specifies 16-16-12-12-8; the band orchestra in Darius Milhaud's La création du monde is 1-1-0-1-1. In general, music from the Baroque music era (ca. 1600-1750) and the Classical music period (ca. 1720-1800) used (and is often played in the modern era with) smaller string sections. During the Romantic music era (ca. 1800-1910), string sections were significantly enlarged to produce a louder, fuller string sound that could match the loudness of the large brass instrument sections used in orchestral music from this period. During the contemporary music era, some composers requested smaller string sections. In some regional orchestras, amateur orchestras and youth orchestras, the string sections may be relatively small, due to the challenges of finding enough string players.

<i>Die Walküre</i> opera by Richard Wagner

Die Walküre, WWV 86B is the second of the four music dramas that constitute Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen,. It was performed, as a single opera, at the National Theatre Munich on 26 June 1870, and received its first performance as part of the Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 14 August 1876.

Darius Milhaud French composer and teacher

Darius Milhaud was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and Brazilian music and make extensive use of polytonality. Milhaud is considered one of the key modernist composers.

<i>La création du monde</i> ballet

La Création du monde, Op. 81a, is a 15-minute-long ballet composed by Darius Milhaud in 1922–23 to a libretto by Blaise Cendrars, which outlines the creation of the world based on African folk mythology. The premiere took place on 25 October 1923 at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.

The music for a string section is not necessarily written in five parts; besides the variants discussed below, in classical orchestras the 'quintet' is often called a 'quartet', with basses and cellos playing together.

Double-bass section

The role of the double-bass section evolved considerably during the 19th century. In orchestral works from the classical era, the bass and cello would typically play from the same part, labelled "Bassi". [5] Given the pitch range of the instruments, this means that if a double bassist and a cellist read the same part, the double bass player would be doubling the cello part an octave lower. While passages for cellos alone (marked "senza bassi") are common in Mozart and Haydn, independent parts for both instruments become frequent in Beethoven and Rossini and common in later works of Verdi and Wagner.

Double bass Acoustic stringed instrument of the violin family

The double bass, or simply the bass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra.

Classical period (music) genre of Western music (c.1730-1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.


String section without violins

In Haydn's oratorio The Creation , the music to which God tells the newly created beasts to be fruitful and multiply achieves a rich, dark tone by its setting for divided viola and cello sections with violins omitted. Famous works without violins include the 6th of the Brandenburg Concerti by Bach, Second Serenade of Brahms, the opening movement of Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem , and Philip Glass's opera Akhnaten . Fauré's original versions of his Requiem and Cantique de Jean Racine were without violin parts, there being parts for 1st and 2nd viola, and for 1st and 2nd cello; though optional violin parts were added later by publishers. Some orchestral works by Giacinto Scelsi omit violins, using only the lower strings.

String section without violas

Handel often wrote works for strings without violas: for example many of his Chandos Anthems . Mozart's masses and offertories written for the Salzburg cathedral routinely dispensed with violas, as did his dances. Leonard Bernstein omitted violas from West Side Story .

String section without violins or violas

Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms has no parts for violins or violas. [6]

Third violins

Richard Strauss' Elektra (1909) and Josephslegende , the third movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 and some of George Handel's coronation anthems, are notable examples of the violins being divided threefold.[ citation needed ]

In other musical genres

"String section" is also used to describe a group of bowed string instruments used in rock, pop, jazz and commercial music. [7] In this context the size and composition of the string section is less standardised, and usually smaller, than a classical complement. [8]

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In musical terminology, divisi, or as typically printed div.,” is an instruction to divide a single section of instruments into multiple subsections. This usually applies to the violins of the string section in an orchestra, although violas, cellos, and double basses can also be divided. Typically, 4-part French Horn sections include divided sections if Horns 1/2 and/or 3/4 are not playing the same music ("a2"). Other brass instruments can also be divided but it is not as frequent as with the Horn section. Woodwinds - especially Flutes and Clarinets - also utilize "divisi" to divide music between parts and even between players of the same part.

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  1. Stanley Sadie's Music Guide, p. 56 (Prentice-Hall 1986). Nicolas Slonimsky described the cellos-on-the-right arrangement as part of a 20th-century "sea change" (Lectionary of Music, p. 342 (McGraw-Hill 1989).
  2. [ author missing ] (1948). "Orchestra" in Encyclopedia Americana, OCLC   1653189 ASIN   B00M99G7V6 [ page needed ].
  3. Gassner, "Dirigent und Ripienist" (Karlsruhe 1844). Rousseau's Dictionnaire de musique (1768), however, has a figure showing second violins facing the audience and principals facing the singers, reflecting the concertmaster's former role as conductor.
  4. Norman del Mar: Anatomy of the Orchestra (University of California Press, 1981) weighs the various merits in the chapter "Platform planning", pp.49-
  5. Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, online edition, article "Orchestra", section 6.
  6. Paul Griffiths, Stravinsky (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1992): 104. ISBN   9780460860635
  7. "The String Section - studio strings or online session musicians".
  8. "Size of the String Section in Popular Music Recordings, F.G.J.Absil, 2010" (PDF).