String orchestra

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Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), performed by the U.S. Army Band Strings.

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A string orchestra is an orchestra composed solely or primarily of instruments from the string family. These instruments are the violin, the viola, the cello, the double bass, the harp, the piano,and sometimes percussion. String orchestras can be of chamber orchestra size ranging from between 12 (4.3.2.2.1 = 12) and 21 musicians (6.5.4.4.2 = 21) sometimes performing without a conductor, or consist of the entire string section of a large symphony orchestra which could have 60 musicians (16.14.12.10.8 = 60; Gurre-Lieder calls for 84: 20.20.16.16.12).

Film scores generally have quite varied string set-ups: for example, James Newton Howard's score for The Last Airbender featured 33 violins, 21 violas, 14 celli and 15 double basses, making it a total of 83 strings.

A twentieth century development has been the reappearance of the concerto grosso pitting of soloists against the full ensemble. During the past eras of pop music, it also employed up to 65-piece string orchestras (Two Tribes).[1]

Repertoire[edit]

Edward Elgar's "Serenade for Strings, movement 1" performed by the United States Army Band Strings ensemble

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The repertoire includes several works by Mozart (including Eine kleine Nachtmusik) and Haydn which dispense with the baroque basso continuo. Some of these works are problematic when it comes to deciding whether they are for orchestra or string quartet. Particularly in Haydn's early works it is argued that the inversions of harmony from the occasional crossings of the bass and viola line imply a double bass; the question is not settled, however.

Important 20th century works have been written for string orchestra by Bartók (Divertimento for String Orchestra), Stravinsky (Apollo), Witold Lutosławski (Musique funèbre), Benjamin Britten (Simple Symphony and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge), Charles Wuorinen (Grand Bamboula), and Malcolm Williamson (Symphony No. 7). Sir Michael Tippett wrote a Concerto for Double String Orchestra and Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote a Partita for Double String Orchestra. Composers who have written a Serenade for string orchestra include Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Suk and Elgar. Mendelssohn also wrote a number of symphonies for string orchestra.


Danses sacrée et profane by Debussy, performed by the United States Marine Chamber Orchestra. Arrangement of the chamber music pieces scored for string quintet of violin, viola, cello, double bass, and cross-strung harp.

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Sometimes works originally written for string quartet, quintet, sextet etc. are arranged for string orchestra. Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, Alban Berg's 3 Pieces from his Lyric Suite, Arnold Schoenberg's Second String Quartet and the sextet Verklärte Nacht, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's sextet Souvenir de Florence, John Corigliano's Second String Quartet and Jean Sibelius's Andante Festivo are examples. An optional timpani part is also added in the Sibelius piece. The work Shaker Loops written in 1978 for septet then arranged in 1983 for string orchestra by the American composer John Adams has become a popular addition to the repertoire in recent times. Graham Waterhouse composed several works for string orchestra (Sinfonietta), also in combination with contrasting sounds as Great Highland Bagpipe (Chieftain's Salute).

Other works for string orchestra[edit]

Instrumentation[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [Stage and Screen Online — Anne Dudley interview].