Orchestral Textures (Page 2)

Some more interesting melody-dominated textures

Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5, First movement

Tchaikovsky writes a simple chordal accompaniment to this melody but notice the subtle change in sonority as he swaps the darker lower bassoon for the the brighter flute (the doubling on Clarinet is the same in both). At the same time he briefly drops the double bass doubling the cellos, which again lightens the texture.


A few bars later and Tchaikovsky changes the textures and sonority much more radically. Now the melody is in the upper strings while horns, oboe and flutes provide the chords. At the same time the Clarinets and Bassoons play a decorative semiquaver scalic passage to add some extra rhythm and colour (note how the strong beats always fit with the harmony).



Brahms, Symphony No. 3, Third Movement, opening

This example from Brahms is more ambitious:

  • The melody is in the tenor register of the cellos
  • The upper strings play overlapping fast and quiet arpeggios which create a shimmer of harmony around the melody
  • Double basses (separate from cellos) pluck the bass line (pizzicato)
  • The flutes and bassoons add some harmonic support


Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Overture to the Tsar’s Bride

The opening to this overture by the Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov (the author of a fantastic orchestration manual) is a mini masterclass in orchestration. Note how he keeps re-orchestrating the melody, eventually building up to a tutti with countermelodies and multiple doublings.

Link to PDF file 

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