Techniques of Orchestration

Dr. Justin Henry Rubin © 2005

C. Type III Orchestration

The basis of type III orchestration can be viewed as one that diametrically opposes type II, which encourages a pointillistic use of the ensemble, while negating type I, which calls for a hierarchical interaction between the instrumental groups. This is because the style of music that type III best supports is wholly unsuited to either style that type I or II is normally applied. Indeed, the music of type III is c conceptually driven by the shaping and unfolding of timbral combinations, which acts as the fundamental organizational structure and compositional premise, in lieu of melodies/themes, counterpoint, passagework, or harmony (in the traditional sense). The overlapping and juxtaposition of the instruments often result in the obscuring of individual timbres in favor of the creation of unique ensemble sounds. As such, we cannot begin with a 'short score' or piano original, but must compose directly with the ensemble.

Although many of the principal methods for organizing music are lost to us in this genre of (primarily) instrumental writing, composers have developed techniques that maintain a clear sense of narrative and drama derived largely from timbral manipulation. Although Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) explored some of the elemental ideas that relate to type III orchestration in his non-tonal experiments of the pre-World War I era klangfarbenmelodie (German: sound-color-melody). Most notably, the third composition from his Five Orchestral Pieces Op. 16 (1909), employs type III orchestration at the core of the glacially shifting harmonic blocks. It was only in the post-World War II period when composers such as Giacinto Scelsi (1905-88), Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), and Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933), began to explore the technique extensively.

One such technique found in the literature focuses the compositional activity on small pitch ranges at a time (such as a minor third), and some on only single notes. In the orchestral bagatelle that we have composed, there are two pitch regions separated by a tritone, A and Eb, around which instrumental activity pulses. Instruments oscillate around these centers, their juxtapositions creating a fluctuating and irregular pattern of strident sonorities and tensionless unisons. In this style it is part of the compositional process to finely regulate this dramatic and intricate interplay so that the result supports the desired expression.

The instrumental combinations are continually in a state of flux, bringing a carefully tempered, timbral vitality to these close clusters of pitch variations. The dramatic shift from the higher tessitura instruments to the lower, and finally the 'cadential' passage in the middle register, reflects the tritonic motion from the opening A to the closing Eb. However, throughout these changes, the complete array of available instruments illuminates and provides ornamental substance to this seemingly simple outline.

As with the previous pieces, our complete score remains untransposed. Because of its length and page size, it is made available here only as a pdf download.

mp3 download

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