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Topic: WOODWINDS - general conductor's comments

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  1. #1

    WOODWINDS - general conductor's comments

    Woodwinds are quite small orchestral section consisting from 4 particular instrument groups (with derivates): flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassons.

    The most typical size of woodwind section is 2-3 players on every group; however, there are some compositions (namely, in 20 century) they may require 4 piece in every group. Anyway, notice, that the number of wind players depends on the orchestra size and budget, and any higher number of players will most likely be hard to arrange.

    Woodwinds can't compete with the power of the strings, brass and percussion sound. This way, the main importance of woodwind section lies preferably in the soft and middle dynamics, where they're able to offer admirably nice, a bit cold timbre sound with unique expression possibilities.

    For both composer and conductor, woodwinds represent also a lot of specific problems. Particularly: miscellanous and instable tuning, flexible play range, passing tones and both technical and dynamic limitations.

    Notation: in general, there is no reason to double woodwind parts. Every doubled instrument represents potential tuning troubles (timbre issue). By other words, two flutes playing the same part will probably not sound markedly louder, but - instead of it - rather like out of tune.

    When you write the score, note, that wind players are considered as soloists. This means they are not used to share the same orchestral part (even written appropriately, i.e. in two voices). To avoid possible problems, please, write the parts for every single instrument separately.

    Flutes: because of their airy sound, flutes seem predetermined for ornamental parts (i.e. fast runs, trills, grace notes, etc.). Flutes can play vibrato, but in general, it is not recommended to use it in ensemble play ('cause tuning problems). Sound effects: frulato and glissando - both very rarely used in the symphony orchestra. When speaking about flute derivates: the most often is piccollo flute. Piccolo flute is usually written as the third flute in the flute group or alternatively, on the second flute position. If it alternates, please, remember, there is a need to write that change in the part and give the flutist enough time to switch from regular flute to a piccolo and vice versa. To avoid possible problems on rehearsal ("Sorry, I didn't notice there is a piccolo in the middle of the part... but definitelly, I will bring it with me tomorrow..."), I do recommend to announce that need already on the first page of the score/part (on instrument listing). By the way, good flutist may not be necessarily that good piccolist and vice versa (thanks to the quite different physical requirements). Another flute derivates: alto flute - quite easily accessible in most orchestras, and bass flute (there is the accessibility a bit worse).

    Oboes: sometimes also called as "angel trumpets" because of their quite brittle sound. Although oboe is used as the orchestra tuner, paradoxicaly, it's - at the same time - one of the most technically and sound delicate instrument there (after "warming" the tuning gets up). If there is need of lower oboe sound, please go with the corno inglaise or bassoon. Oboe derivates like oboe d'amour, bass Oboe or Heckelphone are usually difficult to arrange for many orchestras.

    Clarinets: probably the most loud and technically gifted instrument in the woodwind section. It can play fast and loud enough in all its registries, but attention with the highest play range - here, it produces very piercing sound. There are many clarinet tunings: e.g. concert B-flat, soft A (this one liked Dvorak for its velvet sound), high E-flat (used namely in bands) and C natural (a bit folky). If you need a lower range extension, please, use a bass clarinet. Other clarinet derivates, like Alto Clarinet, Contra Alto Clarinet, ContraBass Clarinet etc. it is hard to find at an orchestra today. Typical sound effect on clarinets: glisando.

    Bassoons: probably the less complicated instrument in the woodwind section. Unfortunatelly, soft in the middle and high registries. Bassoons are very helpful namely in fast runs, when used together with celli and double basses.

    In conclusion, there are the most offen wind-writing errors in the scores over the years:

    1. think of breath. many young composers do forget on breath rests, although this can, in principle, make the piece totally unplayable

    2. if there is staccato, try to pronounce for yourself the fastest notes to make sure, it is playable in the intended tempi

    3. to surpass wrong timbre combination or avoid tuning troubles, use chords divided between groups at random

    4. check the parts for technical aspects (particularly trills); some steps may not be ever possible to play on woodwinds

    _________________________________
    Petr Pololanik, M.A.
    Conductor, Orchestrator, Music Producer
    Capellen Music Production

  2. #2

    Re: WOODWINDS - general conductor's comments

    Capellen--

    Thank you for your very helpful comments!

  3. #3

    Re: WOODWINDS - general conductor's comments

    A few additions....

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen

    Woodwinds can't compete with the power of the strings, brass and percussion sound. This way, the main importance of woodwind section lies preferably in the soft and middle dynamics, where they're able to offer admirably nice, a bit cold timbre sound with unique expression possibilities.
    Of course, one notable exception is the Piccolo which in its very highest range is quite piercing and extremely shrill easily matching the power of the other sections.

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    For both composer and conductor, woodwinds represent also a lot of specific problems. Particularly: miscellanous and instable tuning, flexible play range, passing tones and both technical and dynamic limitations.

    Notation: in general, there is no reason to double woodwind parts. Every doubled instrument represents potential tuning troubles (timbre issue). By other words, two flutes playing the same part will probably not sound markedly louder, but - instead of it - rather like out of tune.
    We might want to approach this point with some caution. Just as there is a marked difference between a solo horn and 2 or more horns in unison, so too is there a significiant and important role for doubled winds. As with all the orchestral choirs intonation and tuning is always of great concern in doubled unisons but one should not hesitate to write such a passage if the thicker texture is needed.

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    Flutes: Sound effects: frulato and glissando - both very rarely used in the symphony orchestra.
    This is a good generalization in the classical literature but in film and game scoring and contemporary composition these two particualr extended techniques are quite common. Todays professional players are very comfortable with such techniques and one should not hesitate to write them.

    Another good comment for the flutes is their strong ability to produce rapid rearticulated notes via a technique known as double and triple tonguing. By pronouncing the syllables Ta-Ka or Ta-da-Ka while playing.

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    Oboes: . If there is need of lower oboe sound, please go with the corno inglaise or bassoon.
    I think what Petr means is that if you are looking for that sweet melodic mellow and reedy sound from the oboe in its lower register, you might want to consider the English Horn or Bassoon. However if you need a good thick and heavy honky toot from a woodwind around middle C, The oboe is your man (or woman as the case may be :-).

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    Clarinets: probably the most loud and technically gifted instrument in the woodwind section. It can play fats and loud enough in all its registries, but attention with the highest play range - here, it produces very piercing sound. There are many clarinet tunings: e.g. concert B-flat, soft A (this one liked Dvorak for its velvet sound), high E-flat (used namely in bands) and C natural (a bit folky). If you need a lower range extension, please, use a bass clarinet. Other clarinet derivates, like Alto Clarinet, Contra Alto Clarinet, ContraBass Clarinet etc. it is hard to find at an orchestra today. Typical sound effect on clarinets: glisando.
    Also worth mentioning is that unlike any other instrument in the orchestra, the Clarinet family is capable of producing extremely soft notes called "Subtones" Its not uncommon to find PPPP or even PPPPP marked in a clarinet part as an indication of this playing technique. Its quite a wonderful effect.

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    3. to surpass wrong timbre combination or avoid tuning troubles, use chords divided between groups at random
    Well not really "random" right Petr? Beginning orchestration students are often advised to divide or "voice" the woodwinds using common techniques employed since the introduction of the winds into the orchestra. These voicing techniques include, but are not limited to Juxtaposed, Overlapped, Interlocked and Enclosed.
    ....................
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