Thanks, everyone, for an uncommonly interesting thread! RMCR at its
Now to continue my issue with Brahms' orchestration in the Double
Concerto, note the following:
"Brahms string parts are spread over a large vertical compass, the
middle being closely filled up with double-stopping, sub-divided
parts, or by a busy figurated polyphony. Low lying parts for violas
and violoncellos, active or sustained, and both frequently
sub-divided, are largely responsible for a Schumannesque thickness of
tone, which, combined with the ever-present horn parts covering the
lower tenor register, has caused Brahms' orchestration to be described
as "thick and muddy." Individually, the string parts are often
strangely ungrateful in effect, rather more awkward than difficult.
They abound in large skips and uncomfortable intervals across the
strings. Ranging over the entire compass of each instrument, the
parts doggedly pursue their own course, freely crossing one another,
often syncopated or rhythmically at cross-purposes, and are rarely
left to display their own particular tone-quality without the
partnership of some other instrument of equal range, but dissimilar
tone-colour. The violoncellos wander about the string texture
expansively, independently, and often very expressively, but are
usually hedged around with much detailed motion by other parts.
In the matter of grouping and contrasting the main sections of the
orchestra, Brahms seems to have adopted one of the least attractive
features from Schumann's orchestration. A sort of semi-tutti,
comprised of strings, wood-wind and horns, is his favourite and almost
constant combination. The groups rarely appear in unmixed form.
Brahms' first symphony in C minor (1876) does not contain a single
complete bar of music for woodwind alone, and, if he did not quite
achieve Schumann's feat of orchestrating an entire symphony without
letting pure string-tone be heard for a singe bar, Brahms certainly
came very near to it in more than one of his works.
He apparently disdained purely orchestral
effect, and never relied solely on the mere attractiveness of
instrumental colour. His love for a full, dense harmony led him to
constantly duplicate parts and combine instrumental voices, thus
preventing the possibility of instruments and groups acting in clear
contrast to one another. While always dignified and sonorous, his
orchestration lacked the lighter touch and charm so often found in the
work of many an inferior composer.
A famous conductor aptly said, apropos of Brahms' orchestration: "The
sun never shines in it."
From a book on instrumentation by Adam Carse published in 1925 -
imagine what he could have accomplished if he had lived to participate
in RMCR! And proof that despite a suspicion that has been raised,
nastiness was not invented here...