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Saturday, 19 November 2016



The term orchestra derives from the Greek ὀρχήστρα (orchestra), a Greek phrase meaning ‘dancing place’, which was the name for the area in front of a stage in ancient Greek theater reserved for the Greek chorus.

The Dohnanyi Orchestra performing

When the word 'orchestra' first appeared in English it meant 'the art of dancing'.

The word 'karaoke' comes from a Japanese phrase meaning 'empty orchestra'.


Ancient China had a highly developed and sophisticated music culture. Music was an important element in traditional ritualistic ceremonies during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1550-1111 BC), and it reached one of its peaks during the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1111-222 BC). The ancient form of the orchestra was used to play a form of ceremonial music known as yayue.

Ancient Chinese orchestras featured a great abundance of percussion instruments. There were also several wind instruments, but only a few zither-type string instruments were used.

The modern orchestra first developed in the early 17th century starting with the first major opera, Orfeo (1607).

Claudio Monteverdi used an orchestra having a central string section augmented by other instruments and bound together harmonically by bass melody instruments, such as cello or bassoon, plus harmonic support from harpsichord or organ.

During the 1600s, orchestras became common not only in opera performances but as ensembles maintained by aristocratic families for private concerts. In Paris in 1626 King Louis XIII had an orchestra of 24 violins (called "24 Violons du Roi").

The modern orchestra actually began to grow in the mid-17th century. Such composers as Jean-Baptiste Lully and Henry Purcell wrote many scores for strings, but there was no agreement among musicians of the time whether the standard orchestra should have three, four, or five string parts.

This early orchestra included first and second violins, violas, and cellos. Double basses, the lowest-voiced members of this instrument group, often were used to reinforce the cello an octave lower.

Clarinets came into the orchestra at the end of the 18th century, and trombones at the beginning of the 19th century.

The standard complement of doubled winds and brass in the orchestra from the first half of the 19th century is generally attributed to the instruments called for by Beethoven. The composer's instrumentation almost always included paired flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets.

The typical orchestra grew in size throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, reaching a peak with the large orchestras (of as many as 120 players) called for in the works of Richard Wagner. The German composer's works for the stage were scored with unprecedented scope and complexity. He asked for a bass clarinet in his opera Lohengrin, and for his cycle of four operas called The Ring of the Nibelung he requested eight horns with four of them playing a specially designed tuba and six harps.

Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra at 1916 American premiere of Mahler's 8th Symphony.


The Royal Danish Orchestra claims to be the world's oldest still in existence. It has its roots in a Royal Chapel Orchestra founded in 1448.

The first college orchestra was founded in 1808 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Philharmonic Society of New York, the nation's oldest symphony orchestra was founded in 1842.

The first Hallé concert was given in Manchester, England on January 30 1858, marking the official founding of The Hallé orchestra as a full-time, professional orchestra.

The Hallé's first programme (1858)


The London Symphony Orchestra was booked to travel on the Titanic's maiden voyage, but they changed boats at the last minute.

As a violist, Arthur Fiedler took part in the first recording sessions by an American symphony orchestra. This took place when the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Karl Muck (whom Fiedler idolized), made their first recordings for Victor, at Camden, New Jersey, in September 1917.

The American Symphony Orchestra League changed its name in 2007 after deciding its acronym was 'unfortunate'.

The largest orchestra ever comprised 7,548 musicians who gathered in a football stadium in Frankfurt on July 13, 2016 to play for 45 minutes, conducted by Wolf Kerschek. The musicians performed a selection of music including part of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony , an excerpt from a Dvorak symphony as well as a melody from the musical "Starlight Express" and a 1976 pop song by John Miles, "Music (Was My First Love)" specially arranged for the occasion.

No symphony orchestra can ever make a profit on its own, even if it sold out tickets at every show. This is mainly because the show consists of 40-100 fully salaried members who only perform the same piece 2 or 3 times. Most orchestras rely heavily on donators to be profitable.

In order to eliminate gender bias, many orchestras use blind auditions in which the candidates play their instrument behind a screen.

Comptons Encyclopedia,

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