The parameters of technique and execution must be considered in scoring a phrase to an instrument or section.
Here’s one last tip about orchestral phrasing before tomorrow’s video about Tchaikovsky. The easiest way to say this is: “one size does not fit all.” But this goes past character, timbre, inflection, and other factors I’ve written about this week, right to the heart of how music is played on different instruments. It’s just one more reason to emphasize the concept of craft for the orchestrator.
For instance, a long slur over several bars of many notes may be quite simple for a good wind player, but technically impossible for a string player. Or, a diving phrase that sounds terrific on strings may be a train wreck for the horns. What helps is an almost instinctive feel for the basics – how bowing works, or how tonguing starts a note for winds and brass. How long can an oboist hold a note, and how does that differ from a bass trombone or tuba? How punchy can a note get, and how does a punchy attack effect what remains of a player’s bow stroke or breathing?
In the example below from the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, the cellos introduce the main theme, which is then echoed by the winds. Note the phrasing of the first measure. The cellos start each triplet with a separate bow, rather than just playing the whole bar with one bow stroke. This gives a clearer shape to the phrase on the one hand, and results in even bowing (down/up/down/up). The winds imitate the cellos for the sake of continuity, but the truth is that they don’t need to – the entire two-bar phrase could be eloquently stated in one breath. In fact, by the development around figure G, the winds are quoting this theme in much more direct single breaths, and the strings are asked to echo this phrasing to keep in line.
More Tchaikovsky tomorrow, as a video tip, with a few thoughts about the Sixth Symphony’s real place in his body of work.