Posted in Project 1: Orchestras and Virtuosos

Research point 2.1: Harold en Italie, Part 2 – Instrument Glossary Update

The last task for this research point is to update the instrument glossary with the unfamiliar names of instruments from Harold en Italie by Berlioz. To see the first part of this research point, where I wrote down my impressions, click here. While the first instrument glossary post had German instrument names from Don Juan by Strauss, (click here to see), I’ve looked at two versions for this piece, one score in French and the other in Italian. I marked both languages below. I should mention that I also found the scanned manuscript by Berlioz, which I will reference several times.

  • Wind section:

Flauto, flauti (It.) – flûte, flûtes (Fr.) – flute, flutes

Flauto piccolo (It.) – petite flûte (Fr.) – piccolo

Flauto grande (It.) – grande flûte (Fr.) – concert flute

Oboe, oboi (It.) – hautbois (same in plural) (Fr.) – oboe, oboes. Interestingly, in the manuscript version of the score, Berlioz put oboï in several places, perhaps as shorthand:

berlioz 10

Corni inglese (It.) – cor anglais (Fr.) – cor anglais

Oboe e corni inglese alternativo (It.) Hautbois et cor anglais alternativement (Fr.) – oboe and cor anglais alternatively.

Clarinetti (It.) – clarinettes (Fr.) – clarinets

Fagotto, fagotti (It.) – basson, bassons (Fr.) – bassoon, bassoons

  • Horns:

Corno, corni (It.) – cor, cors (Fr.) – horn, horns

  • Brass section:

Cornetti (It.) – cornets a piston (Fr.) – cornettos, interestingly, in the Italian version of the score I found, there was an instance of it written as cornets, perhaps the translator/editor forgot to put it into Italian language.

Trombe (It.) – trumpettes (Fr.) – trumpets in C

Tromboni (It.) – trombones (Fr.) – trombones

Ophicleide o Tuba (It.) – Ophicléide ou Tuba (Fr.) – Ophicleide or tuba. In the original manuscript, however, Berlioz put trombonnes et un ophicleide – trombones and one ophicleide, instead of or.

  • Percussion

Triangolo (It.) – triangle (Fr.) – Triangle

Piatti (It.) – cymbales (Fr.) – cymbals

Tamburi piccoli (It.) – tambours de Basque (Fr.) – snare drums

Timpani (It.) – timballes (Fr.) – Timpani

Arpa (It.) – harpe (Fr.) – Harp

  • Solo instrument

Viola Solo (It.) – alto solo (Fr.) – solo viola

  • Strings

Violini (It.) – violons (Fr.) – violins. It’s interesting how Berlioz used Wini or VVini in the manuscript as a shorthand to designate together the first and second violins:

berlioz 11

Violini al meno #violons au moins # – at least # violins

Viole (It.) – altos (Fr.) – violas

Violoncelli (It.) – violoncelles (Fr.) – cellos. Berlioz shortened it as Velli:

berlioz 12a

Contrabassi (It.) – contre-basses (Fr.) – double basses. Berlioz put C. Bssi as shorthand:

berlioz 12b

Finally, a little note that in Italian, when the instrument is in a certain key, it is denoted as in, while in French, it is en. In the two versions I have, in the Italian, the key itself is marked alphabetically (C, D, E etc.), while in the French, the key is written in solmization (ut, re, mi, etc.).

In conclusion, while many French and Italian instrument names were already familiar to me, it was quite engaging looking at the original manuscript to see how the composer himself would denote the instruments, finding out the shorthand and other methods Berlioz would use as markings. In addition, although I could already recognize most of the instrument names from both languages, I still wanted to compile a big glossary, which I could always reference in the future, as well as practice the orchestral layout. Lastly, I really enjoyed listening to this peculiar piece, looking at its score, writing down my impressions and compiling an update for my instrument glossary.

Posted in Project 1: Orchestras and Virtuosos, Uncategorized

Research point 2.1: Harold en Italie, Part 1 – Impression

The main task of this research point is to write around 400 words about my impression on listening to Berlioz’s Harold en Italie with the score, considering several points outlined in the course-book. I haven’t addressed each of these separately, since I believe the points overlap quite a bit in relation to the things I found specifically engaging in the music. Also, despite trying to limit myself to the suggested word count, the composition was so thrilling to me that the shortest I could confine myself to write was almost twice more, around 800 words. In any case, here is my impression on the piece:

Impression on Harold en Italie by Hector Berlioz

Reading the short background information on the history of Harold en Italie provided by the brief, my curiosity was sparked by its unique and puzzling origin, and with some further research, I was even more enticed by the complexities surrounding its genre classification, the enigmatic relationship with its literary inspiration, and its intriguing musical roots among other things. While I might lightly touch upon some of these contextual circumstances, what seized my attention the most were the two elements that can be heard and discovered within the music itself, which will be the main focus of this short article.

Firstly, in illustrating its programme, what I found utmost striking is how the narrative of the piece is musically sketched through the orchestration and instrumental positioning that form a distinct physical spacing for the story. In terms of the orchestration, it was very interesting for me to see how in the first movement, the scenery of the mountains is formed by the orchestral echoes of Harold’s idée fixe theme (Fig. 1), and culminates in the rhythmical displacement when the theme is played tutti (Fig. 2), and other similar points in the movement, representing the delay and reverberation of sounds that is characteristic in such an environment. In combination to this effect, Berlioz also utilizes the different dynamics, registers, timber and other qualities of the orchestra to further show the scale of the landscape.

berlioz 1.PNG

berlioz 2.PNG

Fig. 1. Example of the orchestral echoes of idée fixe theme (bars 42-49)

berlioz 3berlioz 4

Fig. 2. Rhythmical displacement of the idée fixe theme (bars 73-76)

What I thought was even more exciting is the second movement, and the way the ascending keys in the repetition of the themes and the shifting dynamics of the orchestra, manifest in the characterization of the pilgrims in a religious procession that are moving through space – pianissimo to forte and fading back to pianissimo, as if the pilgrims march pass us in their ascent up the mountain. In addition, together with the rhythm, melodic and harmonic manipulation, Berlioz also utilizes the different properties of specific orchestral members to create extra-musical associations such as the bells (Fig. 3) and the murmuring of the crowd or prayer (Fig. 4).

berlioz 4.png

Fig. 3. Orchestral illustration of the bells, bars 1-15

berlioz 6

Fig. 4. Orchestral illustration of the murmuring of the crowd or prayer, bars 33-36

In terms of placing the instruments in the performance venue, Berlioz gave specific instructions for the solo viola to be at the front and separated from the orchestra, with the harp close to it. While the justification of the intended genre or the better projection of the solo instrument could have influenced this decision, I would propose that the main intention was to physically create the acoustic environment of Harold’s isolation, where the melancholic observer in a contemplative state, personified as the viola accompanied by the harp, is surrounded by the unknown foreign land, depicted by the orchestra. In the final movement, Berlioz further widens the dramatic space of the musical narrative by utilizing off-stage acoustical space, with the appearance of the concealed string trio, situated behind the scenes. (In the video below, the off-stage trio appears around 45:13-45:39, however not too concealed, but behind the orchestra, as can be seen at 45:20)

While the on-stage music depicts the orgy of the brigands, the off-stage trio creates a spatial conflict by recounting the earlier march of the pilgrims, physically dramatizing Harold’s spiritual divide. To me, the silence of the viola at this point of conclusion is completely absorbing, in fact, as gripping as a film with open-ending, since the listener is removed from the chance to learn the outcome of Harold’s crucial moral decision about his life. This proves how, contrary to what one might assume, the silence, even of the soloist itself, can provide extremely powerful moments to the musical dramatization. While I hoped to find the recorded video of the performances to depict this more clearly, I find the staging not as satisfactory as I imagined when I only listened to the audio recording with the score.

Finally, beside the physical spacing, there was another element that caught my attention, and that is how the portrait of the Italian countryside has been largely musically exoticized. As van Rij (2015: 102) points out, influenced by the French attitude towards Italy as the subject of Napoloenic military conquest, Berlioz didn’t enter the creative dialogue with the techniques and styles from the modern Italian musical tradition he encountered at the Academy in Rome, which he perceived as uninspiring and constraining. As such, the gloomy double fugue that opens the composition, might be a representation of his perception of the Academy from which Berlioz sought the escape in the countryside. Indeed, the only instance where he interacts with the Italian musical tradition is through folk music in the third Serenade movement, where the ritornello imitates the pifferari tradition of the wondering Italian musicians. (Monelle: 2006: 230) However, what dominates the piece is the Italian landscape as showcased through the lens of musical exoticism – Italian country as Berlioz has conquered it with his own artistic visions and impressions, in other words, as he had experienced and wants the listeners to experience it. Lastly, many of the sections, including Harold’s idée fixe theme, are rather Scottish in tone, with quite a few parts borrowed from his Rob Roy overture, and the piece was even initially conceptualized as the Mary Stuart piece (van Rij, 2015: 100), all of which brings further considerations surrounding this peculiar symphony.

Continue reading “Research point 2.1: Harold en Italie, Part 1 – Impression”

Posted in Project 1: Orchestras and Virtuosos

Exercise 2.0: Transposing instruments

As the title describes, this exercise is about transposing instruments. The task is to transpose two excerpts, bars 1-5 in Don Juan by Strauss, from the written pitch to the sounding pitch.

Below is the first excerpt of the horns in E, given in the written pitch in the course material:

exercise 2

When played, the horns in E sound minor sixth below the written pitch, meaning that C major in the excerpt becomes E major below. I find this to be the most efficient way of transposing – not thinking about every note as a separate unit to transpose, but instead, I regard the notes as maintaining the same functions within different tonalities – tonic, supertonic, mediant etc. Also, in my ABRSM theory exam, I remember there were two ways to notate transpositions – with key signatures and without. Thus, to practice, I did both versions here, although for the ones without key signatures I still wrote the natural signs within the parenthesis:

exercise 2.0

exercise 2.0 b

The second excerpt is for clarinets in A, given in the written pitch in the course booklet:

exercise 2.0

When this excerpt is played, the clarinets in A sound minor third below the written notes, and the tonality of G major becomes E major below. Here are the two versions of my transposition:

exercise 2.0 c

exercise 2.0 d

In conclusion, I already did some exercises with transposing instruments, such as the ones for my ABRSM theory exam. However, I never actually transposed anything from the repertoire, which is why I found this exercise so beneficial. I also haven’t done it in a while, so this was a great refresher too, to get me back into the gear for orchestral writing.

Posted in Project 1: Orchestras and Virtuosos, Uncategorized

Research point 2.0: The orchestral score

This research point is about the layout of the orchestral scores, by taking a closer look at the first page of Don Juan by Richard Strauss, written in 1888. Below is the score:IMSLP18774-PMLP12183-Strauss_-_Don_Juan_(orch._score)-01.jpg

The task is to find out the instruments within each section of a standard symphony orchestra in their order. I find the advice of the brief about noting all the instrument names in the original language – French, Italian or other, and thus building my own multi-lingual glossary, very useful and productive. Below is the list with the order of instruments from each section with the names in English and German, latter being the language Strauss notated Don Juan. I decided not to include the number of instruments, mostly because I believe the terms are the main focus of this exercise, and not how many of each he used here, although I did keep the singular/plural forms of the nouns.

  • Wind section:

grosse Flötenflutes

  grosse Flöten (auch Piccolo)flutes (also piccolo)


Englisch Horncor anglais (UK and France) or English horn (in North America)

Clarinetten in Aclarinets in A

Fagottebassons (interestingly, we also call bassoon fagot in Serbia)

Contrafagottcontrabassoon or double bassoon

  • Horns:

 Hörner in Ehorns in E (compare this with the cor anglais above – in the singular form for horn in German, there is no ö, but only o)

  •  Brass section:

Trompeten in Etrumpets in E 


Tuba tuba

  • Percussion:

Pauken E. H. C.timpani in E, B and C


Becken  – cymbals

Glockenspiel glockenspiel


  • Strings:




Bassodouble bass

In conclusion, while this hasn’t been my first encounter with the orchestral score, I never paid attention before to the order of the instruments in the layout of the scores I’ve seen. As such, although the exercise wasn’t at all difficult, it was still very useful. With the exception of 3 German terms – Posaune, Pauken, Becken, that I had to search, all the others were very intuitive, so that I was confident in which instruments these were. Overall, I really enjoyed this research point.