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Which wind instruments are often doubled in symphonic orchestra just for the sake of loudness?

What I mean is two instruments of the same kind and type (for example, two bass clarinets, or two a3 trombones) that play in unison exactly the same part throughout the whole peice, which means that both musicians look at the same stave on the score. And the reason for doubling is simply because only one would sound too soft, bearily audible.

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    There are an awful lot of implicit assumptions here. Some information about how the question came about might be very helpful.
    – Aaron
    Jun 13, 2023 at 5:07
  • @Aaron - (1) I recall reading, possibly somewhere here on the Music Stack, that conductors sometimes invite additional musicians to the orchestra to play the same parts as other musicians in order to amplify the volume of those parts. It seems likely that this is done because those particular instruments are not sufficiently loud on their own. I'm curious to know which instruments are typically involved in this practice.
    – brilliant
    Jun 13, 2023 at 6:51
  • @Aaron (2) I assume it wouldn't include instruments like trumpets, as they already produce a considerable volume, or percussion instruments like drums, cymbals, and timpani, as they are already naturally rather loud on their own. Additionally, it goes without saying that the string section wouldn't be included, as it already has a substantial number of players.
    – brilliant
    Jun 13, 2023 at 6:52
  • It's not necessarily because the instrument is inherently in need of doubling, but more about balance. You could perform Handel's Messiah with one singer per choral part (or maybe two or three? I'm not sure whether they split) and one instrument per orchestral part. A more common small force would be a handful of singers per choral part, two first violins, two seconds, one or two violas, one cello, etc. And then sometimes (including in Handel's time) you have a choir of hundreds, and that needs a lot more instruments to balance it. Jun 13, 2023 at 12:23
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    Nor is it just about volume. You could have, say, eight violins and one double bass and like the balance. But you could want six double basses and 50 fiddles, not just because you want "more sound," but because the sound of larger sections is different. Meanwhile, nobody wants to pay more musicians than they have to, so few organizers are doubling just for kicks. Jun 13, 2023 at 12:25

4 Answers 4

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In the classic era orchestra it was common practice to have each woodwind played by two players (in German we call this "doppeltes Holz"). So you’d get 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets and 2 bassoons. In romantic era you even occasionally get three players, often also incorporating non-standard range instruments like piccolo flute, piccolo clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, ....

Now, the thing here is that these may play a part unisono (a 2 or a 3) for increased volume, multiple voices or solo by the composers decision. Each of these configurations will have distinct sound characteristics, and a skilled composer will make use of these.

There is a different performance practice of doubling the woodwinds: Usually this happens when you’ve got a very large string apparatus. In this case each woodwind position is played by two players to increase volume. So e.g. instread of 2 flutes you’d get 4 flutes with 2 player playing each flute part.

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What you describe is rare, but not nonexistent. For example, Berlioz famously doubles the bassoon part to Symphonie Fantastique (Bsn. 1 and 3 read the same part, and Bsn. 2 and 4 read the same part). Bsns. 3 and 4 don't always play, but they are sometimes indicated to play for the explicit purpose of exactly doubling Bsns. 1 and 2. I feel that the reason for this is more about the exceptional timbre of the bassoon quartet, rather than pure volume, though.

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    This happens frequently with horn parts, too. A composer might write for 2 or 4 horns to pay in unison, but not because they are too quiet to be heard - it's because they sound epic playing four on a part in unison!
    – nuggethead
    Jun 13, 2023 at 11:06
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For woodwinds and brass, this only happens when the composer wants the timbre of a massed unison. It happens most in french horns, but even this is uncommon. It does happen in the string section - a dozen players will play the exact same violin music, for example.

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I never observed this to happen. Flute 1 and flute 2 have different voices (update: this does not exclude, that they sometimes play the same notes, but more often they have an appropriate interval in between) and the piccolo is entirely different. Same for oboe 1, oboe 2 and cor anglais, bassoon 1, bassoon 2 and contrabassoon or clarinet 1, clarinet 2 and bass clarinet.

I can't imagine a brass instrument requiring doubling for whatever reason.

If the composition is not perfectly balanced, the conductor should be able to improve the balance. While bass clarinet would surely be easily drowned against a full orchestra, this does not happen in real world scores.

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  • Strange! It looks like I was misinformed! Thanks for this input.
    – brilliant
    Jun 13, 2023 at 7:26
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    When you say "flute 1" and "flute 2", how many actual musicians are you talking about? Literally two people, or is "flute 2" not an individual but a section of half a dozen different musicians (each with their own instrument)?
    – R.M.
    Jun 13, 2023 at 14:56
  • In my personal orchestral experience FWIW wind parts often double for short periods within pieces. Yes, "oddity" items like bass clarinet or Cor Anglais are never doubled, but that's a bit of an exception. Jun 13, 2023 at 21:16
  • @R.M. No, most often this is just one person (as opposed to Violin 1). WIkipedia - see here - sketches this.
    – guidot
    Jun 14, 2023 at 6:38
  • The first horn player is often doubled (known as bumping), although the two players will only play together at certain points (e.g. unison lines for all the horns).
    – PiedPiper
    Jun 14, 2023 at 17:31

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