I was always under the impression that the composer wrote the piece, and the "arranger" was the one who made it "fuller" by arranging additional instruments for the piece, adding chords behind the basic melody, etc, but I wanted to know for sure and get a definitive answer.

I was wondering this after watching the credits and hearing the theme from the film Unforgiven Listen here

In the credits it says the score was written by Clint Eastwood and arranged by Lennie Niehaus. I imagine Clint Eastwood was plucking a guitar and came up with the simple melody, and then Lennie Niehaus arranged (composed?) the final composition with accompanying strings, percussion and backing chords.

Three questions I'm hoping to have answered in one reply:

1. Is Lennie Niehaus considered both the arranger and composer?

2. Is this a common way for scores/classical compositions to be written? With someone who is very good at writing basic melodies writing the melody, and a professional musician (usually with a degree in music composition I assume) composing the piece for a full orchestra?

3. If yes to the last question, can one be considered a great musician if he or she simply writes the melody and has other more learned musicians "fine tune" and orchestrate the piece?

For example (in regards to number three), Franz Liszt was an incredible virtuoso pianist and could arrange pieces brilliantly, but as for his completely original compositions, I do not know of any being considered that "great" (The Hungarian Rhapsodies were almost entirely based off gypsy folk tunes). He just (re)arranged the original melody.

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    The term 'writing a piece' is nebulous. Lots of pieces have been 'written' - or composed - by people who could not actually 'write' music. They made it up, recorded it, played it to someone else, etc., who then wrote out the music. After that, it may well have been changed around, orchestrated, etc., and that was done by the arranger. Question no. 3 - it doesn't necessarily need a 'great musician' to make up a great tune. The Beatles have to be an example of that - maybe. Depends on one's definition of a great musician.
    – Tim
    Sep 6, 2016 at 7:23
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    In music production for movies, what you call "the arranger" is usually called "the orchestrator". The main reason for splitting up the work between a "composer" and (often several) "orchestrators" is simply to get the job done faster. In many other genres of music, working fast is not such relevant factor.
    – user19146
    Sep 6, 2016 at 14:32
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    @masque, you're underrating Liszt's Transcendental Etudes (listen to the Cziffra versions--he brings out the musicality in them, not just the technical difficulty) and his famous Liebestraum No. 3 (which shows that Liszt doesn't necessarily have to overload on technical difficulty in order to sound good, IMO).
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 12, 2017 at 8:03

2 Answers 2


This is not always separable. As an extreme case, take "The Musical Offering" by Bach. Nobody would claim that Frederick the Great was the composer and Bach the arranger, even though the former pitched the theme pervading all of the composition.

Then take something like "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" in the version of Michael Praetorius: the melody was preexistent, but the four-voice choral setting is definitely very much more than an "arrangement" of melody/harmony.

The German description would be "Melodie: traditionell, Satz: Michael Praetorius". "Satz" is more than "arrangement": it is basically creating something musically unique out of a given material. It is also used for the (usually) more constrained task of converting a figured bass harmonic description into a full version, something that was expected to be done on the fly from contemporary Baroque musicians in their own time, just like one expects Jazz musicians to get along with a lead sheet in our times.

The mark of a "mere" arrangement tends to be that it does not add significant musical material. Something like Ravel's Bolero or Mussorgski's Pictures at an Exhibition started out as piano pieces but were later arranged for orchestra. Of course, the original did not have a percussion group (even though the piano is an instrument with percussive attack, so usually there are good pointers). And the variation in loudness and timbre and the ability to sustain long notes (and consequently the potential for slow speed) is so much greater that there are a lot of subtleties to explore and make sensible use of that just aren't there in the original.

An arrangement may add "filler" voices that don't contain harmonical information of its own ("orchestration" would not do that). And may add repetitions and stuff. Jazz "arrangements" may add bridges, other phrasing, other harmonies, particularly other bass lines: that again goes more in the direction of "version" than "arrangement".

So there is quite a bit of leeway of where one starts and one stops.


A composer may need an arranger. An arranger always needs a composer!

'Composing' may consist of whistling a tune. The arranger takes it from there (and may feel he deserves more recognition than just 'arranger'). I imagine this was the situation with Clint Eastwood and Lennie Niehaus.

Or a modern-day 'arranger' may concoct a piece for wind band using themes from Beethoven's symphonies.

Note that if he had merely re-written a complete symphony for the instruments of a wind band he would have been 'orchestrating' rather than 'arranging'.

Even the film composers who are perfectly capable of doing the whole job themselves often cope with the workload by delivering a complete sketch, with indications of the required instrumentation, to a team of 'orchestrators'.

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