I'm asking this question in regards to a website project we're starting about a classical orchestra. I'd like to know if there's a sort of conversation between instruments/musicians in a symphony, for example, and if you could give specific examples. The general idea would be to show this conversation/exchange on a website, visually and through other methods if possible. I'm staying vague as the project is in its early stages.

Thank you! Alain

ps: Thank you for your amazing answers. Unfortunately we can't reply to answers and thank people personally here but I hope that editing the original question is accepted.

  • If you mean sharing melodies then yes, you could say so. Jan 23, 2017 at 5:35
  • This sort of "conversation" was one of the basic principles of classical music (if by "classical" you mean the time period of say 1750 - 1830). In the educational system of the time, the foundation subjects of a liberal arts education (the "trivium") were grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the second level (the "quadrivium") consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
    – user19146
    Jan 23, 2017 at 8:26
  • 1
    @alephzero Can you explain some more how the seven liberal arts connect to this "conversation"?
    – Richard
    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:42

3 Answers 3


Edward Klorman, a music theorist at McGill University, has been researching this exact question. For a nice introduction to his thought process, check out this 10-minute video, a brief description of which is:

Comparisons between the string quartet and artful conversation have flourished since the genre’s birth. If a quartet performance resembles stylized social intercourse, each player may be understood to enact the role of an individual persona engaged in the discourse.

He's also got a book, the website for which can be found here.


Perhaps the best place to start would be with the fugue form, in which a theme is first introduced and then repeated and developed across two or more voices. In some instances, there can be a recapitulation, or the piece can simply return to the initial theme in the original (tonic) key. While the best-known examples are some of the keyboard compositions by J.S. Bach (such as Das Wohltempiert Klavier), Haydn used the form as well (see, for example, the String Quartets, Op.20). On an even grander scale, you could look at Haydn's composition, The Creation, with the fugue form being used in Verzweiflung, Wut und Schrecken.


Every orchestral group or instrument has its role, its voice, and creating a conversation between these voices makes a music. This of course does not work with some types of modern or contemporary music, where this conversation is intentionally destroyed ;-)

Listen to the beginning of the New World Symphony:

After the introduction played by strings there is an interruption by the french horn around 1:00 and then the melody is taken by the winds. Definitely a conversation between two groups.

Or you can find composers who were deriving their music directly from human's speech. My favourite is Leoš Janáček ;-)

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