When we study harmony, it is considered obvious that we must consider chords in relation to the chords that come before and after them (chord progressions). However, I have yet to find any resources on orchestration which describe relationships between adjacent orchestral textures and timbres. What/where have you learned about characterizing orchestration in such a way that you can talk about one orchestrational choice relative to the choice that immediately follows it?

  • Where? You write for orchestra and hear the balance yourself. You listen to music with score in hand and make notes. You re-orchestrate a score, you orchestrate a piano piece. You orchestrate the same chord 10 different times and make notes about how the colors change. – jjmusicnotes Sep 26 '18 at 19:49

I don't know if there is any theory on this, but there are a few terms that are used.

Baroque concerti grossi have the concept of "concertino" and "ripieno". The orchestral texture alternates between the whole group and only the group of soloists.

A "Rossini crescendo," as heard in many Rossini overtures, repeats a short passage several times, louder and with more instruments each time.

Ravel's "Bolero" is one long crescendo, each section having a fuller orchestration than the one before. It's the Rossini crescendo taken to an extreme.

That sums up all I can think of as far as a theory goes: alternating textures, getting louder, or getting softer. Obviously there are many composers whose music would yield a rich analysis of their textures, particularly if you studied the changes in moods and emotions the textures evoke. Tchaikovsky, Bruckner and Shostakovich come to mind. But I don't think there are any standard progressions of texture to correspond to I-IV-V-I or other harmonic progressions.


In Farben, the third of his Five Pieces for Orchestra, Schoenberg highlights changes in tone-colour due to changes in orchestration of the successive chords, and uses very little melody.

  • But he doesn't name them – Carl Witthoft Sep 26 '18 at 17:05

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