I have seen it mentioned here and there that Claudio Monteverdi was the first composer to score for a specific set of instruments, for his opera Orfeo in 1607, and that this had a significant impact on the history of the baroque (and then classical and modern) orchestra. I have poked around for further sources on this history, but, perhaps due to the vagaries of Google / Amazon searching, haven't been able to find a good one. I wonder if anyone knows of a book or other source where I could read more about this history. Thanks!!

2 Answers 2


Monteverdi’s Orfeo as artistic creed

Uri Golomb

In this paper of 15 pages you’ll find vast information about the background of Monteverdi’s work, the Artusi-Monteverdi controversy, Galilei vs. Monteverdi, Musical structures and stylistic eclecticism and more:

Ars Polemica: Monteverdi’s Orfeo as artistic creed

Monteverdi’s lavish and detailed orchestration can be linked to this proclamation. Whatever the intentions behind it, Orfeo clearly embodies Monteverdi’s eclectic, polystylistic conception of the Second Practice. Writers like Artusi, Galilei and Peri sought to limit music, to determine pre-set boundaries for it; Monteverdi sought to unleash all its powers, wherever they might reside. This is particularly evident in his characterisation of the title role: Orfeo himself can be interpreted as a musically symbolic self-portrait of Monteverdi. Like Monteverdi, Orfeo is a composer; and [...] he shows himself highly proficient in a variety of types of musical expression. Unlike Peri’s and Rinuccini’s Orfeo, Monteverdi’s protagonist dominates the entire opera, his songs, laments, and recitatives serving as the focal point of each act. Each of Orfeo’s scenes portrays him in a different affective, or emotional, situation; each of these scenes requires a different kind of music. (Newby, p. 308)

surely you have read about Harnoncourts comment to this subject (quoted in Wiki):

Monteverdi states the orchestral requirements at the beginning of his published score, but in accordance with the practice of the day he does not specify their exact usage.[19] At that time it was usual to allow each interpreter of the work freedom to make local decisions, based on the orchestral forces at their disposal. These could differ sharply from place to place. Furthermore, as Harnoncourt points out, the instrumentalists would all have been composers and would have expected to collaborate creatively at each performance, rather than playing a set text.[19] Another practice of the time was to allow singers to embellish their arias.


Monteverdi may well have been the first (known) composer to score for instruments in an orchestral setting, but where do you define the beginning of orchestras? He was certainly not the first to specify an instrument for a part. The Mönch von Salzburg specified a Pumhart (bass horn) for one of his part songs towards the end of the fourteenth century, and Dufay also called for horns in his Gloria ad modem Tubae, around the middle of the fifteenth century.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.