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Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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Week 4: Understanding orchestral scores


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Up to this point you have looked at a variety of music for single instruments and for small groups of instruments. This week you will be looking at large orchestral scores, drawing on the skills you have already learned.

Large orchestral scores might seem rather daunting, but in fact you have already looked at a full orchestral score at the end of Week 1, and you’ll revisit Mahler’s first symphony again this week. There are a number of techniques that you have used when you’ve been looking at scores for piano and in music for smaller ensembles that apply equally to music for large orchestras. The principles of texture are the same, but the layout on the page will look a bit different. Keeping a beat and looking for melodic and rhythmic patterns are still important. Working with these principles will help you understand larger and longer musical scores.

You’ll remember from the Schubert quintet you studied last week that most of the players only had the notation for their particular part on the music stand – it was only the pianist that had a full score. However, it was possible, through rehearsals plus eye contact and physical gestures in the performance, for this small group of players to coordinate themselves. Together, they decided how to play certain passages of music and made sure that their individual lines were blended and balanced appropriately.

For larger ensembles, such as an orchestra (which might consist of around 30–100 or more performers), this would be much more difficult to accomplish as communication, discussion and decision making among so many people simultaneously would be challenging. This is why most orchestras have a conductor who takes this coordinating role, and is usually the only person with a full score in front of them in both rehearsals and performances. This week, you will focus on the conductor’s relationship with the score.

This week, you focus on the conductor’s relationship with the score with conductor Mark Heron [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , who teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music and the University of Manchester.