Orchestration is the study or practice of writing music for orchestra (or, more loosely, for any musical ensemble) or of adapting for orchestra music composed for another medium. It only gradually over the course of music history came to be regarded as a compositional art in itself.

There are two general kinds of adaptation: transcription, which closely follows the original piece, and arrangement, which tends to change significant aspects of the original piece. In practice, however, the terms transcription and arrangement are often used interchangeably. Orchestration applies, strictly speaking, only to the orchestra, whereas the term instrumentation applies to all instrumental groups. Instrumentation in this sense subsumes orchestration. In the study of orchestration — in contradistinction to the practice — the term instrumentation may also refer to consideration of the defining characteristics of individual instruments rather than to the art of combining instruments.

In commercial music, especially musical theatre and film music, independent orchestrators are often used because it is difficult to meet tight deadlines when the same person is required both to compose and to orchestrate.

Film orchestrators often work from a short score (that is, a score written on several musical staves). Broadway orchestrators are more likely to work from a piano score (as does Jonathan Tunick when he orchestrates Stephen Sondheim's songs, for example) or from a lead sheet. In the latter case, arranging as well as orchestration will be involved.

Historically significant orchestration texts

  • Michael Praetorius (1619): Syntagma musicum volume two, De Organographia.
  • Valentin Roeser (1764): Essai de l'instruction à l'usage de ceux, qui composent pour la clarinette et le cor.
  • Hector Berlioz (1844): Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes (Treatise on Instrumentation).
  • François-Auguste Gevaert (1863): Traité general d’instrumentation.
  • Charles-Marie Widor (1904) : Technique de l’orchestre moderne (Manual of Practical Instrumentation).
  • Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1912): Основы оркестровки (Principles of Orchestration).
  • Cecil Forsyth (1914): Orchestration.
  • Charles Koechlin (1954–9): Traité de l'Orchestration (4 vols).
  • Walter Piston (1955): Orchestration.

See also

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