Home > History (Part II)
The end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th saw the beginnings of the Classical period. The woodwinds took their place as a proper section, usually combined in pairs. The use of a pair of horns gradually replaced the continuo, filling out the texture of the orchestra. This combination of instruments is known popularly as the ‘Classical Orchestra’; this is because most works of this period, including Hadyn’s last symphonies and Beethoven’s earlier ones, were composed for this particular combination.
A famous orchestra of this time period was the Mannheim Orchestra, which numbered 46 players in 1782, comprising of skilled musicians who were considered the best in Europe. Mozart was said to have been influenced by the performance of their clarinettist, leading him to use the clarinet in his works as often as he could. The Orchestra had a reputation for elegant and precise performances and was also renowned for its use of effective variations in dynamics.
Mozart influenced the development of the Orchestra in his own way. His works led to the acceptance of the woodwinds as a complete and independent section of the orchestra, as well as causing the decline in the use of the continuo. He also experimented with the timbres of the various instruments, mixing them in new ways. Haydn, too, had a hand in this stage of the evolution of the orchestra.
Towards the end of the Classical period Beethoven brought about some innovations in orchestral arrangement; these included the addition of instruments such as the piccolo, double bassoon, bass drum. The scores for cello and bass in his works were separated, which was uncommon for that time. It is mainly due to him that the standard woodwind section was fixed to be the ‘double wind’ configuration, with 2 of each instrument. His brass section was also enlarged, for example his 9th Symphony required 4 horns. These changes required a larger string section to balance the overall sound of the orchestra, and this in turn led to an increase in the power of the orchestra.