Worst orchestrations in a concerto

October 28, 2007 at 03:31 AM · Here's an opposite to a post just recently added. What, in your opinion, is the worst concerto orchestration? In my opinion, it is the Schumann. (It is still one of my top 5 fave concertos though).

Replies (30)

October 28, 2007 at 04:57 AM · Wieniawski 2's also not great. You can look at it from the standpoint that it is nicely textured to let the violin come through, but it really doesn't add much of anything or provide support.

October 28, 2007 at 05:14 AM · Shostakovich Concerto No. 1, a minor, op. 99. It is too heavily orchestrated for a violin to "shine" in my opinion. I don't find the violin part to be much better I like S's symphonies though. I just don't like this piece.

October 28, 2007 at 05:50 AM · Paganini. It's like it was dug out of a drunken Verdi's reject pile. (Dear God, why the incessant cymbal crashes?!)

October 28, 2007 at 07:49 AM · He he, Mara. I've always enjoyed the cymbals. I think of it as Pagannini's concerto for percussion and some violin. Gets me going in the morning. :)

October 28, 2007 at 01:30 PM · Since you didn't specify "Violin" concerto, I would have to say Chopin's two piano concertos. They are so boring to play. The piano solos are lovely, of course, but those incessant whole notes in the accompaniments quickly get tiresome.

Also, Brian, I am also a big fan of Schumann's violin concerto too, but I don't have issues with the orchestration. I have issues with conductors trying to make the accompaniment sound like Brahms! (Insert smiley face here).

October 28, 2007 at 02:08 PM · Dvorak cello concerto has lovely colours and a gorgeous violin solo, but there's just too much there! Think the violin concerto's similar, but it's hard to judge without having rehearsed it from inside the orchestra.

October 28, 2007 at 04:54 PM · Shostakovich: The begining of the last movement's motif, as a soloist, would make me feel very strange standing on stage after that big cadenza... it sounds really dumb. I realize this is his brand of "sarcasm".

October 29, 2007 at 01:15 AM · Greetings,

the cymbol isn`t original Paginini . I belive it was alater addition tot eh score.

I think the orchestration for Wieniawski 2 is absolutely great. well worth getting to know.

I also like the Chopin cocnerto in F sharp (?) very much. Did it a few years ago and have to admit my firts impresisonw as not so great. But the more we palyed it the more I realized there were some very interesting aspects to the way Chopin orchstrated that I found unusual and stimulating. Of course the work is piano centered but he has a knack for just shifting entries back or forwards a beat or so to make his music much more individualistic than lesser 19th century composers.



October 30, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Bartok's viola concerto. It is almost impossible to hear the viola in some passages. Chausson Poeme can also be very difficult, it certainly works best with a reduced orchestra (and with everyone playing quietly! Unfortunately, that makes it usually less in tune too.....)

October 30, 2007 at 04:59 AM · Hah. Don't blame Bartok for that one--blame Tibor Serly!

October 30, 2007 at 08:56 AM · Paganini N°6

October 30, 2007 at 08:33 PM · hahah i must laugh at the paganini comments. i completely agree. they have terribly beautiful themes, but they are runied by all of the percussion. Also, he seemed to try to attempt to make his concerto (namely number 1) more romantic by adding in long silences from the orchestra while the violin plays and suddenly come in w/ large bursts of sound, but instead of being beautiful, they seem awkwardly placed as well as obnoxious.

October 30, 2007 at 10:31 PM · Speaking of Paganini 1, what about those trumpet bursts in the last movement (when the solo is playing on the G string). Crazy!

October 30, 2007 at 10:44 PM · wieniawski 2 is pretty bad

bach concerti are also not that good either

October 31, 2007 at 06:46 AM · Normally, I would not take issue with opinions about who plays this piece or that piece better, which composer is better, who orchestrates better or worse but I cannot in good conscience accept the assessment that Bach's violin concerti or Wienawski's second concerto rank among the worst orchestrations or at the least aren't very good. In brief, Bach's choice of instrumentation in the concerti (not just the violin concerti) were sometimes, as with the cantatas, a function of the availability of instruments and instrumentalists but in other cases a textural choice.

Peter Wollny's explanation of the background and special features of the Bach violin concerti are worth noting:

"Bach's violin concertos were slow to establish themselves in the musical life of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Audiences whose musical education consisted of the symphonic concertos of the Classical and Romantic composers took exception to their "old-­fashioned" style, and great violin virtuosi doubted whether they could make a brilliant impression with them. Only gradually did one come to realise that the Bach concertos were dedicated to a different aesthetic ideal which was no longer directly comprehensible in more recent times, representing early but by no means imperfect forms of a genre which did not reach maturity until later. Bach's individual treatment of the concerto form which had been taken over from Italy at the beginning of the eighteenth century is based - to put it briefly - on a motivic-thematic integration of the solo part in the ensemble together with a contrapuntal development involving all levels of the musical texture, to which sometimes even the concertante principle takes second place.

The Concerto in A minor BWV 1041 has come down to us in the form of an original set of parts dating from the period around 1730, and it is quite possible that this was the time of composition and not earlier. Consequently the work belongs in the context of Bach's work with the students of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, the direction of which he had taken over in the spring of 1729. The striking aspects of the concerto are the way solo and tutti themes are even more subtly interwoven than in the Concerto in E major, probably written considerably earlier, and the transparent polyphonic texture of the composition. A serious, densely-textured first movement is followed by a harmonically bold Andante, in which an expressive cantilena unfolds over an almost omnipresent bass theme. The final movement is in the form of a fugal Gigue, the character of which is determined by the agitated 9/8 rhythm and the continually intensifying virtuosity of the soloist.

The Concerto in E major BWV 1042 was presumably written, as can be concluded from various stylistic features, during Bach's term of office as master of music at the court of Cothen (1718-1723). The first movement begins with a concise triadic motif, followed by a series of developing and contrasting ideas. A small but significant aspect of the close association of the solo instrument with the tutti group are the short interpolations of the violin in the introductory ritornello. In the further course of the movement the motifs introduced at the beginning are treated in various different ways and connected with one another - without the euphony and comprehensibility of the composition being reduced in any way. In the second movement a far-reaching cantabile lament on the violin unfolds above a virtually ostinato bass theme, while the third movement, a dance-like rondo, takes up the mood of the beginning again.

The Concerto for two violin, in D minor BWV 1043 is today one of the best-known and most frequently performed works of the composer, above all by virtue of its soulful, song-like middle movement. The customary term "Double Concerto" is only in a limited sense a suitable characterization of this composition, for really it is a group concerto in which Bach realized to a considerable extent the concept of the juxtaposition of all participating parts on a basis of equality and thus also levelled the difference between ritornello and episode. This modification of the concerto concept is already indicated in the original title of the work, in which the composer describes the piece as "Concerto...6". Like the concerto in A minor, the composition is not one of the works of the Cothen period, but was probably written around 1730 for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum.

The Concerto in D minor BWV 1052 has survived only in the form of a harpsichord concerto, but the figurations of the solo part disclose the fact that this is the transcription of a lost violin concerto. It is not easy to fit this unusual work conclusively into the correct historical context, and in the past doubts about the authenticity of this piece have repeatedly been expressed - certainly unjustly, for as far as we know no other composer apart from Bach cultivated such a concentrated and expressive concerto style in the first half of the eighteenth century. In unrivalled compositional mastery the piece develops musical concepts which had already determined the form and structure of the A minor Concerto: dense contrapuntal texture, motivic development of the accompaniment, a sombre mood almost throughout and a high degree of instrumental virtuosity, which at the same time always takes second place to the idea of the work."

As for the Wienawski, the interweaving of the themes in all three movements in which countermelodies vie for beauty and attention with the themes they accompany, the violin figuration expanding upon the opening theme in the first movement, the beautiful ascension of the winds while the violin holds its long note before its ascension at the conclusion of the Romance movement, the fury and dash preceding the finale, the deft choice of the fluttering flute while the violin trills in the last movement and the clever extensions of the dotted rhythm figures in the orchestra as well as the final fast thematic passagework in the strings as the violin descends in octaves are all effective composition and orchestration devices which need no apology.

October 31, 2007 at 02:13 PM · I think Caprices by Paganini are a masterpiece, so full of music so intense!!

But the concerts are pretty rhetoric and boring.

Now I'm thinking that I haven't been listening to those for a long long time!!

October 31, 2007 at 05:05 PM · The Wieniawski second concerto is considered to be one of the finest violin violinist's concerto. The themes are beautiful with a good balance of bravura and lyricism. Tchaikovsky and the composer/critic Ceasar Cui thought very highly of this concerto. I am surprised no one has mentioned his first concerto...

October 31, 2007 at 07:08 PM · ^The reason why they didn't mention his first concerto is because Wieniawski's first concerto is a lot better than his second...

November 1, 2007 at 12:09 AM · The Shostakovich violin concerto is more like a symphony than a concerto. I'm not sure I completely understand the violin "not shining enough" comment. In the first movement the violin almost never stops playing and is featured throughout. The second movement is a virtuoso exercise with the second theme being prominently featured by the violin. Once the violin enters in the passacaglia, he or she will not stop playing until the end of the cadenza, save for one bar of rest. THis is almost 15 consecutive minutes of the violin being the melodic voice of the piece. The cadenza is one of the largest of all of the violin concertos and in the last movement, the violin almost never stops playing again and plays all of the main themes repeatedly over running accompaniment. As for the scope of the piece, it feels to me like a symphony with a prominent soloist, which to me is perfect for a concerto.

Oh and I completely agree about the Paganini. What was he thinking?

November 1, 2007 at 12:15 AM · Wieniawski 2 gets my vote.

November 1, 2007 at 04:34 AM · As Kevin J. says above, there is a very laudatory comment from Tchaikovski about the Wieniawski No. 2. He was not referring to anything specific, but thought it a very good piece. I'm kind of sympathetic to his point of view.

I believe that the only Paganini concertos with his actual orchestrations are 1 and 2. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the other concertos were orchestrated by others from either sketches or piano reductions.

A violnist I know who played the Conus concerto has complained to me many times about the orchestration.


November 1, 2007 at 04:08 PM · The entrance.

November 2, 2007 at 03:57 PM · Nice deadpan, Pieter. Seriously. Why does every thread have to dissolve into everyone being an idiot this, bigot that. Can't we just agree to disagree and go off on our way? I disagree with Pieter about Shostakovich but I don't think he's an idiot for feeling that way. Speaking of that entrance, some violinists(Vadim Repin for example) take out the tutti that Shostakovich added at Oistrakh's request from the opening of the movement. It creates a great effect, and if the violinist has the stamina to pull it off(I sure don't think I would) I think it should be done.

November 2, 2007 at 10:07 PM · I think Serly's orchestration of Bartok's Viola Concerto is a long way from being a contender for the Worst Concerto Orchestration Prize as suggested earlier. There are some passages in the 3rd movement where the solo viola is doubled by a woodwind instrument, or perhaps one should say, joins a woodwind instrument in the orchestral tutti. For example in one place it's unison with flute 2 with flute 1 an octave above, and a similar thing in another place where it's unison with clarinet. It's clear that these woodwind colours are intended to dominate, the intervention uses a different rhythmic base - all part of the musical logic etc. The orchestration is not trying to have the solo viola soaring gloriously above the orchestra 100% of the time. Globally I think it's a pretty careful and successful orchestration; colourful and interesting.

November 3, 2007 at 02:49 PM · I wasn't specifically mentioning you. This is a problem with lots of people on this message board(probably myself included) but I do believe you said something to the effect of "Is the orchestration stupid or is it you?" That kind of implies that you think he's an idiot in my mind, but if that's not what you meant, I apologize.

November 3, 2007 at 09:32 PM · Luisa,

I haven't played Shostakovich yet, it's on my list. I have played enough rep however to realize why there's a tutti, but that doesn't change the fact that I think the music is a bit hokey... I love that concerto, but the begining of the Burlesque sounds, shall I say, cheesy?

The xylophone and flute/piccolo entrance is way too high school band like, and for me, is the weakest part of the orchestration. Shostakovich uses a sort of grotesque, marching band type sound in his music, but here I feel it's so out of place and he just needed to throw something together that snaps the audience out of the reverie of the cadenza.

Josh; you ever see Lea Tuuri around? If so, say hi for me.

November 3, 2007 at 09:57 PM · "...needed to throw something together to snap the audience out of the reverie of the cadenza."

Ahh, but that's exactly the point! That grotesque, crude and hack-like orchestration illustrates the sudden intrusion of the absurdity, crudity and grotesquerie of the "real world" upon the artist's soulful meditation and mourning. (the 1940s Soviet real world, no less!)

November 3, 2007 at 11:30 PM · mara... like I said, he uses this kind of sarcasm all throughout his music.

I don't think this particular example is the greatest specimen...

You know, often when someone makes a qualitative judgement about something, and say the exact reason they don't like it, someone comes along and says "WELL THAT'S THE POINT", and suddenly, the precise intention of the composer means that anything you say is invalidated. I realize that's "the point". I'm saying that I don't like it.

This part was added later at the request of Oistrakh, meaning that it had a functional role, and that it was an afterthought, not part of the original construction. That says something, I think.

November 3, 2007 at 11:43 PM · Sorry, no offense meant of course...I myself find that part to be quite effective, but de gustibus non disputandum.

November 3, 2007 at 11:54 PM · that's fine with me, there was no offence. I just don't like that part, and then some woman from michigan intimated that I'm an idiot.. whatever.

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