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The Orchestra


Listen to the symphony orchestra in an example from the Beethoven's 9th Symphony

The orchestra through the ages

Musical Dictionary

Study about this ensemble on the internet

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The symphony orchestra - Courtesy of the The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra


Normally placed on a stage, the symphony orchestraA symphony orchestraSymphony orchestra performs symphonies, symphonic poems, concertos, and other concert music. The orchestra is a large group of musicians made up of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. A chamber orchestraA chamber orchestra consists usually of 25 or fewer players. Most orchestras before 1800 were of this size, and many 20th-century composers call for chamber orchestras. A string orchestraString orchestra, usually of chamber-orchestra size, consists of the standard orchestral string section, but with no added percussion or wind instruments. Ballet and opera orchestras are part of theatrical performances and are seated in the orchestra pit of a theater. Unlike symphony orchestra, a philharmonic orchestra is not a type of orchestra.


The modern orchestra has practically existed since the 17th century. Instrumental ensemble music before that time was, in most cases, chamber music. Only occasional ceremonies brought as many available instruments to be massed together to a big orchestra. Until that century, there thought little to specifying what instrument should play a given part, since the usual thought was that any available instrument with the proper range would be suitable to play a part.

Through the baroque period, the development and standardization of the modern orchestra took place. In 1607, Monteverdi used an orchestra in the first major opera, "The Legend of Orpheus" (La favola d’Orfeo), having a central string section augmented by other instruments and bound together harmonically by basso continuo, which means bass melody instrument, such as a cello or bassoon, plus harmony instrument, such as harpsichord or organ.

A virtual tour in the concert hall

View from the the music hallView from the conductor's podium


Certain proportions have proved to give the most effective balance of sound in the strings; an orchestra with 20 first violins and about the same number of second violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos, and 8 double basses. Although these numbers may vary, they are considered representative.

During the last 4 centuries, the orchestra has changed in terms of size, instruments and relationship between its different sections. Study more about these changes in each of the four centuries:

17th century
17th Century
18th century
18th Century
19th century
19th Century
20th century
20th Century

Web sites of the famous orchestras
Important Orchestras in the World
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
London Symphony Orchestra
The Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
The New York Philharmonic Orchestra
The Boston Symphony Orchestra
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
The Cincinnati Symphony
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
The Philadelphia Orchestra

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