The orchestra takes a seat

Conductor
The profession of conductor has only existed since the beginning of the 19th century. The conductor’s duties not only include deciding what repertoire will be played and conducting the orchestra, but also studying and reflecting on the music in order to carry out the composer’s wishes. Even if composers usually stipulate the number of individual instruments in a work, the conductor can ultimately decide which instrumentation will be used for the piece and how he interprets the piece’s sound. More
Concertmaster
The first concertmaster, who sits in the front chair as leader of the first violins, is often seen as the connecting link or mediator between the orchestra and conductor. Until the 19th century, the concertmaster was the leader of the orchestra, which also gave rise to the expression “play first fiddle,” meaning “call the tune” or “be in the focus.” He carries special responsibility for the whole orchestra and plays the first violin solo passages. Still today, it is very popular for the concertmaster or soloists to fulfill conducting duties in smaller orchestras. In larger orchestras, however, not only the first violins have a concertmaster; other instruments such as the second violins and violas have a leader as well, who is also called “concertmaster.” More
First violins
Up to 16 first violins play the first part, or main melody, in a symphony orchestra. In the classical seating arrangement (also called German seating), the first violins sit across from the second violins (see picture). An alternative is the American or “new” seating, where the first and second violins sit next to each other. The German seating is useful for better distinguishing the different voices, since with the distance, the voices can be set off against each other more easily and heard more clearly. More
Second violins
The second violins support the sound of the first violins and are generally treated as a single group. A symphony orchestra includes up to 14 second violins. The importance of the violin in an orchestra is highlighted by the number of instruments used for both parts. More
Violas
The somewhat larger violin, or the violin’s “big sister,” was especially popular in the 19th century with such composers as Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss. A symphony orchestra included up to twelve violists. With its dark, melodious sound produced by the viola’s C string, it is particularly suited to the alto voice, serving as a bridge between the two violin parts, which usually play the soprano voice, and the tenor and bass strings, the cello and double bass. More
Cellisten spielen Celli im Sinfonieorchester
Celli
The violoncello (short form cello, plural celli), also called the “little double bass,” already had a place in the orchestra in works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Händel. Ten celli are included in a large orchestra (and even twelve in Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben). Because of the instrument’s size and the length of its strings, the celli are lower than the violas, despite having the same strings (A-D-G-C); as a result, they usually carry the tenor and bass voices. With their versatile sound, they are often given important solo passages. More
Double bass
The double bass is the largest and lowest string instrument, and is sometimes also used with five strings in a symphony orchestra in order to extend the tonal range even lower. However, a normal double bass has four strings. An orchestra includes six to eight double basses, which provide a foundation to the orchestral sound, occasionally also being used as a melodic instrument. More
Flutes
Scored for: 3 flutes

The sound of the flute is produced by blowing through the instrument with one’s mouth. The range of woodwind family members depends on their vibrating air columns. The piccolo is thus higher than the concert flute, sounding the highest notes in an orchestra. The pitch can be influenced by opening and closing the tone holes.
The flute has been an important orchestral and solo instrument since the Baroque period. The earliest works for flute include compositions by Vivaldi. More
Oboes
Scored for: 3 oboes

In contrast to the clarinet, the mouthpiece of the oboe (like that of the bassoon) consists of a symmetrical pair of reeds that resonate with one another, producing a unique sound that distinguishes it from other instruments. Particularly in the Baroque period, the sound of the oboe was used for sustained, lyrical melodies. The oboe family also includes the English horn, the alto voice of the group. More
Clarinets
Scored for: 3 clarinets

The name of the clarinet, which is also referred to as the “little trumpet,” is derived from the Italian word “Clarinetto.” This name owes its origin to the similar-sounding clarin trumpet. Today, however, the clarinet does not sound at all like a trumpet. In the mouthpiece of the clarinet, the single reed resonates with a fixed opening, resulting in a sound nearly one octave lower than that of the flute. For many composers of the Romantic period, the clarinet was the instrument for intimate, song-like passages. More
Bassoon
Scored for: 3 bassoons

The bassoon is larger and has a lower range than the clarinet, uses a reed for its mouthpiece (like the oboe), and serves as the tenor and bass voice of the woodwinds. Over the course of time, the bassoon, which was initially used as a basso continuo instrument, became a melodic instrument. Alongside the flute, oboe, and clarinet, it grew in importance and was entrusted with independent melodic phrases and harmonies. More
Horns
Scored for: 8 horns (4 French horns, 4 Wagner tubas)

The French horn, or simply horn, belongs to the brass family. Its sound, however, is different from other brass instruments, mostly due to its funnel-shaped mouthpiece; from a sound perspective, some people consider the horn part of the woodwind family, and horn players usually also sit next to the woodwinds. The horn is also seen as the mediator between the strings and brass, and is thus considered essential to the orchestra. In contrast to what we might expect at first, the Wagner tuba does not belong to the tuba, but to the horn family, and its sound is described as a mixture between the French horn and tenor trombone. The Wagner tuba owes its name to Richard Wagner, who had it built expressly for the Ring of the Nibelung around 1870. More
Trombones
Scored for: 3 trombones

One of the essential features of the trombone is its tuning slide, which permits the player to lengthen the air column, thus producing a lower tone. Its sound is similar to the trumpet’s, but is lower and more variable due to its construction. This gave rise to the expression, “a trombone can laugh and cry,” since the tuning slide makes it possible to vary the sound in numerous ways. More
Trumpets
Scored for: 4 trumpets

Since the valve trumpet was introduced, most composers have incorporated it into their orchestral works. The number of trumpets determines the number of trombones and tubas, in order to maintain sound balance. Thus if a piece is scored for four trumpets, it is absolutely necessary to include three to four trombones and one tuba. The trumpet is built with different tunings; for example, there are B-flat, C, D, and E-flat trumpets. These tunings are determined by the size of the instrument. More
Tuba
Scored for: 1 tuba

Among the brass instruments, the bass voice is produced by the tuba’s large mouthpiece, resulting in the lowest sound of the orchestra. More
Percussion
In our example (Bruckner, Symphony No. 8, conducted by Thielemann) we hear the timpani, cymbals, and triangle which, along with the bass drum and snare drum, form the foundation of the percussion family. The number of percussion instruments used in a symphony orchestra continues to expand to this day (including the glockenspiel, xylophone, and gong, to name a few). Often there is not one person for every instrument; instead, several percussion instruments are played by a single musician. More
Harps
Scored for: 3 harps

Although plucked instruments like the harp sit together with the strings, they do not belong to the string family. The sound of the harp is produced by plucking the strings. More