/awr"keuh streuh/, n.1. a group of performers on various musical instruments, including esp. stringed instruments of the viol class, clarinets and flutes, cornets and trombones, drums, and cymbals, for playing music, as symphonies, operas, popular music, or other compositions.2. (in a modern theater)a. the space reserved for the musicians, usually the front part of the main floor (orchestra pit).b. the entire main-floor space for spectators.c. the parquet.3. (in the ancient Greek theater) the circular space in front of the stage, allotted to the chorus.4. (in the Roman theater) a similar space reserved for persons of distinction.[1590-1600; < L orchestra < Gk orchéstra the space on which the chorus danced, deriv. of orcheîsthai to dance]
* * *Instrumental ensemble of varying size and composition.Today the term orchestra usually refers to the traditional large Western ensemble of bowed stringed instruments with brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, with several players to each string part. The development of the orchestra coincides with the early history of opera. A major antecedent of the modern orchestra was that of the mid-17th-century French court, especially as employed by Jean-Baptiste Lully; it was dominated by 24 bowed strings but also often included woodwind instruments. Trumpets, horns, and timpani were often added in the early 18th century and were standard by the time of Franz Joseph Haydn. During the 19th century there was a considerable expansion, particularly in the number and variety of wind and percussion instruments; some works called for well over 100 musicians. The symphony orchestra changed little in the 20th century. See also orchestration.
* * *▪ musicinstrumental ensemble of varying size and composition. Although applied to various ensembles found in Western and non-Western music, orchestra in an unqualified sense usually refers to the typical Western music ensemble of bowed stringed instruments (stringed instrument) complemented by wind (wind instrument) and percussion instruments (percussion instrument) that, in the string section at least, has more than one player per part. The word stems from the Greek orchēstra, the circular part of the ancient Greek theatre in front of the proscenium in which the dancers and instrumentalists performed.Antecedents of the modern symphony orchestra appeared about 1600, the most notable early example being the ensemble required in the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi's (Monteverdi, Claudio) opera Orfeo. In the late 17th century, the French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (Lully, Jean-Baptiste) directed for the royal court an orchestra dominated by stringed instruments but including woodwinds (woodwind), such as oboes (oboe) and bassoons (bassoon), and sometimes also flutes (flute) and horns (horn). In the 18th century in Germany, Johann Stamitz (Stamitz, Johann) and other composers in what is known as the Mannheim school established the basic composition of the modern symphony orchestra: four sections, consisting of woodwinds (woodwind) (flutes, oboes, and bassoons), brass (brass instrument) (horns and trumpets (trumpet)), percussion (percussion instrument) (two timpani), and strings (first and second violins (violin), violas (viola), cellos (cello), and double basses (double bass)). Clarinets (clarinet) were adopted into the orchestra during this period, while earlier mainstays, such as the harpsichord, lute, and theorbo (a bass lute), were gradually phased out.The 19th century was a fertile period for the orchestra. Woodwinds were increased from two to typically three or four of each instrument, and the brass section was augmented by a third trumpet, third and fourth horns, and the inclusion of trombones (trombone). Composers such as Hector Berlioz (Berlioz, Hector), Richard Wagner (Wagner, Richard), Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay), and—into the 20th century—Richard Strauss (Strauss, Richard), Gustav Mahler (Mahler, Gustav), and Igor Stravinsky (Stravinsky, Igor) postulated, and in many instances created, orchestras of unprecedented size and tonal resources. The large orchestra typical of the late 19th through the mid-20th century incorporated an average of 100 performers and might include a wide variety of instruments and devices required in specific works. In the 1920s, however, many composers began to turn toward smaller, chamber-size ensembles (chamber music), sometimes maintaining and sometimes discarding the traditional instrumental complements.
* * *