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The core repertoire of the orchestra is based around symphonies, concertos, overtures, suites and choral works, and a great variety is on offer during any particular season.
The style of music written has changed considerably over time as the orchestra itself developed and composers have experimented with new ideas and developed the art form. Music historians have identified four main periods that each have particular characteristics.
An emphasis on polyphony (many lines weaving together), ensemble writing, colourful ornamentation of musical lines.
Main composers: Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Handel and JS Bach
An emphasis on balance, clear melody and harmony, refined style.
Main composers: Haydn, Mozart.
Late Classical / Early Romantic: Schubert, Beethoven
An emphasis on emotional expression, expanded use of harmony and tone colour and the idea of the 'heroic' encouraged increasingly virtuosic writing.
Main Composers: Brahms, Berlioz, Dvórak, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Wagner.
Late Romantics: Mahler, Rachmaninov, R Strauss, Elgar, Sibelius
There is no defining characteristic of twentieth century music apart from its pluralism. Different composers chose different experimental paths and it has left a rich and complex body of music. In Britain, the legacy of Elgar and his compatriots saw the revitalisation of composition and orchestral music. Some of the main developments are:
1) Serialism and atonalism: the old hierarchical ideas of harmony were discarded in favour of equality of each note in the chromatic scale
2) Neo-classicism: composers used the styles of the past in a modern context
3) Minimalism: composers wrote works based on a minimal number of notes / harmonies which are often very repetitive in style
4) The birth of film music
5) The rediscovery of early music and its use as a source of inspiration and changes in performance practice
6) The influence of other types of music such as jazz and the discovery of the rich traditions of other cultures around the world
7) Technology: the development of electronics and recording equipment expanded the possibilities available to composers
Some of the main composers are:
Serialists: Schöenberg, Webern, Berg
Early part of century: Debussy, Nielsen, Prokofiev, Ravel, Stravinsky, Shostakovich
Later part of century: Adams, Berio, Boulez, Henze, Lutoslawski, Messiaen, Nono, Pärt, Schnittke, Stockhausen
Some British composers: Adés, Arnold, Benjamin, Birtwistle, Britten, Macmillan, Maxwell Davies (recently appointed Master of the Queen's Music), Tavener, Tippett, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Weir.
At the start of the twenty-first century, we have access to a dazzling variety of music in the concert hall and on our stereos, from back to medieval times to the rich traditions of a variety of cultures across the world.
British Orchestras performed over 3000 times in 2003
- an average of 9 per day or 10 times as many concerts than the number of Premiership football matches in a season!
So there are an amazing amount of concerts going on in the UK every year. During the 2004 Listen Up! Festival there were over 600 events in six weeks.