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The Birth of the Orchestra: History of an Institution, 1650-1815 – John Spitzer and Neal Zaslaw (2004)


Author(s): John Spitzer and Neal Zaslaw
Organisation/Affiliation/Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date: 2004

This book traces the emergence of the orchestra from 16th-century string bands to the ‘classical’ orchestra of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and their contemporaries. Ensembles of bowed stringed instruments, several players per part plus continuo and wind instruments, were organized in France in the mid-17th century and then in Rome at the end of the century. The prestige of these ensembles and of the music and performing styles of their leaders, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Arcangelo Corelli, caused them to be imitated elsewhere, until by the late 18th century, the orchestra had become a pan-European phenomenon. Spitzer and Zaslaw review previous accounts of these developments, then proceed to a thoroughgoing documentation and discussion of orchestral organization, instrumentation, and social roles in France, Italy, Germany, England, and the American colonies. They also examine the emergence of orchestra musicians, idiomatic music for orchestras, orchestral performance practices, and the awareness of the orchestra as a central institution in European life.

• Combines music history with anthropology, sociology and literary history
• Critique of earlier histories
• Puts familiar orchestral repertory in historical context
• Very wide coverage of places, time periods, and repertories
• Offers solid evidence of historical performance practices

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