THE ORCHESTRA by Henry Raynor


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Perhaps the history of the orchestra doesn't really lend itself to the sort of chronological, composer-by-composer pocket survey that Raynor attempts here. Only the first chapters--with the transformation of the baroque orchestra (a ""dialogue of woodwind and strings"") into first the polyphonic choirs of Bach and Handel and then the more cohesive voices of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven--give a vivid sense of the phenomenon of instruments in glorious tandem. And Raynor's emphasis on the influence of opera in the emergence of orchestral forms--all except the concerto derived from music-theater--is genuinely illuminating. Once the orchestra has achieved pretty much its familiar proportions, however, there's little drama in the following century of consolidation and expansion; Raynor's semi-technical analyses of the orchestrations of Berlioz (the first ""orchestral specialist""), Wagner, and others often seem unfocused, slipping into music-appreciations that could be found anywhere--they're not always particularly orchestral. Still, he occasionally injects the dullishly pleasant discussion with wit and dash (Bruckner's oboes and trumpets can ""send a line of glowing colour across an almost neutrally tinted score""), and he becomes appealingly chatty in a brief, tart tour through a gallery of famous conductors. A sturdy but sketchy chamber piece, then, lacking either the dominant leitmotif or the overall sweep that commands attention.

Pub Date: June 8th, 1978
Publisher: Scribners