To understand classical music we have to understand how some of it works. Yesterday, I gave an explanation as to why the piano is the most important instrument used in classical music. Today I want to discuss how the string instruments form the backbone of the orchestra.
The backbone is the structural center of our body. Likewise, the string section of the orchestra connects everything else that happens. An orchestra will likely have 10, 20, maybe 25 violins and all these musicians play just two parts, the first and second violin parts. In contrast, the orchestra used for any of Mozart’s symphonies has two flute players. Each flute player plays a different part all by themselves. This pattern is the same throughout the orchestra.
There are several reasons the orchestra developed this way but mostly it has to do with the development of each instrument. String instruments are not as loud by themselves as brass instruments or drums. Mozart lived before the days of microphones and amplifiers, so playing in groups was how the sound made it to the back of the auditorium.
As the orchestra continued to grow, composers considered the string section as a chief component to the overall sound, and therefore, everything else revolves around the string section.
Today’s listening selection is one of the most recognizable works of Mozart and of all classical music: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The German phrase which means, “A Little Serenade” or “A Little Night Music,” is also known as Serenade No. 11 in G Major. The first movement is frequently played on movies or TV shows and the opening notes are often arranged for young groups of musicians. With any of these songs that are so well known, so well recognized, we must not let their popularity detract from their beauty and excellence. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is a truly wonderful work and should be enjoyed any time we hear it. However, we should recognize the distinction between hearing something as background, like music in a movie, and sitting down to intently listen with nothing else to do. So, I encourage you to take six minutes of your kids’ time and listen to something of beauty and excellence that is rare in a world stuffed with cheap subject matter.