Biography[ edit ] Brant was born in Montreal , to American parents his father was a violinist , in Something of a child prodigy, he began composing at the age of eight, and studied first at the McGill Conservatorium —29 and then in New York City — He played violin, flute, tin whistle, piano, organ, and percussion at a professional level and was fluent with the playing techniques for all of the standard orchestral instruments. Thereafter Brant composed, orchestrated, and conducted for radio, film, ballet, and jazz groups.
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If you think about it, what an orchestration book is—is a labor of love for a composer, who might better spend the time actually composing and orchestrating. It is an unusual book.
There is nothing quite like it. You can count on three fingers such recent examples of composer-written orchestration books. This one is a course outline with all the important categories, but not the examples or commentary. Other specialized books for jazz or avant-garde and experimental music are not by important composers, though some are certainly useful guides for students.
The hard demographic truth is that few young or even any composers unless in a privileged conservatory setting, are going to have the full palette with which Brant quantizes his results. For example Brant often lists: 18 violins, 2 bass clarinets, contrabass clarinet, and so on. Where will you find these outside of a well-stocked conservatory, or in a movie city with movie budgets to hire any number and types of instrumentalists? But most students will not be able to do this. In his manual, published posthumously in a year after he died at 95, he makes absolutely no mention of the significant 20th Century advances in acoustics like formants , or psychoacoustics like auditory streaming.
That he omits any mention of his self-proclaimed life work, spatial music, seems strange at first. But read on! There is, I believe, an explanation. But a big but! It is vastly so! My message is this: whatever I say as critique of his handbook, you still must read it if you use orchestral instruments in your music. Brant would have us be a little more amazed and reflective when we assign the same note or line to two or more instruments.
The only question we need ask ourselves in this instance is can they do it. Enter Henry Brant with Chapter 9: Unisons. Take the middle range of the piano—the range of the solo and jazz repertoires. This is the least valuable for the orchestral piano; the outer ranges low and high are most valuable, says Brant. This could be a modernist tick of his, but probably is statistically true, since piano in the orchestra is a modernist addition.
This long, page Chapter 38 is devoted to Bowed Strings. It is the counter-part to the pizzicato chapter. Since strings are the core of the modern symphony orchestra, his account repays close attention. It could be said that this is a stylistic property of his music in general. The advantages of composing your own musical examples in a book of this kind are obvious: first it saves time scouring the literature for exactly the right orchestral moments to use from thousands of compositions of many eras.
Second, the examples can be tailored exactly to the point at hand, without extraneous distracting musical contents. On the other hand, examples sought out in great music impress the point more forcibly because their whole message is served by inspired orchestration.
By about a third of the way through the book, one notices they are becoming ever more detailed, longer, complex and rich in sonic qualities. And by omitting wind vibratos. The issue of independent dynamic markings for different sections of an ensemble moving together in time is fraught. Some would argue that the conductor should make micro adjustments to the dynamics in the context of performance.
Brant and many other modernist and even late Romantic composers choose for very knowledgeable reasons to do this kind of micro-marking themselves. This is not an easy book to use. As you can see, he mixes up traditional families, even including strings in Timbre 1.
His justification for doing so is repeatedly shown in examples. And also, complexly, with overtone structure, but he never explains anything acoustically, so this has to be our own analysis. We can see even in the outline above that he uses mutes e. This classification of wind timbres is ear opening if you can imagine them. I wanted to rebel because of the concrete gesture needed to play these sounds puts them in different worlds. Perhaps Brant, as a world-class orchestrator who made recorded sound tracks for films, thinks only of the sound coming at a distance to the listener: a massed, blended sound from within the orchestra coming through large theater speakers.
I, on the other hand, picture his combos as if I were sitting listening to a live ensemble. What do you think the effect will be on blending when these instruments are modulated by the large physical spaces separating them? I think it will greatly affect the blend, unless you are listening on the radio, or are very far back and high up in the concert hall. In a live concert hall rendition, the listener will experience my imaginary Wind Group 1 above as a kind of spatial dissonance.
This is indeed a stimulating pleasure of large orchestra music from Berlioz, through Mahler, and continues in our own new music styles of early Modernism to the present. In reality, music is spatial or on a spatial continuum.
His two types are: Instruments producing staccato attacks only. Yet his percussion examples often use vibraphone which with its damper and motor are just about fully sustaining instruments. Soft-headed mallets increase the clarity. He takes up rolls of 2, 3, and 4 pitches. It is impersonally addressed. This makes for a big disconnect with the younger generations of musicians and composers who easily use in combination: live and electronic sounds and timbres, sampled sounds, notation systems like Finale and Sibelius which come with their own library of orchestral sampled sounds, computer produced sound.
Again, I must note the class issue here. Young, unconnected composers will not necessarily have access to the high-end, expert players of acoustic instruments. So of course, these young or unconnected musicians will find substitutes in the form of samples, synthesizers, processers, computers, recording and playback devices. Harmonic Imbalance: Though he wants to discourage this state at least when the orchestrator wants balance , one of his key examples is interesting and tempting to use.
He has p. Sure softer, but what an effect! I want to hear it. Look at Stravinsky, Varese, Janacek, Mahler. For example the Cape Breton fiddling accompanied by guitar was originally used if no piano was available, but became an acceptable sound in its own right. Brant addresses the problem of balancing a progression where chords vary in number of tones p. Homogeneity is a constant concern of his. He says p. It is also disturbed in Wind Group 3 see above by vibrato p.
Are we taking such things in, dear composer-orchestrators? Juxtaposition of different timbre groups p. In horizontal contrapuntal writing p. This seems to preclude pointillist orchestrators like Webern, or even Mahler. So, a conservative moment in Brant. Like Max Reger was among the 19th Century innovators. He tells us, for example, that to emphasize the dissonant intervals, keep them within the same timbre group—a forward-looking moment to open up dissonance to the same status as consonance in the project of orchestration.
Composition finally, definitively merges with orchestration p. He shows how to add octaves-pairs in a contrasting timbre p. This is subtle and canny knowledge. A triadic assumption p. Uniformity in Articulation is a short, pungent chapter 13 , which has an ingenious solution to a problem you never knew you had.
Where there are common tones in the same voice in succession, and you want to keep uniform articulation among the voices: instead of creating long notes or tied notes, exchange parts so each voice always has a new attack p. Chapter 17, Extreme Registers, points out that auditory perceptions in these registers becomes more difficult at fortissimo dynamics, but is very good at lower levels p.
He shows, for example, which accordion stops intensify the effects of the other winds by putting octave duplications outside their ranges. Simply coordinating attacks among instruments that produce tones in different ways is difficult. But his point is that even with a simultaneous attack, a blend will not occur. Once more we see his value of homogeneity put above its opposite.
For some composers the non-blending might be quite acceptable, even desirable. I would generalize the point to say that in any vertical harmonic array of instruments, blending is decreased by dissimilar attacks.
A really interesting study of blending, homogeneity, separateness could be to look at say, Mozart, Mahler, and Messiaen textures in actual performances in their acoustic spaces. What is the intention and what is the effect?
Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook