Baroque orchestral music

Instruments in the Baroque orchestra

An orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble with sections of strings, brass, woodwind and sometimes percussion. It is usually directed by a conductor. A Baroque orchestra was sometimes directed from the harpsichord.

Four men playing the trumpet

Trumpet players

The continuo (or basso continuo) part was usually played the harpsichord or organ (filling in the harmonies and holding the ensemble together) plus a bassline often played by the cello or bassoon. The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument where the strings are plucked rather than hammered.

The Baroque orchestra was relatively small (a small orchestra is known as a chamber orchestra). The orchestra was still evolving during the Baroque period. At first there were no set instruments, but as the 17th century progressed the orchestra began to take shape. Instruments usually included:

  • strings - violins, violas, cellos and double basses
  • woodwind - recorders or wooden flutes, oboes, and bassoon
  • brass - sometimes trumpets and/or horns (without valves)
  • timpani (kettledrums)
  • continuo

Listen to this extract from Vivaldiā€™s Four Seasons. Notice the contrast between solo violin and tutti (main body of the orchestra) passages.

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