- String section
The string section is the largest body of the standard
orchestraand consists of bowed string instruments of the violin family. It normally comprises five sections: the first violins, the second violins, the violas, the cellos, and the double basses(or basses). The abbreviation "and strings" is understood thus in descriptions of instrumentation.
In music of the classical period, the cellos and double basses often play from the same music, their parts being usually notated on a single staff, with the bassist's written notes sounding one
octavelower than written. [ [Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians] , online edition, article "Orchestra", section 6.] .
An orchestra consisting solely of a string section is called a
The most common seating arrangement is with first violins, second violins, violas and cellos clockwise around the conductor, with basses behind the cellos on the right. ["Stanley Sadie's Music Guide", p. 56 (Prentice-Hall 1986).
Nicolas Slonimskydescribed the cellos-on-the-right arrangement as part of a 20th century "sea change" ("Lectionary of Music", p. 342 (McGraw-Hill 1989).] In the 19th century it was standard ["Orchestra" in Encyclopedia Americana (1948).] to have the first and second violins on opposite sides (violin I, cello, viola, violin II), rendering obvious the crossing of their parts in, for example, the opening of the finale to Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony.
If space or numbers are limited, cellos and basses can be put in the middle, violins and violas on the left (thus facing the audience) and winds to the right; this is the usual arrangement in orchestra pits [Gassner, "Dirigent und Ripienist" (Karlsruhe 1844).
Rousseau's "Dictionnaire de musique" (1768), however, has a figure showing second violins facing the audience and firsts facing the singers, reflecting the concertmaster's former role as conductor.] . The seating may also be specified by the composer, as in Béla Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celestawhich uses antiphonal string sections, one on each side of the stage.
The size of a string section may be expressed with a formula of the type (for example) 10-10-8-10-6, designating the number of first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, and basses. The numbers can vary widely; thus in a large orchestra they might be 14-14-12-12-10; the band orchestra in
Darius Milhaud's La création du mondeis 1-1-0-1-1. Mozart's masses and offertorieswritten for the Salzburgcathedral routinely dispensed with violas, while famous works without violins include the Serenades of Brahmsand Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Gyorgy Ligeti, besides writing some of the densest string divisi in history in Atmospheres and the Requiem, has also led the fashion of substituting solo string quintets for larger sections, as in the Cello Concerto and Le Grand Macabre.
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