In this lesson we will focus on melody in the stringed instruments, namely violin, viola, cello and double bass.
Whether it be long or short, a simple theme or a melodic phrase, melody should always stand out in relief from the accompaniment. This may be done by artificial or natural means; artificially, when the question of tone quality does not come into consideration, and the melody is detached by means of strongly accentuated dynamic shades; naturally, by selection and contrast of timbres, strengthening of resonance by doubling, tripling, etc., or crossing of parts (violoncellos above the violas and violins, clarinets or oboes above the flutes, bassoons above the clarinets etc.).
Professor Belkin Comments: In a more general sense, this brings up, for the first time here, the issue of planes of tone: foreground, background, etc.. Obviously a melodic line is an example of a musical foreground. As a general principle of orchestration, it is generally best to decide the timbre(s) of the foreground first, and THEN choose how to set the less prominent elements in the texture, since accompaniment parts MUST, by definition, attract less attention than primary lines.
Melody planned in the upper parts stands out from the very fact of position alone, and likewise, to a less degree when it is situated in the low register. In the middle of the orchestral range it is not so prominent and the methods referred to above come into operation. They may also be employed for two part melody (in thirds and sixths) and for polyphonic writing.
Professor Belkin Comments: Another element which determines orchestral prominence is MOVEMENT. All other things being equal, the ear tends to follow CHANGE. So, for example, a moving line in the violas, surrounded by the outer strings holding long notes, will stand out adequately – provided of course that the other strings are not holding notes in the exact same register as the violas!
No. I. Sheherazade 2nd movement, Section B; Violins in melody, piano and graceful in character.
click on the play button to Play from the Score
No. 2. The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitesh, Section 283; Violins in melody.