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Topic: woodwind quintet

  1. #1

    woodwind quintet with Andrey Rubtsov's Remarks

    Dear All,

    I know how difficult it is to write for this ensemble (woodwind quintet). I was wondering if you could give us some very general advice ( possibly in a few lines!! ) about writing for the woodwind quintet. Especially blending oboe with the group and the functionality of French horn in the ensemble.
    Chekad Sarami
    Math Professor

  2. #2

    Re: woodwind quintet

    This is a highly difficult question to answer, as you post it, I'm afraid.

    In math (since you're a math professor) it would translate to something like: "Problems in trigonometry are difficult to solve. Would anyone be able to tell me something in a few lines about it, and also point me to the right direction in general, as well as giving ideas on the sin axis... blah blah..."


    apart from that.

    Woodwind quintet is a non homogenous ensemble, like the strings or a bit less the brass. Each woodwind has a very distribguished sound and this can be to your aid orchestrationally. The woods have a fine range, all of them and the three uper ones (flute, oboe and clarinet) can reach really high notes (of course the flute gets louder as it goes up, the clarinet stays the "same" and the oboe grows thinner). Bassoon is the true bass of the quintet with second being the French Horn.

    You need to decide on whether to go for trasposed score (thus have transposed staves for the F. Hrn in F and the Cl. in Bb), or a score in C, and forget about the whole transposition issue, until the time comes for the parts.

    Flute blends a bit difficult with the rest when in the low register (it doesn't sound much, that is) and oboe can be a bit penetratic, but I think that most oboists would be able to avoid that.

    F. Hrns have different mutes and the stoped techniques, which you can use for further variation. It is not as agile as the... clarinet, for example, but this should not make you think that it's not agile. It can play almost any line (while avoiding huge leaps, like 10ths, etc, which might pose trouble, if you don't know the harmonic series, and fundementals, and so on). Playing loud it can turn brassy, and get a bit further away from the "woodwind sound", but this, again, can be used to your advantage.

    I don't know what else to write really, as it's really difficult to know what you're looking for, from your post (that's why I said the thing about the math problem in the beginning)

    I hope it helps a little. Take it with a pinch of salt and ask away again, in hopes of me, or others will come to help as well. Preferably with a score and more specific questions.

  3. #3

    Re: woodwind quintet

    I've written two woodwind quintets, and you're right, it is a challenge.

    I guess the best suggestion I could make is to get a feel for how all the different instruments blend with each other in all areas of their range. It's difficult because all the instruments are different with regard to their characteristics; for instance, flute and oboe in their low registers will not blend well because the oboe will tend to overpower the flute, whereas in their upper registers the exact opposite will happen.

    You can take advantage of this for some interesting color effects. For instance, flute, clarinet, and bassoon will blend pretty well in the area around middle C. You can write a chordal part for them, and allow the oboe to take the highest part and give the bass to the horn.

    The possibilites are great. Just dive in and experiment and if something doesn't work, don't be afraid to do it over.
    Dan Powers

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  4. #4

    Re: woodwind quintet

    Thanks both of you for the suggesions. I feel I know what's going on in Woodwind quintet (WQ) writing!

    I am going to start writing my first one.

    By the way, here's an essay on WQ.


    Chekad Sarami
    Math Professor

  5. #5

    Re: woodwind quintet

    I am posting Andrey Rubtsov's remarks about my question ( with his permission):

    nothing special about this group compare to others - use
    instruments mostly in their best register, think about the balance,
    give them enough rest from time to time. Remember that flute and
    clarinet can play nearly all the time while oboe and horn need much
    more time to rest.

    Blending the oboe is the problem of the oboist, not yours :-). But I
    noticed that in a lot of piano places it is good to put flute below
    the oboe, not vice versa - sound nice and help the balance.

    That's all.

    Good luck to you!
    Andrey Rubtsov
    Chekad Sarami
    Math Professor

  6. #6

    Re: woodwind quintet

    I've written two large-scale works for wind quintet.

    A couple quick starter pointers:

    *Don't be afraid to transpose the entire piece for better registers.

    *Watch your oboe... do not let it go too low unless you want that specific gimmick. The temptation is to place the clarinet above the oboe at times , usually with a bad result. It's better to simplify the harmony and let the oboe rest during a clarinet solo, if it forces the oboe too low.

    *An alternative to keep in mind for clarinet solos is inverted harmony... high flute and oboe at a lower dynamics level, a hole in the middle for the clarinet, bassoon below.

    *A third possible solution to the oboe dilemma during clarinet solos is a composite color, clarinet+oboe in unison.

    *Forget about representing the full harmony constantly... this is chamber music. If an instrument is in a bad range, simply double the next voice above or below if needed.

    *Write to the strength of wind quintet: separation. This means more polyphonic lines.

    *Never neglect the FP< abilities of wind instruments, either brass or woodwind. Even a wind quintet can pull an exciting and fairly loud crescendo.

    *Horn isn't likely to get very brassy in a quintet context, as the player naturally abjusts to blend in. Therefore, if you want a really loud horn, it might be a good idea to increase the horn dynamic marking by a level.

    To whoever said "blending the oboe is the players problem, not yours", that's illogical. The oboe has radically different strength, control and timbre depending on range. It's the arrangers job to understand the instruments and to blend them appropriately.

  7. #7

    Re: woodwind quintet

    Quote Originally Posted by Von Richter
    To whoever said "blending the oboe is the players problem, not yours", that's illogical. The oboe has radically different strength, control and timbre depending on range. It's the arrangers job to understand the instruments and to blend them appropriately.
    Thanks much Von for sharing your experience with us. Like other inexact sciences ( if we call orchestration a science), there are difference of opinions everywhere. For Rubtsov comment. He is a world-class oboe player. I guess he only considers very professional woodwind players like himself who can do extraordinary things with oboe, not a piece wirtten for a high school band.

    I totally agree with you. In this world everyone deserves to enjoy playing music. The better written your piece, the more will get played and of course make the composer much more happier and as you said It's the arrangers/orchestrators job.

    All the best
    Chekad Sarami
    Math Professor

  8. #8

    Re: woodwind quintet

    A bit of familiarity with the strength of an oboe on the low notes vs. a flute in the same range at fortissimo will make certain things very clear.

  9. #9

    Re: woodwind quintet

    I love the woodwind quintet as an ensemble, though I don't claim to write particularly well for it. A small notational issue that almost no one remembers to bring up: woodwind quintet scores represent one of the few exceptions to the regular "woodwind, brass, percussion, strings" score order as exemplified in orchestral notation. The conventional order of staves in a woodwind quintet score is

    Marnen E. Laibow-Koser
    Composer / Web developer

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