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Orchestral Combinations: The Science and Art of Instrumental Tone-Color Hardcover – March, 2004
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Update of orginal 2006 review - as below I do not own the book so this is recollection from that time.
I loaned a copy of this from the British library on the strength of the title, however, the content of the book is not at all represented by this title - emphasis on the word Science might logically lead one to think that the book contains a significant content in the areas of musical acoustics or perceptual psychology etc. related to instrument combinations (ie. I was expecting things like 'there's no point in combining these because the relative volumes will make such and such inaudible anyway/ X's timbre will be completely masked by Y/ requires a ratio of at least 3 instrument X to every Y etc etc. However, as the author himself emphasises "(paraphrase)... the book is nothing more than a compendium/reference of instrument combinations (usually doublings) from the 'classical repertoire'. eg. "Instrument X is octave doubled with Instrument Y in the work Z". Hundreds of such combinations are cited but in many cases the accompanying comments are no more than a couple of qualitative descriptive sentences and there are no score excepts to allow those with good score reading skills/aural imagination to see/hear how the combination is being used - to really appreciate the character of the cited combination it becomes essential to access a recording/score.Read more ›
I would've found the reference actually "use-able" if the author actually would have described what "tonal colors" are created by combining the said instruments. Instead, he just mentions that these instruments have been used in the past, and usually an example or two (which I love... and IS valuable) -- but then leaves it up to me to dig-up the music example. A reference CD would be a wonderful companion product.
Having harped on it... I will say it must have taken YEARS to compile such a resource, and am grateful that someone has. I would just like to see it taken to the next level, which involves two things I was hoping for:
1) a reference CD library of all the examples sited so I could HEAR the combinations referred to
2) a more useful resource which included recommendations or starting points for the art of tone-color (i.e. If your song needs dark overtones, here are several historical combinations that have worked well in the past).
Although I may refer to this encyclopedia reference in the coming years -- I feel mislead by the title, and would prefer not to even have spent the $80. Kudos to Mr. Read for compiling such a reference... I just wish it were more practical.