The classical orchestra which we are familiar with today, was created during the Baroque era. Whilst instrumental ensembles did exist prior to this period, they only performed chamber music. Composers did not give much thought as to which instrument was best suited to play a particular section of the work; instead, they simply used whichever ones they had to hand.
As a lover of classical music, Tunde Folawiyo may be aware that the composers Monteverdi and Gabrieli were the first to use orchestration to perform their compositions; the former’s opera, Orfeo, required the use of a large number of different instruments. It was during this period of time that several royal courts also began to establish places for small orchestral groups, which usually consisted of about 25 instruments; the idea behind this was to offer wealthy people with evening entertainment.
By the time the 18th century had arrived, the concept of the orchestra had become considerably more popular, although it focused primarily on the string family, with very few woodwind or brass instruments being used. Instead, the violins, violas, cellos and double basses were accompanied by either the organ or the harpsichord. This particular combination of instruments would eventually come to define the music of the Baroque period.
From the 1750s onwards however, composers began to introduce other instruments, such as the horn, flute, bassoon and oboe, into their orchestral pieces. This helped to create more colourful harmonies, and make the performance of the music more expressive.
It was at this point that Beethoven began to influence the sound of the orchestra; his work encouraged the use of brass instruments, and in particular, the trombone. Additionally, in 1813, the valve was invented; this led to the trumpet and the horn becoming chromatic, which in turn meant that composers could now use the brass section for melody, rather than merely harmony.
Classical music fans such as Tunde Folawiyo will probably know that Wagner also had an enormous impact on the structure of the orchestra during the mid to late 19th century. The development of symphonic practice was the result of his Bayreuth piece. The pieces which Wagner created for stage performances were highly complex, and therefore required the use of many instruments, including ones which had not previously been used in orchestral performances; for instance, six harps were needed to play his famous piece, Das Rheingold. By the 20th century, classical musicians had agreed upon a more standard orchestral structure, which they rarely had to modify.