Instruments of the Early Orchestra

Violinist performing
Instruments of the Orchestra. Caiaimage/Tom Merton / Getty Images

The orchestra or symphony orchestra is generally defined as an ensemble mainly composing of bowed stringed instruments, percussion, wind and brass instruments. Often, the orchestra is composed of 100 musicians and may be accompanied by a chorus or be purely instrumental.

Instruments of the Early Orchestra

The 1600s to the 1700s saw the development of string and wind instruments that soon replaced its early form.

Musical instruments of the early orchestra include:

  • Violin - The violin is believed to have evolved from the Rebec and the Lira da braccio. In Europe, the earliest four-stringed violin was used in the first part of the century.
  • Viola - Violas didn't enjoy immediate prominence when it first emerged. But thanks to great composers such as Mozart. Strauss and Bartók, the viola became an integral part of every string ensemble.
  • Lute - The lute is quite a beautiful instrument, both aesthetically and tonally. Composers such as Bach and Dowland used this instrument in their compositions.
  • Recorder - The recorder is a wind instrument that emerged during the 14th century but disappeared during the mid-18th century. Fortunately, interest on this instrument was revived later on and many still enjoy the sweet sound of this instrument to this day.
  • Oboe - The origin of the oboe can be traced back to instruments used in previous periods such as the shawm of the Renaissance. The soprano oboe was particularly favored during the 17th century.
    • Bassoon - By the early 17th century, bassoons were included in orchestras, although it would achieve more prominence by the 18th century. The bassoon can be traced back to a musical instrument called curtal.
    • Harpsichord - This wing-shaped instrument is believed to have emerged from the psaltery - a hand-held instrument that is plucked by a plectrum. Many Baroque composers, like Bach and Rameau, wrote for or played the harpsichord.