The string section is the basis of the orchestra and the one consistent component of orchestras down the ages. The range of expression available and the great stamina of strings makes them a powerful tool. The typical orchestra has 16 First Violins, 14 Second Violins, 12 Violas, 10 Cellos and 8 Double Basses, but of course numbers vary depending on the requirements of a particular piece or venue or conductor. The Principal of the First Violin section is also the Leader of the orchestra. Use the links below to sample various string scorings from the Philharmonia's recorded archive.

Solos

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 4 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80555)
MI b46-51:
Cellos playing high melody, accompanied by the other strings, clarinet and cor anglais.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 4 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80555)
MII 6-10:
Solo violin, playing with scordatura tuning (up a tone).

Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) (Philharmonia/Salonen
Sony SK45796)
Fig. 91:
Six solo violas, with solo cellos and basses in harmonics (plus more cellos pizzicato).

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 5 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80569)
M5 b.233-240:
High four-part chords in violin 1, with violas marked staccatissimo.

Edward Elgar: Symphony 1 (Philharmonia/Haitink
EMI CDC 7 47673 2)
II:
Agility of the violins, marked pp.

Edward Elgar: Symphony 1 (Philharmonia/Haitink
EMI CDC 7 47673 2)
Fig. 109:
Melody played by the back desk of violins only - a typically polite Elgar moment!

Manuel de Falla: El Amor Brujo (Love the Magician): En la cueva (Philharmonia/Giulini
EMI CDM 69037 2)
Fig. 8 :
Muted violins played loud.

Manuel de Falla: El Amor Brujo (Love the Magician): Danza rituel del fuego (Ritual Fire Dance) (Philharmonia/Giulini
EMI CDM 69037 2)
Fig. 31:
Melody in violins 1 and 2.

Manuel de Falla: El Amor Brujo (Love the Magician): En la cueva (Philharmonia/Giulini
EMI CDM 69037 2)
Andantino tranquillo:
High solo cello melody, accompanied by flutes and strings marked sul ponticello and sul tasto.

Claude Debussy: La Mer (Philharmonia/Cantelli
Testament SBT 1011)
II Fig. 26:
Cellos in the upper register, later joined by violas.

 

Section

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 4 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80555)
MI 172-173:
col legno accompaniment, with woodwind.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 4 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80555)
MIII 17-25:
Contrapuntal string writing. The cello melody is prominent at first, but the violins gradually take the main theme.

Camille Saint-Saëns: Symphony 3 (Philharmonia/Yu
IMP 30366 00012)
MI letter M:
All strings in close harmony.

Jean Sibelius: Symphony 5 (Philharmonia/Salonen
Sony SMK 66234)
Molto moderato 2 after M:
Strings in octaves.

Jean Sibelius: Symphony 5 (Philharmonia/Salonen
Sony SMK 66234)
Allegro molto letter I:
A passage for muted strings.

Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) (Philharmonia/Salonen
Sony SK45796)
Fig. 72:
Artificial harmonics in chords.

Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) (Philharmonia/Salonen
Sony SK45796)
Fig. 81:
String melody in harmonics (marked flautando).

Gustav Holst: The Planets - Mercury (Philharmonia/Gardiner
DG445 860-24)
VII:
Staccato strings in rhythmic unison.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 5 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80569)
M2 b.557-576:
Artificial harmonics in violins, tune in cellos and basses (plus woodwind and brass lightly stabbed accaompaniment).

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 5 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80569)
M3 b.531-541:
String passage, featuring wide leaps and imitation.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 5 (Philharmonia/Zander
Telarc 2CD-80569)
M4 opening:
The opening of the celebrated 'Adagietto', with harp triplets against rich low writing for the strings.

Edward Elgar: Symphony 1 (Philharmonia/Haitink
EMI CDC 7 47673 2)
Fig. 130:
Melody in strings, with harp.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony 7 (Philharmonia/Klemperer
EMI 7 63354 2)
MII bb. 27-34:
Melody in violas and cellos in unison.

Claude Debussy: Nocturnes 1 - Nuages (Philharmonia/Cantelli
Testament SBT 1011)
Fig. 2:
Strings divisi.

Claude Debussy: Prélude a l'après-midi d'un faune (Philharmonia/Cantelli
Testament SBT 1011)
bb. 94-95:
Tremolo, punta d'arco.

Claude Debussy: La Mer (Philharmonia/Cantelli
Testament SBT 1011)
I Fig. 9:
Cellos divisi.

Peter Tchaikovsky: Symphony 5 (Philharmonia/Muti
EMI CZS 7 67314 2)
MII:
Violins and violas in octaves.

 

The Orchestra: A User's Manual is a free resource and will remain so. It still receives between 8,000 and 16,000 unique visits per month from all over the world. See the testimonials. Thanks to all the donations, I have been able to create this responsive re-design. But the movies and sound clips recorded in 2004 do show their age. I would really like to re-record everything and add many more techniques, especially for solo and ensemble writing. I estimate this will cost around £30,000. If you know a source of such funds, please contact me: a.hugill [at] bathspa.ac.uk