There is some reason to hope that the day of these misconceptions is passed; although there is also some reason to fear that on other grounds the present era may be known to posterity as an era of instrumentation comparable, in its gorgeous chaos of experiment and its lack of consistent ideas of harmony and form, only to the monodic period at the beginning of the 17th century, in which no one had ears for anything but experiments in harmonic colour.
Our task is simply to furnish the general reader with an account of the types of instrumentation prevalent at various musical periods, and their relation to other branches of the art.
It was lucky for the development of instrumentation (as in all branches of music during the change from polyphonic to formal design) that whenever the texture is not polyphonic the natural place for melody is on the surface: in other words, when the accompaniment is simple the tune is generally on the top. Haydn, when he was not tempted by the resources of an instrument so complete in itself as the pianoforte, soon learnt to write artistically perfect string quartets in which the first violin, though overwhelmingly the most important part, is nevertheless in perfect balance with the other members of the scheme, inasmuch as they contribute exactly what their pitch and the little polyphonic elaboration admissible by the style will enable them to give.
The instrumentation of solo combinations, is one of the largest and most detailed subjects in the.
The chief work done in instrumentation in the 17th century is undoubtedly that of the Italian writers for the violin, who developed the technique of that instrument until it proved not only more resourceful but more artistically organized than that ' of the solo voice, which by the time of Handel had become little better than an acrobatic monstrosity.
Least of all can it conduce to the formation of sound critical standards for the new instrumentation which is now in process of development for the future forms of instrumental music. These, we cannot doubt, will be as profoundly influenced by Wagner as the sonata style was influenced by Gluck.
Similar principles apply in infinite detail to the treatment of wind instruments, and we must never lose sight of them in speculating as to the reasons why the genius of Beethoven was able to carry instrumentation into worlds of which Haydn and Mozart never dreamt, or why, having gone so far, it left anything unexplored.
Where this is so there need be no confusion of style; but the danger of such confusion is great, and with the rise of modern dramatic instrumentation it may be doubted whether there are any standards of criticism in current use for chamber-music of other than the sonata style.
In the 16th century instrumentation was, in its normal modern sense, non-existent; but in a special sense it was at an unsurpassable stage of perfection, namely, in the treatment of pure vocal harmony.
To write an account of symphonic instrumentation in any detail would be like attempting a history of emotional expression; and all that we can do here is to point out that the problem which was, so to speak, shelved by the polyphonic device of the continuo, was for a long time solved only by methods which, in any hands but those of the greatest masters, were very inartistic conventions.