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  • Oli Pikett

Orchestration Tips #1 - Doubling Parts

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

In this short article, we examine the use of some orchestral techniques adopted by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov in his opera The Tsar's Bride. Rimsky-Korsakov is widely recognised as a master of orchestration, whose colourful arrangements are considered a benchmark for the art. The purpose of this analysis is to provide some practical ideas for film and TV composers to use when orchestrating their music, hopefully ensuring that arrangements are balanced and creative.

The section we are focussing on is an 8 bar excerpt from the piece in a style typical of the composer - melodic and colourful. It follows a chord progression in the key of A major.

| A | D E A | F#m B | E |

A full score is shown at the foot of this article.

1. Use ‘Doubling’

Rimsky-Korsakov uses multiple instances of doubling instruments on different instruments and sections. This allows the melodic and harmonic ideas to be spread evenly across the span of the orchestral range, as well as ensuring that there is sufficient power and resonance behind each element as new instruments are added to the arrangement.

The focus of this section of the piece is a sweeping and romantic 4 bar melodic figure played on the violins. This melodic figure is doubled in octaves by the two violin sections, with the first violins taking the upper register and the second violins playing the lower part. This allows the second violins to support the high melody which, as it is played in higher register of the E string, otherwise runs the risk of losing some quality of tone. The second violins' support also helps to prevent the high part from sounding too remote from the rest of the orchestral arrangement.

Violins I

Violins II

During the following four bars, the arrangement is expanded, with the introduction of double bass and various woodwind. In order to ensure that the melody remains prominent amongst the added instrumentation, members of the woodwind also begin to double the violin melody. The oboe doubles in unison with the lower second violin part, whilst the flutes double the high first violins.

Flute III


The final example of doubling occurs between the celli (pizzicato) and the bassoon. These instruments share a unison walking line in quavers, which outlines the chord tones as well as passing notes, offering a balanced and effective countermelody.

Celli & Bassoon

2. Divisi Flutes Playing in Intervals

Rimsky-Korsakov makes very creative use of the flutes in support of the harmony of the piece. The part is written for two divisi flutes harmonising mostly in 6th and 5th intervals.

First, the flutes play an Aadd11 arpeggio in quavers, with flute I taking the higher 1st inversion as the principal line, and flute II starting a major 3rd below in root position. This is followed in bar 3 by the two flutes playing simple dyads of selected chord tones, clearly outlining the D major - E major - A major chord changes.

Bar 4 sees a short countermelody played across the F#m - B chords, before bar 5 returns to a familiar arpeggiated approach, outlining the dominant E chord in 6th and 5th intervals. This sequence is repeated (with some small variations) in the following 4 bars as the melody develops.

Flutes I & II

The resulting lines offer a wonderful balance of countermelody with harmonic support. This is a highly effective way to enhance the harmonic content of the piece whilst, at the same time, adding movement and interest to the main melody. Again, in order to maintain balance as the melody is repeated, Rimsky-Korsakov doubles this flute part with both the clarinets and violas an octave below.

When put together, we find that the arrangement comprises little more than 3 separate musical ideas spread across the orchestra, doubled as necessary, creating a colourful but balanced arrangement.

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