Orchestration: Composers Reveal Tricks of the Trade Meyer Kupferman



Meyer Kupferman
Photo by Howard Dratch

On reflecting upon my approach to orchestration, I discovered that I had been doing lots of things exactly the same way from the very beginning of my long symphonic odyssey: choice of instruments for any given episode had to have a challenge of “absolute freshness!” As a result, I always plunged into orchestration only after composing the complete two or three staff version of every score.

Dynamics, articulations, expression markings, and metronome numbers were entered last, almost like a final edit of a finished “masterpiece.” The real trick for me was uncovering the imagined colors that were going through my head when I first prepared the piano score or playing through the music bit by bit at the piano…

Suddenly I would hear a bunch of notes generating a timbre of woodwinds. I might do a quick “rethink,” play more sharply and conjure up the image of a brass choir with an overlay of strings and percussion. I never stopped to write any of this down: it all went into a strange “crucible of creative thought”—the penultimate gesture just before all final choices were executed.