Theory Thursday

Though I guess this is technically more composition than theory…

I’ve been thinking about orchestration lately and how we decide what notes/themes work best with the different timbres at our disposal. John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls is playing right now, and I’m intrigued by the interplay of the spoken names/words and the string writing.

Composers – Where in your compositional process do you decide on timbre assignments? I know that several of Stravinsky’s works (I’m thinking of the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, among other things) started out life as something completely different timbrally-speaking. I personally make about 55% of my timbral decisions during the sketching and the other 45% during the final drafting, though those numbers may fluctuate (for example, I have made maybe 15% of the timbral decisions for the finale of the piece I’m currently working on; earlier variations had about 75% of the decisions made before the final draft) and are always subject to revision.

How about you?