Unisono and Doubling

Assigning certain elements to a larger entity, a segment, means to assess situations that may change from one time to the next. The most evident link between two or more elements, however, is doubling. Whether the intent is to reinforce the volume or create a specific sonority, doubling is a central aspect of all orchestration. In its simplest form, doubling adds nothing new, but merely extends a preexisting element. A melody doubled at the perfect unison or octave, for example, fully retains its identity. Doubling is an orchestral strategy that involves many different musical aspects such as balance, dynamics, tone color, character and articulation. The word itself suggests that a basic element is “multiplied,” but as indicated earlier, a doubling does not really “double” anything – regardless of the actual doublings, a monophonic segment will be perceived as a whole, although in some cases a doubling may be more clearly perceived as an addition (e.g. the doubling in thirds, see figure 32 · Segment Analysis) than in others (e.g. octave doublings).

In practice, the issue of doubling contains a myriad of subordinate areas. If considered from the point of view of doubling, figure 32 (Segment Analysis) demonstrates the necessity of conceptually extending the notion of unison playing in an orchestral context. Traditional music theory would certainly not consider this melodic segment to be monophonic. But because of its rhythmic and timbral identity, the segment appears as a self-contained unit that attains the status of a single voice, in which the inversion of the melody is simply perceived as a special kind of doubling.

Certain types of doublings can be ignored in this context. It would hardly be meaningful to regard an orchestral violin group playing the same line as a doubling. The same goes for the classical doubling of cellos and double basses playing from identical parts, common quite far into the 19th century. But they exemplify the important role played by various kinds of doublings in the field of orchestration. Some doubling strategies may extend our perception of linearity and identity (cf. figure 32 · Segment Analysis), and in a broader sense once again raise the question of instrumentation versus composition.

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Next · Linear and Split Unison (Chapter 4. Unisono and Doubling)

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