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A string orchestra is an orchestra composed solely or primarily of instruments from the string family. These instruments are the violin, the viola, the cello, the double bass (sometimes considered an anomaly because of its resemblance to the viol family), the piano, the harp, and sometimes percussion. String orchestras can be of chamber orchestra size ranging from between 12 (18.104.22.168.1 = 12) and 21 musicians (22.214.171.124.2 = 21) sometimes performing without a conductor, or consist of the entire string section of a large symphony orchestra which could have 60 musicians (126.96.36.199.8 = 60; Gurre-Lieder calls for 84: 188.8.131.52.12).
Film scores generally have quite varied string set-ups: for example, James Newton Howard's score for The Last Airbender featured 33 violins, 21 violas, 14 celli and 15 double basses, making it a total of 83 strings.
A twentieth century development has been the reappearance of the concerto grosso pitting of soloists against the full ensemble. During the past eras of pop music, it also employed up to 65-piece string orchestras (Two Tribes).
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The repertoire is graced with several works by Mozart (including Eine kleine Nachtmusik) and Haydn which dispense with the baroque basso continuo. Some of these works are problematic when it comes to deciding whether they are for orchestra or string quartet. Particularly in Haydn's early works it is argued that the inversions of harmony from the occasional crossings of the bass and viola line imply a double bass; the question is not settled, however.
Important 20th century works have been written for string orchestra by Bartók (Divertimento for String Orchestra), Stravinsky (Apollo), Witold Lutosławski (Musique funèbre), Benjamin Britten (Simple Symphony), Charles Wuorinen (Grand Bamboula), and Malcolm Williamson (Symphony No. 7). Sir Michael Tippett wrote a Concerto for Double String Orchestra and Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote a Partita for Double String Orchestra. Composers who have written a Serenade for string orchestra include Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Suk and Elgar. Mendelssohn also wrote a number of symphonies for string orchestra.
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Sometimes works originally written for string quartet, quintet, sextet etc. are arranged for string orchestra. Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, Alban Berg's 3 Pieces from his Lyric Suite, Arnold Schoenberg's Second String Quartet and the sextet Verklärte Nacht, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's sextet Souvenir de Florence, John Corigliano's Second String Quartet and Jean Sibelius's Andante Festivo are examples, though a timpani is also added in the Sibelius piece. The work Shaker Loops written in 1978 for septet then arranged in 1983 for string orchestra by the American composer John Adams has become a popular addition to the repertoire in recent times. Graham Waterhouse composed several works for string orchestra (Sinfonietta), also in combination with contrasting sounds as Great Highland Bagpipe (Chieftain's Salute).
Other works for string orchestra
- Giovanni Albini - Una teoria della prossimità (2006)
- Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings
- Leonard Bernstein - Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion after Plato's "Symposium"
- Ivo Bláha - Sinfonia "Per archi" (1977)
- Ernest Bloch - Concerto Grosso No. 2
- Stephen Brown - The Carol Suite (1993), Sunrise Serenade (2001), On the Idle Hill of Summer (2002)
- Carlos Chávez - Symphony No. 5
- Natalia Cherniy - The Brilliant Strings
- Nigel Clarke - The Miraculous Violin
- Antonín Dvořák - Serenade for String Orchestra in E major, Op.22
- Edward Elgar - Introduction and Allegro for Strings
- Philip Glass - "The Hours" (Soundrack) (large string orchestra plus piano soloist)
- Edvard Grieg - Holberg Suite (originally written for piano then arranged for string orchestra)
- Karl Amadeus Hartmann - Symphony No. 4
- Alfred Hill - String Symphonies
- Gustav Holst - St Paul's Suite
- Arthur Honegger - Symphony No. 2
- Karl Jenkins - Palladio
- David Johnstone - more than 20 published works for string orchestra
- Nigel Keay - Serenade for Strings
- Marian Lejava - Chant d'Amour (version for strings)
- Felix Mendelssohn - String Symphonies
- Lior Navok - Between Two Coasts
- Ottorino Respighi - Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3 (1932)
- Aulis Sallinen - Aspects of the Funeral March of Hintriki Peltoniemi (originally written for string quartet then arranged for string orchestra)
- William Schuman - Symphony No. 5
- Jean Sibelius - Andante Festivo for strings and timpani
- Richard Strauss - Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings
- Igor Stravinsky - Concerto in D
- William Susman - Zydeco Madness, Angels of Light
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Serenade for Strings (Tchaikovsky)
- Dimitri Tchesnokov - Réminiscence d'après la symphonie pour cordes
- Robin Toan - dans la nuit (2006)
- Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, Concerto Grosso
- Graham Waterhouse - Celtic Voices and Hale Bopp (1995, 1997), Sinfonietta (2002)
- Anthony Watson - Prelude and Allegro for Strings (1960)
- Malcolm Williamson - Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell (1966/72), Ode for Queen Elizabeth (1980), Lento for Strings (1985)
- Dag Wirén - Serenade for Strings
- Takashi Yoshimatsu - Threnody to Toki for Piano and String Orchestra (1980)
- Đuro Živković - Serenade (2002)
- Erić Zoran - Cartoon for Strings
- [Stage and Screen Online — Anne Dudley interview].
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