There is said to be two distinct schools of orchestration in 19th-century western music. These schools are labelled French and German. Whereas French orchestration, exemplified through the art of Hector Berlioz, is considered to be progressive, innovative and colourful, the German school, including composers such as Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, has a reputation of being rather conservative and monotonous. In this paper I have shown that there are significant differences between, for instance, Hector Berlioz’ and Robert Schumann’s approach to orchestration, and that this is demonstrated clearly in the music of the composers from the two different main schools. I have also investigated the notion that Richard Wagner’s orchestration is a synthesis of the French and German schools, and therefore superior to that of other 19th-century composers.

Keywords: Orchestration, French, German, 19th century, Berlioz, timbre, texture