The Evolution of the Score
The first work that identifies a specific group of instruments by name in the way we associate with a modern orchestral score was the musical drama Orfeo by Monteverdi. A staged dramatic production would be extremely difficult without some kind of musical leadership. We have no evidence of how Orfeo was coordinated but it is likely that it was directed in the broadest sense by a ‘corago’ – a role somewhere between a producer, director and conductor in modern terms.
“Drawing of the Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armida 1686” by Cea. is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The first recognisable orchestra in the sense of a professional, permanent and stable ensemble of musicians was established at the French court in the seventeenth century. It comprised a group of 24 string players known as the Vingt-quatre violons formerly established by Louis XIII in 1618 but reaching its heyday under Louis XIV following his approval of the Académie d’Opéra (1669) which evolved into the Académie Royale de Musique (1672). Works for this ensemble were scored in five parts with basso continuo. Even when it was joined by the Grand écurie – the wind and brass players who also had other duties in the royal household – the five-part score simply indicated where various different instruments were to play the same line of music.
(Allow 15-20 minutes for this activity)
The International Music Score Library Project (ISMLP) website (also called the Petrucci library) is an excellent resource for finding musical scores. Here are links to two different settings of the story of Acis and Galatea, one by Lully and the other by Handel. Note how different the detail of instrumentation is in each.
You probably noticed immediately that no instruments are indicated against the individual staves at the start of the Lully score, but also that C clefs predominate. In the Handel score, oboes are noted but there is apparently only one line for violins. If you scroll through a couple of pages to the first chorus, you will see the bass line marked ‘tutti’. Both these scores are unlike modern scores, lacking in detail and precise instructions.