Classical Music Utilizing Unusual Instruments

Verdi’s Anvil Chorus utilizes hammers being struck on anvils.

Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (when done properly) utilizes actual cannons.

What are some other classical works that utilize unusual instruments?

Leolpold Mozart’s Toy Symphony

The celesta is somewhat unusual; Tchaikovsky used it in The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Mozart wrote for the glass harmonica.

Respighi’s 1924 orchestral piece The Pines of Rome calls for a phonograph record of birdsong to be played in the third movement.

Messiaen wrote for the early electronic instrument the ondes martenot.

Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus both use recorded bird song.

Prepared piano might be considered an “unusual instrument” which several composers have written music for, most notably John Cage, who also wrote Imaginary Landscape No. 4 for 12 radios.

Cage wrote a lot of weird shit. I saw one piece performed that included chattering teeth on piano strings, watering a vase of roses in a bathtub, and smashing 5 radios that are tuned to different stations.

Harry Partch’s music uses an entire orchestra of homemade instruments. There’s a great site from the American Mavericks series where you get to play virtual copies of his instruments.

Concerto for the Horn and Hardart

Donizetti scored the mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor for glass harmonica as accompaniment to the soprano, although these days it’s often replaced by the flute.

Beethoven’s Battle Symphony a.k.a Wellington’s Victory calls for “muskets and other artillery sound effects”.

Classical music using the saxophone is unusual, and has been ever since the saxophone was invented in the 1840s. :rolleyes:

The winner here is obviously Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet:

I actually own a recording of this I picked up for less than a dollar. I won’t say the money was wasted because at that price it was worth it for novelty value alone.

Bagpipes: Peter Maxwell Davies in An Orkney wedding with sunrise
Didgeridoo: Peter Sculthorpe in Earth cry
Various Japanese instruments in the works of Toru Takemtisu
Jamaican steel band in Malcolm Arnold’s Commonwealth overture

And then of course there is Malcolm Arnold’s A grand grand overture for 3 Vacuum Cleaners, 1 Floor Polisher, 4 Rifles and Orchestra.

And Hoffnung composed for things like hose pipes and vacuum cleaners.

And Cage’s *4’33" *does not use even one conventional instrument (you might hear a little breathing or a ticking clock).

Clearly you never heard it in the version for string quartet.

Ooh, I forgot all about this. I know this isn’t strictly speaking a recommendation thread, but everybody should listen to this. It’s a very nice piece and you can buy a recording cheap from Naxos.

I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree on the Celesta and the Saxophone. While neither belong to a standard 19th century symphony, they are both far from oddities - Ravel frequently used Saxophones, and the Celesta is often used in more modern orchestra music.

Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica calls for a wind machine.


So does Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote—and, I see from checking Wikipedia, so do a few other compositions as well.

That list does not include John Zorn’s Cycles Du Nord, from his Music for Children album, which is NOTHING BUT wind and feedback machines.