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Difference Between Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra

Philharmonic vs Symphony Orchestra

The word “orchestra” is derived from the Greek word “ορχήστρα.” An orchestra means a large assembly of musicians that contain different sections of instruments as strings, brass, percussion, and woodwinds. “Orchestra” is a term which means a semicircular stage where a chorus could sing and dance. The philharmonic and symphony orchestra are very similar to each other in every form. “Philharmonic” in Greek means “love of music.”

In the past, orchestras used to be of two types. The smaller-sized orchestra was called the chamber orchestra. The chamber orchestra had a smaller group of around fifty players. A much bigger orchestra of around hundred players was called the symphony orchestra or the philharmonic orchestra. It was not a strict rule. In fact, the actual number of the musicians could vary.

In ancient times there was a slight difference between the symphony orchestra and the philharmonic orchestra. Both societies had a different form of financing. The symphony orchestra followed a formal ticketing pattern. It had a set price for the ticket. The musicians were also paid according to their fixed contract rates. However, in a philharmonic orchestra, the finances were a little bit casual. The audience made donations according to their will, and that money was later on distributed among the musicians. Presently, this discretion has become vague as all the orchestras have a fixed-price ticket.

The two different names are still in use because sometimes when there happens to be two orchestras in a city, one is named the philharmonic, and the other is named the symphony orchestra or vice versa. This is essentially done just for the sake of individuality and recognition. This is just the case with the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The symphony orchestra or the philharmonic orchestras are essentially the same.

An orchestra will be called a symphony orchestra when it is large enough to play symphonies. Taking the example of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, this requires a whole conglomeration of instruments which are: French horn, bass viol, flute, violin I and violin II, bassoon, timpani, oboe, clarinet, viola, cello, trumpet, full chorus, and solo soprano, alto, tenor, and bass vocalists.
Both orchestras play the same instruments and similar kinds of harmonies. The classical symphony orchestra used to play:

Woodwinds which included two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets and two bassoons.
Brass which included two to four horns and two trumpets.
Percussion which had two timpani.
Strings which included six violins I, six violins II, four violas, three violoncellos, and two contrabasses.


There were a few differences between the philharmonic orchestra and the symphony orchestra, but in their present form they are synonymous to each other.

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