So, I’ve been arranging this for woodwind quartet. I started just a couple days ago, and it’s already proving to be an educational challenge. Managing the usual ever-present melody, harmony, rhythm, and counterpoint, alongside the timbre changes known to woodwinds is what makes this such a puzzle. One has to be extremely careful of how the timbre changes in each instrument.
For the flute, the timbre changes is very subtle and smooth, so I’ve noticed that it’s typically the easiest to work with (for me). Its melodic potential lies mostly within the upper ranges, where it really shines through the other 3 voices and commands attention. Since its lower ranges tend to fall out behind the textures of the others dynamically, it can also be a very useful tool in sculpting harmonies.
For the oboe, the timbre change is also very smooth. However, as opposed to the flute, its lower ranges don’t tend to lose some of the aesthetic qualities of its tone. It still stays very emotive. Thus, I’ve found it to be a very versatile instrument in that it can easily take on the role of a main voice or that of a supportive harmonic one, regardless of the range’s tendencies in a particular melodic figure. But of course, this purposes drawbacks. Mainly, that its lower ranges tend to speak out further than the lower ranges of the flute, thus one must stay very cautious so as to not have the melodic ranges of either intertwine if the flute is meant to be the foremost voice.
Now the clarinet in Bb, poses me the most challenge of the 4. There is a clear shift in timbre between Bb4 and C5. It has a huge variety of timbres that span across its range, and while it maintains a relatively smooth transition between each one, the shift is evident, and its overall timbre does not tend to mesh well with the other 3. So one has to be extra sensitive to what role the clarinet is assigned to in the harmony, or else it will disturb the listener. Typically, I’ve noticed that the clarinet causes too much of a ruckus so that it must be sent to the lower registers to allow human nature to take its course (lower pitched voices are harder for the ear to discern, especially if they are weaved between the highest and lowest tones in a harmony). But this further constricts possibilities for harmonization and just overall creativity. Clarinet… its a freaking hipster.
Finally, the bassoon. Other than the painfully obvious timbre change between D3 and Eb3, the timbre so far seems to mesh well and complement the others. Having it assigned to lower registers also helps. Not much to say for this one yet.