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Where did the modern horn come from?

March 2, 2012

As some of you may know, I tech a horn fundamentals class for undergraduate music education majors.  Below you will find a brief write up I prepared to help students understand the evolution of the horn and the solo literature of the time.

The 1900’s were an interesting time for the horn playing world.  The invention of the valve was being applied to the natural horn to reduce the problems implicit in the crook system that had been utilized for the past 100 years, a change that would have serious implications on aesthetic, performance practice, and compositional technique.

By the year 1800, crooks were being manufactured in every key.  Not every horn player could afford all of the crooks and carrying all these crooks around became a cumbersome task.   In the years between 1811 and 1814 we see some documentation of patents and experiments into valves, but it isn’t until 1815 when Heinrich Stolzel performed in Berlin on a horn utilizing his valve, that we see momentum towards the modern horn.  While no one knows what Stolzel’s original horn looked like, we do know it was only equipped with one square/box valve from an 1818 patent.  Halary and Labbaye improved on this design, making it round, and putting two on a horn, one two lower by a semitone and one by a full tone.  The horn become fully chromatic in 1819 when C.F. Sattler added a third valve that lowered the horn by a tone and a half.

These advancements were not widely accepted, especially in France.  Most notably Gallay and the faculty of the Paris Conservatoire objected to these advancements, citing the valves “ability to even out tone color.”  The concern of this sentiment is summarized well by Louis Dauprat, a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire who obtained a valved horn in 1827 but quickly abandoned it.  He said that the addition of valves would cause the horn to “lose its character and the true qualities of its natural and stopped sounds.  Most of these latter have a charm that is particularly theirs and which serve, so to speak, as shadings and nuances which contrast with the natural sounds.”

While this sentiment was shared in other countries in Europe, most areas and composers began to accept it around 1840.  France held out until close to the end of the 1900’s. Composers served as the catalyst for this change, most notably Wagner who composed parts in his Ring Cycle that were only performable on the modern horn.  Some early modern horn concerto experiments include Gounod’s Six Melodies for valve horn (1840) and Saint-Saens Andante for valve horn and organ (1854).  Of course there are exceptions to this trend; Brahms wrote almost all of his horn parts for the natural horn.

During this time, there was another curios invention that attempted to merge the chromatic flexibility of a valved horn with the tonal responsiveness of the hand horn, the omnitonic horn.  Omnitonic Horns came in different designs but were all essentially a complete set of crooks stuck on one horn with a mechanism allowing the player to change between them “very quickly.”  The only version that was marginally successful was the Radius French Horn in London.

In spite of its lack of popularity, Saint-Saens “Morceau de Concert” is believed to have been premiered on an omnitonic horn.

When listening to works composed for the natural horn, it is useful to remember some of the compositional considerations demanded by the technical limitations of the instrument.  Here are just a few;

1)      Low notes should be approached from above and by step

2)      All pieces are notated in C and then “crooked” into the desired key

3)      Stopped notes can only exist between open partials.  This being the case, this color is best obtained in the middle register.  Low register notes do have this possibility, but are technically very difficult to achieve.

4)      Stopped notes do not project as well as open notes.  Important consideration for peaks of phrases and chord voicing.

5)      Some notes are achieved by removing the hand completely from the bell (B-flat, F-sharp, A).  These notes sound best when played at the fortissimo dynamic or when hidden within fast technical passages.

Here is a listing of horn literature from before, during, and after the valve horn revolution.  See if you can notice some of the compositional techniques mentioned above.  Links to interesting YouTube performances have been included.  Listen to some of the natural horn ones (especially Mozart and Weber) and see if you can relate to Gallay’s argument!

Composer Work Title

Date of Composition

Horn Written For Musical Era
Mozart Horn Concerto No. 1

1791

Natural

Classical

  Horn Concerto No. 2

1783

Natural

Classical

Horn Concerto No. 3

1787

Natural

Classical

  Horn Concerto No. 4

1786

Natural

Classical

Haydn, Joseph Horn Concerto No. 1

1762

Natural

Classical

  Horn Concerto No. 2

1781

Natural

Classical

Hoffmeister Horn Concerto No. 1

1791

Natural

Classical

Beethoven Horn Sonata

1800

Natural

Classical

Cherubini, Luigi Horn Sonata No. 1

1802

Natural

Romantic

  Horn Sonata No. 2

1802

Natural

Romantic

Rossini, Gioacchino Prelude, Theme and Variations for Horn and Piano

1804

Natural

Romantic

Weber Concerto for Horn and Orchestra in E Minor

1815

Natural

Romantic

Bellini, Vincenzo Horn Concerto in F

1833

Natural

Romantic

Reissinger,Carl Solo per il Corno

1830

Natural

Romantic

Gounod Six Melodies for valve horn and piano

1840

Valved

Romantic

Czerny Andante and Polacca E-major for Horn and Piano

1848

?

Romantic

Kaliwoda Introduktion und Rondo op. 51

1848

?

Romantic

Schumann Adagio and Allegro

1849

Valved

Romantic

Saint-Saens Andante for Valve Horn and Organ

1856

Valved

Romantic

Strauss, Franz Concerto No. 1

1865

Valved

Romantic

Draeseke, Felix Romance in F Major for Horn and Piano, Op. 32

1885

Valved

Romantic

  Adagio in A minor for Horn and Piano, Op. 31

1885

Valved

Romantic

Saint-Saens Morceau de Concert

1887

Omnitonic

     Romantic
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