A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Horn
HORN, FRENCH HORN (Fr. Cor, Cor de Chasse; Ger. Horn, Waldhorn; Ital. Corno, Corno di Caccia). One of the most characteristic and important instruments among those played by means of a cupped circular mouthpiece (Trumpet, Trombone, Cornet, etc.). It differs from all others of this family by the considerably greater length of its tube, the wider expansion of its bell, the spiral form in which its convolutions are arranged, the softer quality of its tone, and its great compass.In its most modern shape it is composed of a tube 17 feet in length divided into three main sections—(1) the Body, comprising the lower two-thirds of the tube and a large everted bell, spreading out rapidly to a diameter of about fifteen inches; (2) a series of interchangeable rings, of smaller tubing, termed Crooks, progressive in length, forming about the upper third of the Instrument; and (3) the Mouthpiece, which is of different shape, size, and calibre from all kindred species of brass instruments. Valves.] The slides of the tuning apparatus are sometimes utilised as a place of attachment for the different crooks, which then slip on in the middle of the instrument, instead of being affixed to a conical socket at the upper extremity of the body.
The body of the horn has a length of 7 feet 4 inches; the crooks are of increasing length as they descend in pitch. The following are the dimensions of the crooks most in use, for which the writer is indebted to Mr. Köhler of Henrietta Street:—
|A♮||. . . . . .||26 in.||E . . . . . . .||63½ in.|
|A♭||. . . . . .||31½ in.||E♭ . . . . . .||68¾ in.|
|G||. . . . . .||40 in.||D . . . . . . .||79 in.|
|F||. . . . . .||55 in.||C basso . .||105 in.|
The crook for the C alto pitch, a minor third above A♮, and shorter in proportion, would, if in use, reduce the total length of the instrument to about 8 feet, while with that for the C basso pitch it is 16 feet and a fraction long.
The mouthpiece consists of a funnel-shaped tube of brass or silver, terminating at its upper extremity in a rounded ring of metal for the application of the lips. The bore tapers downwards in a curved conical form, from about three-quarters of an inch in diameter at the embouchure, to a size enabling the smaller end of the mouthpiece to be slipped tightly into the upper orifice of the crook. It is to be noted that the cavity into which the lips vibrate is thus not cup-shaped, as in the trumpet and cornet, but conoidal downwards, with curved sides approximately hyperbolic in contour. The peculiar softness of quality
|of the Horn||and||of the Trumpet.|
|half the real size.|
The original use of the French Horn was to give signals in hunting. In this function it is difficult to say at what precise date it superseded the more ancient cornet, of wood, horn, or ivory, which was more akin to the Bugle. Louis XI of France ordered the statue on his tomb to be dressed in the costume of a hunter with his cornet at his side. Dufouilloux dedicated a treatise on Venery to Charles IX, who had himself written a similar work. He therein praises the cornet, and imitates its sound by the word tran. In the woodcuts contained in his work, and in pictures of Louis XI's projected monument, the cornet appears to have only a single ring or spiral; being thus competent to produce only a few notes. In the edition of Dufouilloux published in 1628, however, the king and his lords are represented as having cornets with a second half-circle in the middle. Louis XIII, who was extremely fond of hunting the fox, invented a call, to distinguish that animal, containing several different notes, which show that for their proper intonation the instrument itself must have made progress, and increased in length. Louis XV, however, and his master of the hunt, M. de Dampierre, composed and selected the greater number of calls and fanfares used in the royal hunt, which continue to be employed up to the present time.
The hunting horn finally adopted differs from the orchestral horn in consisting of an unbroken spiral of three turns, sufficiently large to be worn obliquely round the body, resting on one shoulder and passing under the opposite arm. The hands are thus left at liberty, and the mouthpiece can easily be brought to the lips by a single movement.
Three kinds of hunting airs are to be made out. (1) Calls (tons de chasse), of which there are about 31. These are intended to cheer on the hounds, to give warning, to call for aid, and to indicate the circumstances of the hunt. (2) Fanfares, of which there is one for each animal, and several for the stag, according to his age and antlers. (3) Fancy airs performed as signs of joy or after a successful hunting.
The best-known calls are the Reveillée, the Lancé and Relancé; the Hourvari, or default; the Debuché; the Volcelest (when the fresh footmark of the animal is found); the Halali, and the Mort. Of fanfares there are the Royale, sounded for a stag of ten points—invented by Louis XV; the petite Royale, sounded for the wild boar; various others distinguishing the wolf, fox, weasel, and hare; and the Fanfare de St. Hubert, as the patron saint of hunting, only sounded on his day. (3) The third series approximates more than the others to regular musical performances, and furnishes the link between the use of the Horn as a signal, and as a melodious instrument. These airs are many and various, named after royal personages or distinguished hunters.—Donner du cor is the term for sounding the horn.
The introduction of the Horn into the orchestra in France is attributed to Gossec. He, when still very young, was requested to write two airs for the debut of Sophie Arnould at the opera in 1757, in which he introduced obbligato parts for two Horns and two Clarinets; the latter instrument being also heard for the first time. Lotti and Scarlatti introduced it into Italy, and were followed by Hasse and Alberti. It must have been previously used in Germany, since it appears frequently in the scores of J. S. Bach, who died in 1750. It was first used in England as early as 1720 by the opera band in the Haymarket, at the performance of Handel's Radamisto.
It was much objected to when first heard, as coarse and vulgar; and severe strictures were indulged in at the introduction of a rude instrument of the chase among more refined sources of sound, such as the Violins and Oboe. It is remarkable how subsequent experience has reversed this hasty judgment; the smooth tender tone peculiar to the Horn contrasting admirably with its orchestral companions, and forming a firm foundation for harmony in chords and holding notes.
In consequence of this prejudice, when the Horn was originally transferred in Germany from the hunting field to the orchestra, it was suggested to introduce a mute or damper into the bell, for the purpose of softening the tone; this was at first made of wood, and afterwards of card-board. It was the custom to produce a like effect in the Oboe by filling the bell, made globular for the purpose, with cotton-wool; a plan which suggested to Hampl, a celebrated horn-player at the court of Dresden, about the year 1770, to do the same with the Horn. To his surprise the insertion of the pad of cotton raised [App. p.679 "lowered"] the pitch of the instrument by a semitone. Struck with the result, he employed his hand instead of the pad, and discovered the first and original method by which the intervals between the harmonic series of open notes could be partially bridged over. The notes thus modified have since been termed 'hand notes,' and the instrument itself the 'Hand horn.' Sir John Hawkins mentions a concerto played by an artist named Spandau with the help of the hand notes in 1773, 'attempering the sound by the application of his fingers in the different parts of the tube.'
The method of stopping the Horn is not by introducing the closed fist into the bell, but the open hand, with the fingers close together, some way up the bore. By drawing the fingers back, the natural sounds are again produced. The degree in which the Horn is stopped is not the same for all stopped notes: there being half and whole stopping. In the first, by raising the hand the bell alone is, as it were, closed: in the second the hand is introduced as far as if it were intended almost to prevent the passage of air.
Between the stopped or 'hand notes' and the open notes there is an obvious difference in character and quality which it is impossible wholly to suppress, but which may be sufficiently modified so as not to offend the ear. This object is attained by blowing the open notes softly, so as to reduce the contrast between their sonorousness, and the closed or 'stuffed' (étouffé) character of those modified by means of the hand. Much difference of opinion exists as to the superiority of the simple Handhorn, or the more modern instrument furnished with valves. It appears certain that the lightness and vibratile power of the former, added to the absence of abrupt bends and sinuosities in the bore, adds materially to the brilliancy of the tone. But, on the other hand, in rapid melodic passages, such as it is now the fashion to write, the alternation of open and stopped notes tends to produce uncertainty and unevenness. The older composers, especially Mozart, seem to have been aware of this fact, and employ both open and stopped notes with full consciousness of their respective effects. Many examples could be given of the mournful and mysterious effect of the stopped notes judiciously used. A convenient compromise between the two forms of the instrument has been adopted by fixing a pair of valves on the tuning slide named above. It is quaintly termed a 'grasshopper' action, and can easily be removed when the simple tube is preferred. Mr. Ford has registered a sliding action like that of the trombone, or slide trumpet, in place of the valves, by means of which notes can be depressed to any extent according to the ear of the performer. This excellent plan, which would at once give the horn the enharmonic accuracy now possessed by the trumpet and trombone alone among wind instruments, does not seem to have attracted the notice it deserves. The same may be said of Mr. Bassett's comma valve, applicable both to Horn and Trumpet, by which the error existing between major and minor tones may be corrected. [See Trumpet.]
The scale of the Horn consists of a fundamental tone, and the consecutive harmonics or 'upper partial' tones of an open tube which reaches the extreme length of 16 feet. It has usually been described as of conical shape; but Mr. Blaikley has ingeniously shown of late that a somewhat different form, with a hyperbolic contour, is required to produce accurate harmonic relations, in consequence of the mouthpiece not being applied to the exact apex of the cone, but somewhat lower down.
As the prime tone of so long a tube is very deep, the harmonics in the middle of the scale lie so close together as to produce many consecutive notes. Eight-foot C is usually taken as the fundamental note, and the scale founded on it is given as follows, the two highest notes being seldom or never used.
This notation is substantially correct for the 8-foot or C alto instrument, now disused; and it is clear that it will have to be lowered successively through a whole chromatic octave as the longer and deeper crooks are made use of. For the C basso crook, 8-foot C will thus become 16-foot C, on the 6th space below the bass stave, and with all intermediate crooks the real foundation sound will be some intermediate note of the 16-foot octave. How well the great value of these low notes was known to Beethoven is evident from more than one passage in his works. In the allegro moderate of his Sonata in F for Horn and Piano (op. 17) the following passage occurs twice over:—
The same note also occurs in the 7th Symphony. Allowing for a crook one-fifth lower, the real sounds would be as at (a):—
that is to say, 16-foot F and 16-foot C. The former of these is practically, and the latter entirely impossible on a tube of under 12 feet long. It is evident therefore, that by a freak of notation, the bass notes have been referred to a 16-foot scale, whereas those in the treble, as already explained, belong to one of 8 feet, and the real note sounded is as at (b). This accounts for the ordinary but erroneous statement in Horn Methods, that the 'Treble part is conventionally written an octave higher than it is played,' the fact being that the bass part is an octave too low. In consequence of this misconception, no two scales as given in the ordinary instruction books agree with one another; many beginning at the 4-foot C, which stands second in the scale diagram given above. This is partially owing to the fact that the extreme low tones are difficult, if not impossible to produce, except with a larger mouthpiece. Indeed, 16-foot C can only be feebly touched with a trombone mouthpiece and by an experienced trombone player. The scale given above agrees with the harmonic series common to all modes of eliciting sound, and has therefore been preferred for illustration. The Horn is invariably written for in the G or treble clef (with the exception of the three or four lowest sounds described above), and in the key of C; the difference of pitch necessary for orchestral tonality being provided by the various crooks, of which eleven are used, supplemented by two intermediate; one of which lowers the pitch of any crook approximately a semitone, the other a whole tone. The whole diatonic scale is thus accessible, and even lower pitches than C are occasionally needed, as in the 'Stabat Mater' of Rossini, where a horn in A♭ basso is introduced. The upper C crook is rarely used, and the series commonly terminates with B♭ basso. In his 2nd Symphony, Brahms uses 2 horns in B♮ basso, and 2 in C basso. The following table shows the relation between the written notes and the actual sounds produced in the various Horns:—
|Written notes.||C Horn.||D Horn.|
|E♭ Horn.||E Horn.||F Horn.|
|G Horn.||A♭ Horn.||A Horn.|
|B♭ alto Horn.||B♭ basso Horn.||B♮ bass Horn.|
It will thus be seen that although the written symbol of the sound remains unchanged, the actual sounds produced, and the embouchure required for producing them, vary over a range of more than an octave. This constitutes the chief difficulty of the instrument; for as the various harmonics differ only in the altered tension of the lip-muscles, what is required to produce a high note on a low crook is clearly insufficient for one far lower on the more acute. It is thus often impossible to ascertain, without actual trial, which particular individual of the series may be first struck; the sound for instance which is fundamental on the B♭ alto being the first octave harmonic on the B♭ basso. It is always advisable in writing for an instrument singularly tender and treacherous, to give the player, in case of change, some opportunity of making this adjustment of the lip unperceived, and under the cover of more forcible instrumentation. This precaution is the more needful as the brass tubing of the Horn is very susceptible to changes of temperature, and a cold crook put on suddenly is in consequence liable to commence too flat.
The Horn is seldom played singly in the orchestra. A pair at least, and four, or two pairs, are most commonly employed. The Third is in the latter case regarded as a ripieno first, and the Second and Fourth as being correlative to one another.
Every great composer since Handel has written freely for the Horn. A characteristic specimen of this master occurs in his Allegro and Pensieroso, where the bass song 'Mirth, admit me of thy crew,' is embellished by a brilliant arpeggio accompaniment rising to the top C. This solo, though preserved among the orchestral parts, and occasionally played, is not to be found in the score of the German Handel Society, nor in Arnold's edition of the work; so that, though traditionally referred to Handel, it may be a subsequent addition. [App. p.679 "omit the sentence beginning This solo, though preserved, etc."]
Mozart, even where his score is otherwise limited, hardly ever dispenses with two horns. For these he writes with the most perfect tact and judgment; seldom introducing hand notes, except when their peculiar effect is required. Instances of this can easily be found in any of his symphonies, overtures, or operas. He has moreover written three concertos for orchestra with Horn obbligato, and a large quantity of concerted music such as that named under Clarinet for two horns and the reed instruments. All his compositions are eminently fitted for the hand-horn, of which he had thoroughly studied the capacities.
Beethoven has been especially lavish, though singularly cruel and exacting, in the use of the Horn, for besides the Sonata in F for Horn and Piano, the Sestet, for String quartet and two Horns obbligato which is so difficult as to be never played, and the Septet, which contains a trying passage in triplets for E♭ horn,—
he constantly gives it a prominent place in all his works. The most noticeable of these are the Second Horn solo in the overture to Fidelio, in E, which incidentally demonstrates the error in notation adverted to above.
In the last bar but one there is a jump of a twelfth from treble 6 to baas C; whereas Horn players invariably fulfil the obvious intention of the composer by descending only a fifth, and thus completing the common chord.
The fact is, that the first part of the melody, written in the treble clef, is really played by the E Horn a minor sixth lower than its written symbol, and the bass part a major third higher, thus reaching E in the 8-foot octave. The passage, if literally played, as it would be by an organist, would end on the impossible and hardly musical E of the 16-foot octave. These remarks also apply to the illustrative passage quoted below from the Choral Symphony; the Scena ('Komm Hoffnung') in 'Fidelio' for 3 Horns; and a very florid obbligato to the bass song 'Deign, great Apollo,' in the 'Ruins of Athens,' scored for four horns, two in F and two in C.
In the Eroica Symphony the trio is scored for 3 Horns in E♭, playing on closed notes. In the 4th Symphony two horns in E♭ attack top C pianissimo, and slur down to 6 and below. The slow movement of the Pastoral contains a difficult passage for two horns in thirds, kept up for several bars. In the Vivace of the 7th—near the close—the low note already named (sounding E) is sustained by the second horn for no less than 22 bars without intermission.
The G here given, and which has been shown to be noted an octave too low, really appears to be an outlying harmonic, or fictitious note, not recognised in the ordinary harmonic scale, obtained by a very loose lip and sounding the fifth of the fundamental note, intermediate between that and the first harmonic. To make it a real note, the Horn should begin on 32-foot C, which is impossible for a 16-foot tube, and there ought to be a harmonic third on the second space in the bass clef, which does not exist. Many players cannot produce it at all, and few can make sure of it. The slow movement contains a melodious passage in contrary motion with the Clarinet, and in the scherzo the two move in close harmony with the Bassoons and Clarinets, the second horn commencing the trio with a solo on its low G and F♯ (sounding E and D♯, as at b), the latter a closed note; a phrase which is repeated 17 times with but slight change.
In the minuet of the 8th occurs a long and important duet for two Horns in F, accompanied by the violoncello solo, and beginning as follows:—
imitated by the clarinet, and running into a conversation between the two Horns, who repeat alternately the same notes.
In the Adagio of the 9th, or Choral Symphony, the 4th horn-solo is said to be hardly playable as written for the E♭ crook, without valves, but becomes possible by transposing on to an E♮ horn.
Even these difficulties are surpassed by a bar of fifteen notes closely following the foregoing.
Schubert's great Symphony in C (No. 9) opens with a passage of eight bars for the two horns in unison, and they are used with beautiful effect, with the accompaniment of the strings alone, in the Andante of the same work just before the return to the subject.
No other composer has surpassed or even equalled Weber in his masterly use of this instrument. He evidently loved it above all other voices in the orchestra. Besides abundant concerted music, the effective opening of the Overture to Oberon, the weird notes in that of Der Freischütz, and the lovely obbligato to the Mermaid's song, will rise into immediate remembrance. He fully appreciates its value, not only as a melodic instrument, but as a source, whether alone or blended with other qualities of tone, of strange and new æsthetical effects.
The same, in a somewhat leas marked degree, may be said of Mendelssohn, who makes comparatively less melodic use of the Horn, but very much of its combining and steadying powers. Notable exceptions are however the opening phrase of the Duet and Chorus in the Hymn of Praise, and the Notturno in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' When the latter was first performed in this country, the composer especially desired the copyist to forward the part early to Mr. Platt, who was to play it.
With Rossini, the son of a horn-player, and himself no mean performer on it, a new school may be said to commence. He uses it freely for his bright and taking melodies, whether alone or in pairs; but the old method of Mozart is lost, and valves become essential for the execution of runs, turns, scales with which the part is abundantly strewn. In 'William Tell,' especially a favourite and recurring effect is that of the Horn imitating the Alpenhorn, and echoing among the Swiss mountains. The triplet passages thus allotted it in rapidly shifting keys are to the last degree difficult and treacherous. Rossini's example seems to have been followed by Auber and many more recent composers.
In Brahms's 2nd Symphony (in D, op. 73) the Horns have a very important part, especially in the first Allegro.
Music for the Horn.
Mozart.—Op. 92, First Concerto; op. 105, Second do.; op. 106, Third do.
Weber.—Op. 45, Concertino do.
Kalliwoda.—Op. 51, Introduction and Rondeau.
Ressiger.—Op. 153, Elégie and Rondeau for chromatic horn.
Schumann.—Op. 86, Concerto for 4 horns and orchestra.
Beethoven.—Op. 81b, Sextet for two horns and string Quartet. Op. 17, Sonata, piano and horn.
Himmel.—Op. 18, Grand Sextet for piano, 2 horns and strings.
Mozart.—First divertimento for 2 violins, viola, 2 horns and cello.
Mozart.— Op. 106, Quintet for horn and string Quartet.
Reicha.—Op. 82, Twenty-four Trios for 3 horns. Op. 93, Twelve Trios for 2 horns and cello.
Hummel.—Op. 74, Grand Septet for piano, oboe, horn, flute, viola, cello and contrabasso.
Kalkbrenner.—Op, 13, Septett for piano, 2 violins, 2 horns, tenor and bass.
Schumann.—Op. 70, Adagio and Allegro for piano and horn.
Thalberg.—Op. 7, Grand Divertissement for piano and horn.
Brhams.—Op. 40, Trio for piano, violin, and horn (or cello).See also under Clarinet, Oboe, etc. for concerted pieces.
[ W. H. S. ]
- In English we say 'sound the horn,' 'wind the horn'; Tennyson (Locksley Hall), 'sound upon the bugle horn.'
- Gossec is also said to have introduced the Trombone in his opera, 'The Babines,' in 1773.
- The difficulty of this passage is sometimes met in the orchestra by giving the two low notes (which sound E♭ and B♭ below the bass stave) to one of the other players, so that the sudden transiton of three octaves is not felt, and the low notes obtained with greater clearness.