View from the Horn Section

By Andrew Clark, horn

Andrew Clark, horn
Andrew Clark, horn

It is rare to find orchestral works from the baroque period that use four horns instead of the usual two. On those instances when it did occur, it was usually to mark a special occasion. It is therefore an honour to be part of the horn quartet in Tafelmusik’s A Joyous Welcome program.

To perform this concert on instruments similar to those used in the eighteenth century, we will be playing horns associated with the “noble sport” of hunting. This was a pursuit (pun intended) practised by the wealthy nobility. The costs were significant: not only did hunting require a stable of horses, but refreshments had to be provided for guests, the right clothes were expected, and horn players needed to be employed to signal the unfolding events to those who followed on foot. The fanfares played had specific meanings, and included: Uncoupling the Hounds, The Running, The Cherish when the Hounds are in Full Cry, Breaking Cover, The Call Back, The Death, and The Retreat from the Field. Composers who wished to ingratiate themselves to particular patrons often wrote compositions that included horns and musical quotations from the hunt as recognition of the patron’s status and ability to sponsor the event. For three centuries these fanfares have formed the basis of idiomatic music for the horn, with examples to be found in works from Bach to Mozart, and from Brahms to John Williams.

Hunting horns were known by various names: in Italian, corno da caccia; in German, Waldhorn; in French, cor de chasse; and in English, French horn. Nowadays we often use the term natural horns to distinguish them from valved horns, which were a nineteenth-century innovation.

Earliest example of an instrument called a French horn, made in London, England in 1699, with an ivory mouthpiece (in the collection of Horniman Museum & Gardens)

Compared to other brass instruments, the horn has one of the largest tube expansions, from the narrowest tube at its beginning to a large bell at the end. Its length is dictated by the key required for the music. For example, in this program, twelve feet are needed for pieces in F, and sixteen feet for pieces in C. Sometimes the length is changed by swapping over a detachable coil of tubing called a crook, but this was a technological improvement that only gradually gained acceptance in the eighteenth century. Prior to that development a separate horn was needed for each key. Both versions will be in use for this program, and the horn section need make no apology for any crooks observed in their ranks!


Join us for A Joyous Welcome from Sept 21-24, 26, 2017. Tickets are available here.

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