Before Farkas: Anton Horner on Tonguing


Kendall Betts in a recent post to the “Ask the Pros” section of the IHS website pointed out a great quotation on tonguing from Anton Horner from 1939. First, the quote:

Attack each note with your tongue as though you had a small hair or tiny piece of thread on the end of your tongue and wanted to force it out of your mouth.

Think about that for a second. Then think about how Farkas described tonguing. Rather different, in fact just about as different as you could ever come up with. Horner (1877-1971) was a great player and teacher, for many years principal hornist of the Philadelphia orchestra. What he is suggesting is a totally valid approach to tonguing.

Kendall Betts was answering a question about tonguing. Please read the whole thing, but this excerpt gives you the heart of his answer:

Your memory is correct in regard to tonguing the shortest notes by “spitting” i.e. hitting your upper lip and the bottom of the front teeth simultaneously. I was taught this by my teacher in high school, Ward Fearn, second horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra with James Chambers and Mason Jones from 1942-1965. I believe this technique was taught to all students at Curtis by Anton Horner and was certainly passed on by them to their students. Mr. Jones never mentioned it, though perhaps he didn’t have to in my case since I had previously learned it from Mr. Fearn before I entered Curtis.

On page 4 of Primary Studies for the French Horn before study No. 1, Mr. Horner writes: “Attack each note with your tongue as though you had a small hair or tiny piece of thread on the end of your tongue and wanted to force it out of your mouth.” I think we can take this as verification of Mr. Horner’s thoughts on the subject. I recall Mr. Fearn saying that the reason for doing this is to achieve the shortest possible notes in order to match the other instruments due to the fact the horn bell goes backwards and the sound is altered by the acoustics of the space. He also said that conductors are always yelling at players to play shorter and that they are late. Through my own use of the technique and teaching it now for some 40 plus years, I can safely say that it works.

There is a bigger question that is one you could ponder all day, why did Farkas present an approach that is so different than this in The Art of French Horn Playing? And also why has this opposite approach, clearly endorsed by very successful players, received so little press? I don’t have the answers on that but do try the approach recommended by Horner as it does work.

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Also, do check out all the “Ask the Pros” answers by Kendall Betts, this is a great corner of the IHS website. And while you are there, joint the IHS! It is a great organization.

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