Gottlob Benedikt Bierey: Excited about Valves

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Bruce sent me a link to a very interesting post yesterday from the site Wired.com. The title of the post was “May 3, 1815: Blown Away by Horn With Valves” and it had to do with the first published notice on the valved horn.

The article itself is compiled from “various” sources and I am pretty certain that one of them might be me. The Wired article begins,

1815: A Prussian composer reports a new contrivance. A local chamber musician has modified his brass concert horn, adding valves that allow him to play all the notes in the chromatic scale deftly and with total precision.

Brass instruments were exceedingly limited at the time, and the invention put the concert horn technically on par with the rest of the orchestra. Gottlob Benedikt Bierey of Breslau (now the city of Wrocław, Poland) was bowled over.

In fact, he was so tickled, he wrote about the valves in the local newspaper: “What a new realm of beautiful effects this has opened up to composers!” This was the first public announcement of a valved horn.

To fully appreciate Bierey’s enthusiasm, you have to understand that for a very long time, trumpets were pretty boring.

While from a scholarly perspective you could quibble with elements of the article, on the other hand I really like the more popular angle the author Michael Calore takes and it is worth a read. Because he is correct; Bierey was pretty enthusiastic about the valve, Stoelzel had in fact made the horn completely chromatic! This was really big news and fits in with the theme of their This Day in Tech series at Wired.com. We tend to miss that excitement when reading accounts of events that happened long ago, and besides that it makes the historical context of a lot of the music we play today clearer.

As noted already, I have an article over in Horn Articles Online on “Why Was the Valve Invented?” that I tend to think the author of the Wired article must have referenced. You can be the judge. I have more on the topic there, but in short the journal referenced is Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung for May 3, 1815. Gottlob Benedikt Bierey (1772-1840) was music director of the theater in Breslau, had personally examined Stoelzel’s horn, and gave the invention a very favorable report. This translation of the original article by Bierey is from Kurt Janetzky and Bernhard Brüchle, The Horn, page 73:

Heinrich Stölzel, the chamber musician from Pless in Upper Silesia, in order to perfect the Waldhorn, has succeeded in attaching a simple mechanism to the instrument, thanks to which he has obtained all the notes of the chromatic scale in a range of almost three octaves, with a good, strong and pure tone. All the artificial notes–which, as is well known, were previously produced by stopping the bell with the right hand, and can now be produced merely with two levers, controlled by two fingers of the right hand–are identical in sound to the natural notes and thus preserve the character of the Waldhorn. Any Waldhorn-player will, with practice, be able to play on it. …

I have become convinced of this mechanism and its usability and declare, as a matter of both my insight and the truth, that its use imparts to the Waldhorn a perfection not hitherto attained, and produces an effect in full-voiced music not previously known.

… What a new realm of beautiful effects this has opened up to composers!

Indeed! It took the world of music a while to catch on to the potentials of the new brass instruments but Bierey was pretty excited about the valve back in May of 1815.

UPDATE: I now see that the Wired article has links to two of my articles in Horn Articles Online. Thank you for the links!

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