What is an Authentic Sound?

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In late September I will be playing a recital on several different period horns. I will be posting on those in the coming weeks but would first like to step back and begin with a comparison of a few important construction details of the modern horn and the hand horn that relate to the bigger picture of how to achieve an authentic, period sound.

In short modern horns and natural horns are different in significant ways other than lacking valves, and to get a realistic view of the scale of the differences you need a fairly authentic natural horn and mouthpiece. I would point to four factors to consider.

First, mouthpieces in the period were normally made of sheet metal formed over a mandrel and were quite deep. Modern mouthpieces by comparison are turned from a brass blank on a lathe and are shallow. If you hold the two types in your hand it is really easy to see and feel the differences and with the ear they are easy to hear. For more on the topic see this excellent article by Richard Seraphinoff, which is also the source of this photo. But in short the tone is different (softer/less edge) and the pitch is more flexible.

Second, we have the topic of overall bore in the central, cylindrical part of the horn. On a modern double horn this will measure .468 inch or more. On a period natural horn the bore is closer to .440 inch. This smaller bore has an impact on tonal color and overall volume.

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Third, we come to the bell throat. French instruments of the period featured a relatively small bell throat, German had a relatively large bell throat, and all modern horns are bigger still. Smaller bells are easier to manage in terms of hand horn technique. This illustration is from the Gallay method and is of an instrument of the French school.

Fourth, the hand horn is made in such a way as to be somewhat looser in the harmonics. While useful for trills this is especially helpful when bending pitches for intonation purposes; there is room to bend pitches to conform to where the ear knows they have to be.

In conclusion, horn and mouthpiece complement each other as a total package. A truly “authentic sound” probably cannot be achieved with an authentic horn and an inauthentic mouthpiece and if you are using a modern mouthpiece on a period horn this is something to be aware of to try to find a compromise mouthpiece that plays as you feel you need but gets close to the authentic sound you would aspire to. More on the natural horn may be found here.

I will be making a few compromises on the recital but hopefully getting close to the goal of authenticity; I will have more on that in upcoming posts over the next few weeks.

UPDATE: Continue to Horns on the Recital I

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