With being committed to at the least the early horns in the prior posts on my fall recital (here and here) the final goal in selecting horns was to try to pick horns that would allow the smoothest transition in and out of those horns. And I wanted to explore the possibility of using another piston valve horn.
This first horn is a “modern” double horn but it is of a type that pros quit using by roughly the 1970s; this is a Selmer piston valve compensating double that is owned by Arizona State. This instrument is to put it nicely ergonomically challenged and I frankly have trouble working the valves quickly (the direction of the action is hard to manage and there is a lot of “mass” to the valves also) but the high range on this instrument is nice, it plays fairly easily and in tune, it is visually striking, and I thought it would be an interesting color for the Dukas Villanelle. It does sound noticeably different with its very small bore in general and small bell throat.
Playing this horn allows a comparison, what do piston valves feel like compared to rotary valves? It was not a topic I had spent much time thinking about previously. Really, do we have options on horn? It is pretty hard to make a double horn with piston valves. I can say this now with some certainty though; piston valves do as I had been told by tuba players allow an easier legato. It is too bad that piston valves are not overall a viable option on horn because if they were a double horn that was laid out with better ergonomics and piston valves would have potential to be a killer instrument.
Some knowledgeable readers out there (we have a few!) at this point are thinking “wait a minute, shouldn’t Ericson be playing the opening of the Villanelle on natural horn as requested by Dukas?” Well, let’s just say I could play it on natural horn but I have chosen not to. Maybe, if I had a great single horn with pistons (an ascending third valve would be nice) that really matched up with the natural horn, and maybe if it were actually a lecture-recital just on the topic of the Villanelle, but at this point in the flow of the recital I will be ready to play some double horn again and the legato I spoke of in the previous paragraph with the piston valves will be enjoyed. I have a bit more of my thinking on this topic here.
The final horn on the recital for those who have seen me play in recent years will be a surprise. For years I have played pretty large horns and my main go-to horn for about ten years has been a big Paxman 25AND. I made both of my CDs on this horn, etc. It is comfortable to me like an old shoe but at the same time I am trying to gear up for the period instruments on this program and when I switch over to the Paxman after playing those it just feels huge. ASU owns an older production Hoyer (60’s-70’s, made in East Germany during the cold war–“Meister” model, was their top line instrument) that will be the final instrument I use playing Basler (Songs of Praise) and a Schumann song transcription. A fairly low mileage instrument for its age, it seems to match up better to the other horns in terms of how it blows and honestly it is fun to play something different for a change when you feel that it is fundamentally a good horn. I had to make a couple minor changes to the horn to improve ergonomics which I will write about about tomorrow, it takes a European shank mouthpiece (a standard shank mouthpiece does not work well on this vintage of Hoyer, but will work fine on their recent production instruments), and also it took a lot of oil to get the valves to free up (as did the piston valve double horn).
So in short I plan to play on five different horns on this recital. It will be a wild ride for me and I hope an enjoyable view into the story of the horn for the audience.
UPDATE: Actually, four horns, one being a “convertible.” See part IV.