Three Quotes on the Horn in the Nineteenth Century

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One of the things I enjoy is quotations from older sources; they give a window into horn playing and our past from a first person perspective. These three quotations look back at the horn in the nineteenth century from a much closer perspective than we have today.

Our first quote today is from 1925 but about the Beethoven 9 fourth horn solo. There is a long running myth that this solo was written for valve horn (more here) but in short, W.F.H. Blandford realized clearly that some difficult works were in fact written for the natural horn.

[The notion that the difficult fourth horn solo in the Symphony No. 9 of Beethoven was written specifically for performance on the valved horn by E. C. Lewy] involves the supposition that Beethoven, in poor health, practically stone-deaf, full of worries, financial, legal, and otherwise, for some years previously out of touch with orchestras and orchestral players other than his personal friends, should have so far interested himself in a new-comer to Vienna, and a talent that was probably out of his power to appreciate, as to write a special part for him.”

Next we hear from composer Richard Strauss on the valved horn as of 1905. A transition was underway at the writing of his annotations to the treatise on instrumentation by Berlioz (more here) but in short the double horn was not widely used yet and players still made use of crooks on the valved horn (which explains a lot about his notations and frequent use of horn in E).

Horn players now use almost exclusively the horns in E, F, high A and high Bb…. Many horns in different keys are no longer used. Generally, the players of the first and third horns use the horn in high Bb for almost all pieces in flat keys and the horn in high A for all pieces in sharp keys. The players of the second and fourth horns use horns in E and F.

Finally, we hear from the great Leipzig hornist and teacher Friedrich Gumpert (more here) in 1900. He points at a performance reality of the time that shows some of the pressures that led to the development of the double horn.

[Commenting to his former student, German-American hornist Anton Horner] You know, composers like Wagner, and those of today like Strauss and Mahler really require a little motor in the horn to play the parts, and therefore, I retired.

The illustration is of a very early model double horn, described more in this article. I wonder where I can get one of those little motors today? We all could use one sometimes.


W. F. H. Blandford, “Studies on the Horn. III. The Fourth Horn in the ‘Choral Symphony,’” part 2, The Musical Times 66 (February 1, 1925), 128.

Hector Berlioz, Treatise on Instrumentation (New York: Kalmus, 1948), enlarged and revised by Richard Strauss, trans. by Theodore Front, 279-280.

“A Letter From Anton Horner,” reprinted in The Horn Call 23, no. 2 (April, 1993), 93.

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