University of Horn Matters: The Horn in the Classical Period

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By the end of the eighteenth century two primary types of natural horns were found in general use, the most common being the orchestral horn. The earliest instruments of this type were seen as early as 1703 but lacked a central tuning slide, which was added to the instrument by the 1760s. This design features terminal crooks, which lie between the mouthpiece and the body of the horn, and can be made in various lengths to place the horn into keys as high as C alto and as low as B-flat basso. An example of this type of instrument is illustrated here, a Viennese Classical horn after Leopold Uhlmann (Vienna, ca. 1830) by Richard Seraphinoff. Photos reproduced with permission.

The other type of natural horn was known as the Cor Solo. This particular model was introduced by the Paris maker Raoux in 1781, but is derived from the German Inventionshorn, introduced in Dresden in the 1750s. This type of horn featured crooks, which were inserted into the middle of the instrument in the manner of tuning slides. These crooks are variously called internal, insert, or sliding crooks, and were normally made in the period to crook the instrument only in the central keys of G, F, E, E-flat, and D. An example of this type of instrument is illustrated here, a French Cor-Solo after A. Halari (Paris, early 19th c.), also from the workshop of Richard Seraphinoff.

This was a great period for the horn. In terms of technical developments, the two major developments of the late Baroque, the division of horn playing by range between high and low horn players and hand horn technique, were fully adopted by players in this period, and while horns did vary in terms of internal dimensions from area, after the adoption of a central tuning slide the overall design of the instrument was set.

Not only were the technique and construction of the horn both fairly stable in this period, but also it is one that would see the horn become firmly established as a standard instrument in the orchestra and also fully take its place as an important solo instrument.

It is also in this period that method books were first published for the horn. In particular the comments found in the method of Heinrich Domnich (1767-1844) are especially important to study today. For a good overview of this topic see “Heinrich Domnich and the Natural Horn” in Horn Articles Online.

While there were many great works for horn composed in the Classical period, the works that tower over all others are the Mozart concertos. As they are very well known in the horn community I would offer these two articles for additional reading and background:

Another composer I like to feature in any look at the Classical solo horn repetiore is Rosetti. He wrote a lot of music for the horn! Haydn wrote some great music as well! Recommended, brief reading:

A final work among many that could be noted in this brief overview would be the Sonata, Op. 17 of Beethoven, which is certainly the first great sonata for the horn and is today the most frequently performed horn sonata from the era. Composed for an April 18, 1800 performance in Vienna with the horn virtuoso Johann Stich (1746-1803, better known under the Italianized name of Giovanni Punto) the work features the horn and piano as equal partners. In terms of technical requirements the work is composed for performance by a low horn player of the time with highly idiomatic arpeggio figures. The “factitious” written low G is also idiomatic (this was not a true note in the harmonic series and would have been obtained by bending the pitch down with the lips from low C; this pitch will center with a clear tonal color), and with a general range that never goes above written g’’ it is a work that is very suited to modern natural horn study.

When we return the topic will be the natural horn in the Romantic period.

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