University of Horn Matters: The Early Valved Horn

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The years between 1814 and 1850 saw the introduction of the valved horn into music and many changes in horn technique, especially in the areas of the use of crooks, right-hand technique, transposition, and valves. To begin our overview, please skim these three articles in Horn Articles Online:

As is highlighted in the middle link above, a major point that has frequently been made in the existing literature on the early technique of the valved horn in Germany is the idea that the valve was invented only to make quick changes of crook. The available evidence simply does not support this theory, as only a few works dating from the mid-nineteenth century are seen to use this technique. It is abundantly clear that valves were originally seen by Heinrich Stölzel and others as a way to play chromatic passagework not before possible on the horn, and especially as a way to fill in the missing low range pitches of the natural horn without resorting to right-hand technique.

It should also be noted that in general Germany was surprisingly slow to adopt the valved horn into the orchestra. The relative scarcity of orchestral works for the instrument before 1850 is a clear indication of this. For more on this topic please skim these articles:

The slow process of adoption of the valved horn into orchestral music was influenced greatly by three groups of musicians who exhibited differing attitudes toward the valved horn.

The first group were those musicians who fully embraced the valved horn. The performers in this group would include Heinrich Stölzel and others in Berlin, the Lewy family in Vienna and Dresden, Josef Kail in Vienna and Prague, Meifred in Paris, and, later, Franz Strauss in Munich. Early composers and critics in this group would include G. B. Bierey, Friedrich Schneider, B. D. Weber, and Gottfried Weber. Their reasons for adopting or at least advocating the valved horn included its excellent low range and full, even-toned chromatic scale. These factors also led to the rapid introduction of valved brass instruments into contemporary military bands.

The second group were those musicians who tried to “straddle the fence” and wrote music playable by both the valved horn and the natural horn. The only performer examined here who fits into this category is Georg Kopprasch [more on Kopprasch here]. Many composers fit into this category, however, as they tended to be very cautious about the use of the valved horn. Some works, while intended for the valved horn, could also be performed on natural horns, and to an extent, any work written for a horn section which combined valved and natural horns is an example of this type of work. Indeed, many who were ultimately great supporters of the valved horn did not immediately embrace the instrument, including Wagner and Schumann.

The final group were those who rejected the new technology. They were more conservative and established, and undoubtedly included many hornists. The article “K. G. Reissiger on the Valved Horn—1837” in Horn Articles Online gives some clear insights on this topic, as does this article, “Trashing the Valved Horn?,” posted in part in The IHS Online . Some major composers of the period, such as Mendelssohn, never utilized the instrument. Others adopted the valved horn only later, when they were certain that it in fact would be used and when they were also certain that they wanted it to be used.

One major composer to consider is Wagner. The article in Horn Articles Online on the early works of Wagner is actually only the beginning of a longer article. At the time I was building that area of the site initially I partially ran out of gas mentally and also ran into a roadblock as that article was such a huge undertaking for me. While I consider it my best article, the original is full of footnotes and remains not one well suited to breaking up and putting online. One central point of the full article has to do with understanding the crazy notations in Lohengrin. These are examined in quite a bit of depth in the original article. Fortunately, I have a shorter and more easily digested discussion of that topic here in Horn Matters. For more on Wagner please read these two articles:

Finally, one other Horn Matters article I would highly recommend reading on the early valved horn is

as it relates to understanding how players actually were playing these works at the time, works that we perform often today.

When we return next weekend the topic will be the valved horn in the later 19th century.

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