On Choosing the Right Natural Horn and Mouthpiece

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This year on my annual recital one work will again be on natural horn. Between my personal instruments and Arizona State I have access to three different natural horns. The work I am performing is in D and those three instruments can be crooked in D at least eight different ways. On top of that I have dozens of mouthpieces that could possibly make sense to use. How do I sort it out?

For me when I am looking at one work on natural horn on an otherwise modern horn recital I tend in the end to focus on articulations on just a few key notes. In my case, the most important key note is the written g at the top of the staff.

Why this note? Because it can have a very pronounced “roll” on some of the horn setups, and it is a critical note for the work in question, Mozart Concerto No. 1, which I am performing with the “alternate” second movement. (For more on that concerto in general see this article.)

Of the horns, the big Seraphinoff horn was my choice in 2010, the reasons for which I describe further in this article. However, this year with the horn in D it had the worst roll on the top g.

Part of the game and fun of this is searching out the mouthpiece as that also impacts the target note. Thus, as I write this I am right on the fence between these combinations: the McCracken owned by ASU with a Stork M-8 mouthpiece, and the horn in this photo, the horn I made from a vintage French mellophone when I was a Doctoral student with the help of Richard Seraphinoff. It I am playing presently with a mouthpiece recently acquired that is a Moosewood #8 bore. I would give the McCracken the slight edge now but I am more comfortable on the Moosewood mouthpiece – which does not work as well on the McCracken due to some magic of the combination of horn and mouthpiece.

This discussion actually totally relates to testing horns and mouthpieces in general. You end up picking a few target notes or phrases of music and testing them across your options. It is the only way to keep sane with the variety of options in front of you.

Putting natural horn on this recital has been fun — it is fun to practice (and to learn the “alternate” movement–read more about it in this article) and I believe it will also be an enjoyable part of the variety of the concert for the audience.

Finally, at the risk of shameless self promotion, among my recent publications I have out a natural horn E book that in spite of the rather focused and small market there must be for E-books on the natural horn has been selling fairly steadily (thank you!). For more on this book and a brief video see Playing Natural Horn Today, a new E-Book.

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