Creativity, Gallay, and the natural horn


When I was working on the review of the new Jeff Agrell book on creativity I was struck by the idea that a lot of horn music we study is written in a way to stifle creativity. For example, one of my own teachers Verne Reynolds wrote difficult etudes, and based on my lessons with him don’t think he was looking for a creative performance of them. He was instead looking for you to pay close attention to every detail he noted in his music and to reproduce it accurately. (See, for example, item #2 in this list).

There is value to learning music in that way, of course. A lot of 20th century music responds well to this type of interpretation, and there are many skills you can hone in treating Kopprasch as exercises instead of as music. But there is also value in creativity of performance.

But what materials can you use to build creativity? One group of etudes that came to mind for me were the non-measured preludes, Op. 27 of Gallay. I describe the historical background of these here, but this time around I was inspired to really look at these with fresh eyes, with a view toward creativity in performance.

To get really understand the works I felt too that I needed to use the natural horn as well. Over time I have realized that one thing that has been lost on a lot of people is that Gallay was the natural horn professor at the Paris Conservatory from 1842 until his death in 1864, and everything he wrote is for natural horn originally. It ups the challenge level of playing the music of course, but if you have the basic natural horn skills it also opens your eyes to what he was looking for as well.

The following is one of the shorter of these, from the original edition which may be found on IMSLP.

In short, Gallay is nothing like Kopprasch, and if you are playing it like Kopprasch at all you are really doing it wrong. Far from being etudes, the non-measured preludes are wonderful, intimate solo works to play on the horn, crying out for a free and very musical approach.

Continuing that thought, why bother with playing Bach cello suites to work on freedom in performance and musicianship skills? Instead, use these preludes and also the Gallay Grand Caprices, Op. 32. For a brief introduction to those, check out this recent video and recording by Anneke Scott:

The majority of my practice the last several weeks has been Gallay on natural horn, which has been a challenge but a great change of pace. You might guess that accuracy is the big technical challenge, but actually intonation has been the biggest challenge. I am finally getting it there with careful mouthpiece and crook choices being very helpful (along with practice!).

In addition to the above works, I have been making use of the second horn etudes, Op. 57, and also the etudes found in his Method, which are included in the free PDF packet described from this article.

Finally, if you have never explored the natural horn but have an interest, do check my E-book Playing Natural Horn Today. It is a practical introductory text for the modern hornist learning to play the natural horn, available here from Horn Notes Edition. This publication was developed with the needs of horn players in mind, and is focused toward introducing the natural horn effectively to players who already play the valved horn and wish to learn the older instrument. You will need a bit of a technical foundation to play Gallay on the natural horn, but music like the non-measured preludes makes it totally worth the effort.

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