5 minutes that will make you love the horn

In the past, we chose the five minutes or so we played to make our friends fall in love with classical music, piano, opera, cello, mozart, 21st century composers, violin, baroque music, soprano, Beethoven, flute, string quartets, tenors, Brahms, choral music, percussion, symphonies, Stravinsky, trumpet, Maria Callas, Bach, the organ, mezzo-sopranos, music for dance, wagner and Renaissance music.

Now we want to convince those curious friends to love the soft golden sun of the horn. We hope you will find plenty to discover and enjoy here; leave your favorites in the comments.

The French horn is so versatile. Heroic, romantic, spooky, mysterious – you name it, the horn can do just that. And it’s a sociable instrument: we like to play together. In the third movement of Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 2, the horn is a virtuoso and impassioned hero, which the horns of the orchestra join at the end of the movement for a final fanfare. These last moments always lift my heart and make me proud to be a horn player.

Give me a long quiet note on the horn and I feel like I’ve entered a place of timelessness. It’s an incredibly soothing and supportive sound – the best sonic hug companion. In orchestration lessons, I heard the French horn called “colle”; it dampens and sustains its neighbors in the orchestra like no other instrument. Jonathan Dove’s “Susanna in the Rain” from his “Figures in the Garden” is an absolute comfort. A small set of woodwinds provide a soft crackle of rain, while the horn – first, then both – hovers above. When I listen on the drought-stricken west coast to these fiery melodies, they sound like a nourishing downpour.

The French horn – a rather exotic instrument in the history of jazz – counts among its most creative practitioners Willy Ruff, John Grass, David Amram, Gunther Schuller, John Clark and Chris Komer; I just wrote a piece for Komer and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. But Julius Watkins must always be mentioned, considered by many to be the father of the modern jazz French horn, and a good example of his masterful work — transcribed by Brazilian horn player-composer Victor Prado — is this interesting improvised solo on ‘Phantom’s Blues, recorded with the Quincy Jones Orchestra in 1960.

The horn has that lovely warm, singing sound, which resembles the middle register of the human voice; that’s why it’s so easy to connect to it. The horn is like the cello of the brass section. The violins, trumpet and flute are in a high register, and few people can sing that high, while the register in which the horn plays is accessible to everyone.

I chose the opening of the third movement of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, simply because people generally consider the horn as a hunting instrument. The horn here represents the cry of the human soul, somehow lost in the ocean of a crushing world. In this section, the horn is an individual human voice surrounded by a crazy, dancing universe of other instruments. Mahler was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, so his music is always about the psyche – about an individual and humanity.

Brahms’ mother died early in 1865; later that year he wrote a trio for violin, piano and horn, an instrument he had learned as a child. The result – for which he specified the affably rustic, if difficult to control, valveless horn rather than the new valved variety – is by turns serene, restless, mournful and joyous, the horn evoking throughout walks in nature and an ineffable nostalgia.

The horn, with its soft colors, does not always evoke pure relaxation; it can be royal even in passages of tranquility. Composer William Bolcom uses this lyrical yet powerful quality in passages from his Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano, created in response to Brahms’ famous trio. But in the final movement — which he described as a “resolute march of resistance”, written in the wake of the 2016 election – Bolcom lets the instrument strut its stuff, with a few raspy, pressured notes, bringing it closer to its more jazz-associated cousins ​​in the bass section. brass.

“Ecos oníricos de la Basílica de San Marcos” was written for me by the Argentinian composer José Manuel Serrano. The piece, for soloist and pre-recorded horns, transforms the sound of the horn into ghostly echoes in a cathedral, forcing the player to access a wide range of textures and microtones.

For me, the horn has always been an extension of the voice. My childhood was filled with many long car trips where my mother taught me to sing harmony, as well as choir rehearsals and weekend piano matinees working on hymns or any other songbook. which I could get my hands on. When I first heard the French horn, I wished my voice could produce these sounds, and a love for the instrument was born. Its flexibility freed me from the limitations of my own voice, and this piece is a wonderful space to explore that freedom.

I knew Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s granddaughter, Katy Korngold Hubbard, before I knew his music. Once, driving in the rain, I had to stop on the side of the road because I was incredibly moved by the sublime music on the radio. I did not know the composer. The last movement of the mysterious work – it turned out to be Korngold’s “Much Ado About Nothing” suite – was so joyful and witty, highlighting the horns, that I was transported to a world different. I have become a big Korngold fan. This rarely executed work deserves to be better known.

Deep in the German psyche, the horn is closely associated with the forest – not only in relation to hunting but also with the romantic idea of ​​night, moonlight and starry skies. No piece of music embodies this bond like Schubert’s “Nachtgesang im Walde” (“Night Song in the Forest”), written for a four-part male choir with four horns. This very atypical formation explains why this little masterpiece is a rare guest on concert stages. And yet, what fabulous music it is, with the unmistakable blend of harmonic magic and deep connection to Schubert’s text. Never has the sound of the horn been so grounded and ethereal at the same time.

Conductors and other musicians never seem to care how hard you can blow the horn, but they do care how soft you can play. in fact, your career depends on it. As the instrument’s natural harmonics are very close to each other in the high register, playing pianissimo in this range requires laser focus and surgical precision. Next time you’re at the symphony orchestra, imagine the horn players as darts players, having to throw targets every 20 seconds for 45 minutes. Then imagine the driver standing next to the dart board, silently urging the player to throw each dart as softly as possible, but still demanding that the center of the target be hit every time.

The other side of the coin: it’s incredibly liberating to play tracks where you can just let it rip and rush, as loud as (tastefully) possible, like in this exciting recording of Haydn’s “Hornsignal”. Symphony, performed by natural horn players — no valves! — of the Concentus Musicus Wien.

Deep in Strauss’ last opera, “Capriccio”, comes one of the most magical moments that ever flowed from his pen. A countess must choose between the love of a poet and a composer—between the primacy of words and that of music. She never really makes a selection, but before the final scene, in which she struggles with her fate, Strauss clarifies her own feelings. As evening falls and the moon illuminates the scene, a horn shines in the twilight.

It’s a deeply moving interlude, and it’s a deeply moving narrative, a tribute from a horn player of distinction, Alan Civil, to a colleague who was arguably the greatest of them all: Dennis Brain, the Philharmonia’s solo horn Orchestra, who was killed in a car accident in 1957, two days before the sessions for this first recording of the work.

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