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Writing For Natural (And Valved) Horn Is Pure Torture

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I do it out of necessity, but it is horrible. And embarrassing, considering my father was/is a horn player.

 

Anyway, I write mostly for natural horn as I prefer its sound to that of modern horns. I also score for the horn as though I am an 18th century composer. If the work is in A Major, than the Horns are in A. If the key is E-flat Major, the horns are in E-flat. If G, than they are in G, and so on and so forth. (As though they use crooks.)

 

However, there are a plethora of issues that arise:

 

What notes specifically can it play- what is the harmonic series? That is, what pitches and/or scale degrees are actually playable on the horn of Mozart's and Beethoven's day?

Also, what is the range- how low can it go. I've seen bass clef notation in Beethoven (the first bars of the 7th symphony for example) and Wagner (to my knowledge he wrote for natural horns- most scores of his operas give horns more keys other than "F")

 

This is driving me insane and has really sapped my desire to write lately as I'm not entirely sure I like what I have for horns in some of my works. I suppose I could scrap it and just boot the horns out of my works (which I'm not OK with, but I'm even less OK with not writing for a few days). I want to go into filling in their parts with clear knowledge of what they can and cannot do.

 

Disclaimer: I REFUSE to write for valved horns unless the work itself requires it in my estimation. But I will always prefer the sound of the natural horn, particularly in works where the winds and strings carry the majority of the work. What can I say, I am not a huge fan of the brass section.

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Who the heck actually prefers the natural horn to the modern horn? For what possible reason?

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Who the heck actually prefers the natural horn to the modern horn? For what possible reason?

 

Hipsters.

 

OP, does anyone actually perform your work (except Finale)?

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I didn't know there was a natural vs modern horn until now (I apparently missed that chapter in my orchestration book). However, I imagine your preference is like if someone were to prefer scoring for classical trumpet vs. modern trumpet with valves. That is to say, it's weird and obsolete so what reason on God's green (and blue... and brown) earth could you have for this!? And why would you say you prefer it if you don't even know how to compose for it!? Do they even still exist? If they do, is there anyone who will play it? What's the point? If you get your stuff performed, won't they just put a modern horn player on it instead? Assuming they bother to do the work of transposing the part for him/her, in which case why don't you just score it for modern horn to begin with? I'm not trying to condemn you (maybe a little), but be reasonable. Why so much hate for the valve horn? Why not a fan of brass? So many questions...

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I prefer to only write for rocks being hit with sticks. Those newfangled boneflutes are an abomination!

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Who the heck actually prefers the natural horn to the modern horn? For what possible reason?

 

Well, they are different instruments. They sound different, are played differently, etc. Compare a recording of Beethoven's Eroica on the original instruments (or reproductions), e.g. that by the Academy of Ancient Music, to one by a modern orchestra—you should notice a pretty big difference.

 

I see no reason not to write music for the natural horn, or the theorbo, viola da gamba, crumhorn, vuvuzela, etc.—so long as the music is suited to the character of the instrument, rather than just being valve horn music awkwardly rewritten to fit the range of the older instrument. Of course I am generally wary of those who write music in historical styles anyway as it seems that rarely do they bring any new insights across the gulf of centuries to the particular historical period(s) of their specialty (with some exceptions—especially George Rochberg, and to a certain extent Valentin Silvestrov).

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I happen to be a Horn Player and can play both Natural and Valved Horn. It isn't exactly simple, as you clearly have found out. Unless you find a period orchestra, it is generally not going to be played on natural horn. In Paul Dukas Villanelle, he calls for natural horn in the beggining section, though I have only found one (amatuer) horn player actually utilize a natural horn for the opening.

That being said, the harmonic series ends up manifesting itself differently for every crook, and that some keys favor high notes and others favor high notes. There were conventional crooks in a low Bb, a low C, D, Eb, E, F, G, Ab, higher Bb, and higher C. The other keys are fairly rare but could be obtained by adding a piece of lengthening. A and B are supposedly reachable in both octaves.

For simplicity I'll speak in notated pitch, not concert pitch since the crooks greatly vary the potential pitch range.

The open notes with best quality in the treble clef are usually (in rising order starting around C two ledger lines below treble) C, E, G, Bb, C, D, E, G, G#, Bb, B, C and in some lower keyed horns, E and D above that (there are several more than can be hit but will ultimately sound out of tune unless under specific circumstances like Gb above the stave which is extremely flat). I would suggest using notes notated above the treble clef sparingly due to endurance and pitch issues, this becomes increasingly true as the pitch of the crook rises. In keys higher than F, The G above the stave is the highest note, except for high C, whose highest note is E. G and F below the treble Stave are also possible and used with frequency. They are rarely notated in Bass clef.

In the bass clef, the notes become farther apart and harder to hit with accuracy and clean articulation. It usually used just for sustained chords in the lower horn parts if they go really low. There is a gap in the range that can't be reached by stopped hand technique between treble and bass clef, so the highest note is C (notated three ledger lines below bass clef. Yes this is a strange convention of the era) and the G below that, and it is possible to move chromatically down descending but this is difficult in Horns other than E, Eb, and F. Lower notes are possible but typically aren't practical.

A good horn player can play chromatically from C two ledger lines belowthe treble, or maybe even the G below, if they are excellent at stopped hand technique, but the sound quality will be quite bad on quite a few notes. In ascending order B below 2 ledger C, Eb, F# to a lesser extent, A, B, C#, Eb, F, F# to a lesser extent, Ab, and A to a lesser extent are the good stopped tones that sound nice.

Wagner mostly wrote parts that were possible on Natural Horn, but are almost always played Valved Horn or Wagner Tuba.

Edited by Jonahman10

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