The Classical Horn
By Derek Conrod
Horn by John Webb after Franz Stohr in the instrument collection of the Royal Academy of Music.
The horn of the classical period traces its roots to the French hunting horn of the seventeenth century. Compared to the horns of today, Mozart’s horns were smaller in bore (inner diameter of the tubing), and lacked the valves which were introduced in the early 1800s. As with all brass instruments, the hornist initiates the sound by blowing air through compressed lips, causing them to vibrate much like vocal cords. A series of notes can be produced “simply” by varying the tension of the lips and speed of the airstream. For any specific length of tubing the series of notes that can be produced in this way is quite restricted. A specific length of tube produces notes suited to a specific key — to change keys the player must change the length of tubing by adding or removing various bits of tubing (called crooks) between the mouthpiece and the main body of the horn. There are also gaps in the scale within each key (e.g. if you try to play “do-re-mi-fa-etc., “re” and/or “mi” might be missing). In the baroque era, composers simply avoided the missing notes. Around 1750, players started placing a hand in the bell of the horn — by covering the opening to various degrees, one can bend the pitch downwards, thereby producing some of the “missing” notes. This produces a more muffled or brassy sound, giving the classical horn one of its most distinctive and treasured characteristics: the juxtaposition of muted and open notes.
Derek Conrod played horn in Tafelmusik for 30 years before retiring in 2015. He has taught many of the horn players you see on the Tafelmusik stage, including horn soloist Scott Wevers in The Hunt: Mozart & Haydn.
is playing on a horn made by John Webb in England in 2000. It is modelled after an original horn by the Bohemian maker Franz Stohr that is housed in the Prague Museum. It has crooks in C alto, B-flat alto, F, and E-flat, as well as four number couplers which when used in combination with the crooks allows the player to play in any tonality.