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A Brief History of Horn Evolution

2. Crooks and Hand Horns

Beginning with the cor de chasse (French for hunting horn), the horn began its evolution into a refined concert hall instrument. From early beginnings in stage settings depicting the hunt, Baroque composers began writing more complex and artistic music for this horn. Yet, the corno da caccia (Italian for hunting horn), was still a single, fixed length of tubing and its musical potential was limited to the natural harmonic series.

The most useful range for melodic writing was in the upper harmonics (the "clarino" range) where the natural harmonics are close together. It was still necessary however to switch horns if a composer wanted the hornist to change keys. The impracticality of this soon led intelligent horn makers in the early 1700s to the invention of the crook.

The crook was simply a section of coiled tubing that, when inserted into the horn would change the overall length of the instrument. Changing the length would also change the pitch (the longer the tube, the lower the pitch), allowing the same entire harmonic series, but now, in a different key. Instead of carrying many instruments in different keys, horn players would only have to carry one horn with a set of crooks of varying lengths.  They could change the key of the instrument simply by inserting a new crook.

Hand horn technique -

It wasn't just the instrument that was evolving though.  The players were getting more clever as well. By 1760 a new technique in playing had firmly caught on that was taking the horn to the next step in its evolution.  The Bohemian virtuoso hornist in the court of Dresden, Anton Hampel (1711-1771) is generally credited with developing and teaching the technique that had been known by some hornists as early as the 1720s.   Quite simple really: by manipulating the right hand inside the bell of the horn, he could play tones other than the natural harmonics, thus filling in the gaps between the notes of the harmonic series.

Coupled with the use of crooks, this new "hand horn" technique opened up exciting new possibilities for musical expression, and composers of the Classical Period eagerly embraced it.

cor solo

The Cor Solo and the Waldhorn were among the first instruments designed for hand horn technique. The Cor Solo was still somewhat limited in its range of keys though, as in the case of the cor solo pictured left - it has attachments for only G, F, E, Eb and D transpositions. The Waldhorn had a similar system - a master crook producing the highest key needed, and optional successive crooks, each adding more tubing, to produce harmonics for lower keys.
wpe9.jpg (6780 bytes) It wasn't until Anton Hampel encouraged a Dresden instrument maker, Johann Werner, to construct a horn with detachable crooks for BOTH the mouthpipe and the middle of the horn that a full range of transpositions was possible on one instrument. The Orchestra horn, as it was called, was honed and perfected between 1750 and 1755.

With the Orchestra horn (pictured left), all transpositions are possible, from Bb basso to Bb alto.  And utilizing hand horn tehcnique, it could now play a full chromatic scale in any key.  The horn was no longer a "special effect," but was firmly established as a refined musical instrument, and had become a regular member of the symphony orchestra (which was also beginning to grow as other instruments were added).

The horn had even become a solo instrument for which Haydn wrote two concertos, and Mozart wrote four.

Hampel was regarded by some as the "father" of the horn as a musical instrument because of his cultivation and teaching of the hand horn technique. A new era of musical artistry blossomed from his contributions. Hampel's most outstanding pupil, Johann Wenzel Stich (1746-1803), also known as Giovanni Punto, became a virtuoso horn soloist of great reputation in Europe. Not only did Punto compose his own original pieces, but he also inspired other composers, such as Mozart and Beethoven, to compose great works for the horn.

omnitonic horn

Although the Orchestra horn was a marked improvement in horn technology, it still had some significant drawbacks. To change keys, the player still had to stop playing and change crooks. And it was cumbersome to carry around all of the necessary crooks. To accommodate these concerns many ideas came about - including an odd instrument that was thought to be the answer.
Omnitonic Horn
by Charles Sax
Brussels, ca. 1824



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