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Thread: Writing for horns

  1. #1
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    Default Writing for horns

    Hi all

    I've been trying to get my head around writing for horns, in terms of range.

    Blatter says you can happily write up to the stratosphere (ok C6 written or higher).

    Rimsky-Korsakov notes the range goes up to a C6, but A-C are "rarely used". He says it's generally regarded that the 7th harmonic is unusable. If C4 is the 4th harmonic that's C7 upwards?

    Nobody seems to talk about the circumstances in which it can be ok or troublesome to use notes in that range.

    I can't find anywhere what the deal is with Bb vs F horns (e.g. in double horns).

    Presumably the Bb horn goes a 4th higher than the F horn? Do players just switch from F to Bb horn when they need to access the upper register? Is the quoted range of the horn a portmanteau of the 2 ranges of the F and Bb horn?

    Nobody seems to talk about the issues with longer held notes, especially chords up high. Nobody except conductors that is, when you show them your score, and they want you to take the horns down a 3rd or so. Are Alfred and Nikolai letting us down?

    I note in some 19C Russian works (OK, Tchaik 5 and Scheherazade) the horn 1 part doesn't exceed a written G5 (that's if you take middle C as being C4). And (maybe significantly) these are short notes, not long held chords.

    I found that it seems to be a bit of a struggle playing up higher, even an F#, and the pitch is likely to wander. This can have very deleterious effects if the note is part of a chord, and worse when held.

    What's the best advice on horn writing that you know of? Is there a good book or paper that covers these additional aspects (other than just range)? I don't want a high note if it sounds bad, or isn't reliable.

    Thanks for any insight here.

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Today, you write for F horn.

    All professionals will have a "double horn" that can switch from F to B-flat so that higher notes are easier to play when using the B-flat side.

    But you do not have to concern yourself about that.

    The player makes the decision about when to press the trigger to switch from F horn to B-flat and vice versa.

    When writing for professional players you can go to high C, but only in loud passages. I personally usually go up to written G (and again for loud spots only) but I wouldn't be afraid to go higher if the musical section demands screaming horns.
    Last edited by Vasks; Jul-11-2021 at 02:07.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    OK thanks - this is helpful.

    So a player when they switch to the Bb side, they will have to start transposing what they are reading? Does anyone ever write 1st horn in Bb? There are also supposedly triple horns with an Eb section on top.

    Is this why there are high and low specialists in horns? They are more used to transposing? Or is it embouchure? Or something else?

    What would be your normal range if you wanted a softer (e.g. mp) tone? I think even G5 will be difficult to play softly.

    What about for held chords - limit of range where pitch is still stable?

    Sorry for so many questions.

    Thanks again.

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrien View Post

    So a player when they switch to the Bb side, they will have to start transposing what they are reading? Does anyone ever write 1st horn in Bb?
    They really are not transposing (the trigger is doing it that) They merely use different fingerings and slightly different embouchure. As I said before, write for F Horn, period.


    Quote Originally Posted by adrien View Post
    Or is it embouchure?
    Yep

    Quote Originally Posted by adrien View Post
    What would be your normal range if you wanted a softer (e.g. mp) tone? I think even G5 will be difficult to play softly. What about for held chords - limit of range where pitch is still stable?
    For both, I think D is about it. But of course, this varies from player to player.
    Last edited by Vasks; Jul-11-2021 at 05:27.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasks View Post
    For both, I think D is about it. But of course, this varies from player to player.
    That's written D5 so concert G4?

    Thanks again

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Written D.

    LOL! When you were mentioning high-low specialist and I replied "embouchure" it brought back a memory. While I play trumpet, I would play French horn in amateur community bands and orchestras when they needed a substitute. Being a trumpeter meant my high range horn playing was a breeze due to my natural embouchure, but low horn notes (written A below middle C and beyond) were very tough. And as bad luck would have it, I was asked once to play Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf". Well, my part had a lot of low D's (a 7th below written middle C) and it was beyond hard for me to nail every one of them.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Thanks again!

    As a trumpeter you might appreciate Jeff Curnow's unique contribution to trumpet.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kKSvk1NMuM
    Last edited by adrien; Jul-11-2021 at 21:42.

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrien View Post
    Thanks, that was hilarious. And you don't have to be a trumpeter to find it funny.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Senior Member Enthalpy's Avatar
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    The only orchestral exception I know to double horns is the Wiener Philharmoniker. They play single horns (and with berliner Pumpen), which makes the high notes less reliable, and they practice for that. Their choice, their problem: the composer shouldn't worry about that one orchestra, to my opinion.

    Single horns were more common during Rimsky-Korsakov time, making him too cautious for present-day possibilities. Charles Koechlin wrote a less old "Traité de l'orchestration" (in French. More?) available on the Web, where the double horn is still rare.

    I expect the high register to make long notes easier, not more difficult, as it uses less air. The difficulty is to achieve the desired note, since the harmonic series gets denser. Climbing in small steps helps. Beware I only played shortly the tuba, not the horn.

    Triple horns are rare, don't rely on them. If some in F/Bb/Eb really existed, it must be rare. F/Bb/F is rare enough

    F or Bb indicates the harmonic series, not the transposition. Presently, you write in F transposition. The horn player does the rest.

    An orchestra horn player told me that some colleagues dislike reading the bass clef. Possibly the players 1&3 who specialize on high notes in the orchestra?

    I suppose that orchestra horn players just get used to higher or lower notes, but that a soloist is expected to master the full range, including in one piece. Or?
    In Brittany, it rains only on idiots.
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