Friday, 24 March 2017

Information on period mouthpieces


We have a number of sources of information about mouthpieces from earlier periods. Here's some of them:


Louis François Dauprat Méthode de Cor-alto et Cor-basse (Paris, Zetter et Cie, 1824, pp. 11 - 12).


Dauprat recounts that there are two types of very different mouthpieces; ones for the cor alto (high horn) players which should "facilitate the execution of very high notes" ("doit faciliter l'exécution des sons très aigus") whilst they must still be "wide enough to allow the lowest notes to sound fully and sonorously" ("doit être assez large pour permettre de fair entendre, pleins et sonores, les sons graves de son étendue"). For the cor bass (low horn) he recommends a mouthpiece which facilitates the very low ("des sons très graves.") whilst at the same time it must be "narrow enough to facilitate the sounding of its own highest notes" ("doit être étroite pour faciliter l'émission des sons aigus qui lui sont propres.")

Dauprat warns that mouthpieces which are too small give "a feeble and mediocre sound" ("Une embouchure trop petite donne un son faible et d'une qualité médiocre.") whilst those that are too large give the opposite effect ("C'est précisement le contraire avec l'embouchure trop large, dont on a signalé l'inconvénient.").

Dauprat also suggests that the edge of a mouthpiece should be "slightly rounded" as "flat edges, interior or exterior, offer a cutting edge that can harm the lips" ("il est à propos que le bord soit légèrement arrondi: les bords plats offrent, à l'interieur comme à l'extérieur, une ligne coupante qui peut offenser les lèvres.").

Amusingly Dauprat admits that it can be hard for students of the horn to know which genre (i.e. cor alto or cor basse) to choose and that "reluctance or indifference about this is entirely natural" ("son hésitation, ou son indifférence à ce sujet est très naturelle.") and recommends that the decision should simply be made for the student by the teacher.

Echoing teachers throughout the centuries Dauprat warns the student to not loose their mouthpiece as "the loss of the mouthpiece to which one is accustomed is almost irreparable" ("mai la perte de l'embouchure à laquelle on est accoutumé est presqu'irréparable").





Dauprat
Cor Alto
Cor Basse
Overall length: A to B
2 1/2 pouces [67.68 mm]
2 1/2 pouces [67.68 mm]
Exterior diameter of the rim: C to D
10 lignes [22.56 mm]
11 lignes [24.816 mm]
Interior diameter of the rim, from the point at which the rim is soldered to the cup: E to F
7 1/2 lignes [16.92 mm]
8 1/4 lignes [19.176 mm]
Width of the rim from interior to exterior: O
1 1/4 lignes [2.82 mm]
1 1/2 lignes [3.384 mm]

Exterior diameter of the end of the stem: I to K
2 1/2 lignes [5.64 mm]
3 lignes [6.768 mm]

Interior diameter: S
2 lignes [4.512 mm]
2 1/2 lignes [5.64 mm]
The information here is taken from Viola Roth’s translation of the Dauprat Méthode (Birdalone Music, Bloomington Indiana, 1994) and which uses information from Arthur E. Kenneley, Vestiges of Pre-metric Weights and Measures (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1928, p. 49).


Read more of Dauprat's Méthode de Cor-alto et Cor-basse here.



* * * * * * *

Heinrich Domnich Méthode de premier et de second cor (Paris: Imprimerie du Conservatoire de Musique, 1808, p. 8).

Dominich warns us that it is "impossible for one individual to go from the lowest to the highest notes on the horn with one mouthpiece and that it is impossible to use mouthpieces of two different diameters one after the other" ("J'ai dit qu'il était impossible au même individu de parcourir, du grave à l'aigu, toutes les notes du Cor avec une seule embouchure; il lui est également impossible d'employer tour-à-tour deux embouchures de different diamètres."). Therefore he, like Dauprat, suggests two different mouthpieces, one for "first horn" players (cor alto) and one for "second horn" players (cor basse). Interestingly, he suggests that the intermediate notes played by the "cor mixte" players could use either mouthpiece ("Les sons intermédiaires, qui constituent ce qu'on appèle le médium, appartiennent également aux deux genres.").

Dominch also raises the theory as to whether having a certain type of lip (thin or thick) has any bearing on a horn player being a high or low horn player. "It is generally received opinion that thin, flat lips are better for the First horn, and thick protruding lips have more ability as a Second horn" ("C'est une opinion assez généralement reçue que les lèvres minces et applies conviennent mieux au premier Cor, et que les lèvres épaisses et saillantes ont plus d'aptitude au second Cor."). Dominich rejects this idea ("Cette idée est dénué de fondement.") and suggests that the mouthpiece has more bearing than the profile of the horn players lips ("Les deux genres ne diffèrent que par l'embouchure qui, plus étroite pour le premier, aide à monter vers les notes élevées; plus ouverte pour le second, favorise la formation des sons graves.").






Domnich
First horn
Second horn
Diameter of the exterior from one outside edge to the other. 
21 mm
24 mm
Diameter of the internal apature
18 mm
20 mm
Width of the inner edge to the outer
1.5 mm
2 mm

Inner diameter of the tip of the stem
4 mm
4 mm

Total length of the mouthpiece
7.1 cm
7.1 cm
These dimensions are based on measurements of the illustrations in Domnich's Méthode which he states are "true dimensions". They appear to be so given that they are similar to other measurements of the time but, of course, we should be relatively cautious taking measurements from a picture. 



Read more of Domnich's Méthode de premier et de second cor here.



* * * * * * *

Frédéric Duvernoy Méthode pour le cor (Paris: Imprimerie du Conservatoire de Musique, 1802. pp. 2 - 3).

Duvernoy, again, informs the reader that there are two genres of horn playing: the first (cor alto) that plays the high notes, and the second (cor basse) that plays lower notes. Similarly he says that the differences between the two genres are also seen in their corresponding mouthpieces and that a student who wishes to play one or other of the genres should choose an appropriate mouthpiece.

Duvernoy says that it's not necessary to "scrupulously adhere to the widths [he] specifies" ("il ne faut pas s'en tenir scrupuleusement à la largeur que j'indique") as we have "more or less lips" ("nous avons les lèvres plus ou moins grosses") and we "should search for suitable and proportional widths that suits the disposition of our lips whilst always hearing to the rule of the two genres" ("il faut chercher une largeur convenable est proportionnée à la dispotion de notre bouche, en se confront toujours à la règle des deux genres").




Read more of Duvernoy's Méthode pour le cor here.


* * * * * * *


Jacques-François Gallay Méthode pour le cor (Paris, Schoenberger, c.1845. p 6).


Gallay advises that the first thing any student of the horn should consider is a mouthpiece that is proportional, both in its aperture and in its width of rim to the shape and thickness of the student's lips ("Le premier soin de la personne qui se destine à l'étude du Cor, doit être de choisir une embouchure proportionnée à la forme et à l'épaisseur de ses lèvres, tant par son overture que par la largeur de son bord").

He warns that one mouthpiece cannot be used exclusively by everyone and suggests two types of mouthpieces ("Comme un modèle unique d'embouchure ne peut pas servir exclusivement de type, ses proportions vpuvant varier à l'infini, selon la conformation des individus, je crois utile d'en donner deux et d'y joindre les remarques que j'ai été à même de faire à ces sujet ; elles serviront de guide à l'élève qui pourra choisir entre l'une ou l'autre ou sans modifications.")

Gallay finds that small mouthpieces are more appropriate for thin lips whilst thicker lips require a larger mouthpiece ("J'ai très souvent reconnu qu'une petite embouchure convenait aux lèvres minces, tandis qu'au contraire des lèvres épaisses exigent une embouchure de plus grande dimension.").

Whilst the illustration only shows one model (Modèle No. 1) he includes a table with the dimensions of both. No. 1 is aimed at those with thinner lips whilst No. 2 is aimed at those with thicker lips and has the advantage of giving a better quality of sound and can cover the full range of the instrument with greater ease ("Le model No. 1 est par conséquent destiné aux premières ; quant aux autres elles trouveront dans le model No.2 dont le diamètre est plus grand, le double avantage d'obtenir une meilleure qualité de son et de parcourir toute l'étendue de l'instrument avec plus de facilité.").

Gallay also advises that the student's speed of progress can be affected one way or another by the choice of mouthpiece and emphasises that the right choice is very important and that these points should be brought to the most scrupulous attention of the teacher ("Les progrès plus ou moins rapides d'un élève pouvant quelquefois dépendre de l'embouchure qu'il a adoptée, le choix en est très important et je crois devoir appeler sur ce point l'attention la plus scrupuleuse du professeur.").


Gallay
Model no. 1
Model no. 2
Diameter of the exterior from one outside edge to the other. 
21.5 mm
25.5 mm
Diameter of the internal apature
16.5 mm
18.5 mm
Width of the inner edge to the outer
2.5 mm
2.5 mm
Inner diameter of the tip of the stem
7 mm
7 mm
Total length of the mouthpiece
7.2 cm
7.2 cm


Read more of Gallay's Méthode pour le Cor here.


* * * * * * *


Georges Kastner Méthode Elémentaire pour le Cor (Paris, Troupenas & Cie, 1844, p.10). 


Kastner advises that "there is no one unvarying model of mouthpiece; one must seek the size which is best suited to the shape of the mouth; experience has shown that thick lips need a mouthpiece a bit wider and thin lips, on the contrary, are better with a smaller mouthpiece; but these nuances are always subordinate to the main principal which is that the second horn should have a wide mouthpiece than the first" ("Il n’y a point de modèles invariable d’embouchure; on doit chercher la grandeur qui convient le mieux à la conformation de la bouche; l’expérience a démontré que les grosses lèvres ont besoin d’une embouchure un peu large et que les lèvres minces, au contraire, s’arrangent mieux d’une petite embouchure; mais ces nuances restent toujours subordonnées à la proportion principale, qui veut pour le second Cor, une embouchure plus large que pour le premier.")

Where Kastner differs from other writers is in his suggestion that the mouthpiece is placed one third on the upper lip and two thirds on the lower lip ("Les lèvres étant bien jointes, vous y appliquez l’embouchure en pressant légèrement, vers le milieu de la bouche, et de façon qu’elle porte pour un tiers à peu près sur la lèvre supérieure et pour deux tiers sur la lèvres inférieure.") whilst most authorities suggest two thirds on the upper and one third on the lower.





* * * * * * *


A. Tosoroni Metodo per Corno a 3 pistoni (Milan, Lucca, after 1840, p. 1).

Tosoroni goes to some lengths to show the dimensions of the horn mouthpiece including a diagram of the inside of the mouthpiece.

"The mouthpiece must have the form that you saw in the aforementioned design (below), which alone provides the means to get the notes, both high and low, with equal ease."
"l bocchino deve aver la forma che vedevi nel sopraccennato disegno, la quale sola offre il mezzo di ottenere con pari facilità i suoni sia gravi che acuti."

The mouthpiece should finally rest in the centre of the upper lip, leaving the lower almost free.
"Avversati finalmente che il bocchino deve poggiare sul centro del labbro superiore, lasciando   quasi libero l’inferiore."

A. Internal silhouette of mouthpiece
A. Sagoma interna del Bocchino

B. External silhouette of the mouthpiece.
B. Sagoma externa del Bocchino.

C. Edge of the rim of the mouthpiece
C. Bordura de labbro superior del Bocchino

D. Lower edge of the mouthpiece.
D. Estremista inferire del Bocchino


The rim of the Mouthpiece (letter C) should be smoothed out so it rounds inside.
La Bordura del Bocchino lettera C deve essere smussata rotondamente tanto in fuori che in dentro.



Period mouthpieces - some thoughts

Unforgivable behaviour


I was told a very bad joke many years ago. Curiously enough it was told to me by a baroque oboe player who I would have thought would know better.

It is a quiet night in a quiet bar. There are four men sitting at the bar.

The first man turns to the second and asks: 
"Kind sir, may I ask if you happen to know your IQ level?"
The second replies"
"Why yes, you may ask, and I may tell you that I have an IQ level of 178. May I enquire the same of your good self?"
The former replies:
"Aha, I thought as much. Yes, I myself have an IQ level of 174. Would you care to join me in a discussion of the finer points of Schopenhauer and his thoughts on The Upanishads as we while away the hours?".
"By all means..."
The two other men observe this dialogue. One turns to the other
"How about you? Any idea what your IQ level is?"
"Yeah, scraping somewhere in the 80s, you?"
"Yup, similar. Want to talk about mouthpieces?"

 I think all the scraping of those reeds had got to this chap.


---------------------------------------

Funnily enough, in many circles, talking about mouthpieces is considered unforgivable behaviour. Either it's seen as really way too geeky. Or its seen as conversation matter only to be fallen back on when you've run out of anything else to speak about. Or, occasionally, it's seen as a little intrusive - that to ask about someones mouthpiece is almost like asking something rather too personal - perhaps it's seen as a judgemental to ask?

Many people come to play the natural horn, and period horns in general, from a background of playing the modern French horn. As a result many people find it useful to use the same mouthpiece for both instruments. Our lips are very sensitive to small changes in dimensions of mouthpieces and it's common for players to find it more comfortable to have, at least, the same rim on their lips as they change from one instrument to another and therefore often stay on the same mouthpiece.

To my mind, whilst I understand this rationale, I think that taking this approach ultimately undermines playing the natural horn. The mouthpiece is integral to the way an instrument operates - to use a modern mouthpiece feels akin to a violinist getting a baroque violin, with equal tension gut strings, and then using a modern bow. Why bother to use a natural horn and stick a modern mouthpiece in it?



Of course, there are different strokes for different folks - ultimately people want to get different things out of their natural horn playing. And indeed some natural horn makers are building instruments today which are designed specifically to be as close to the experience of playing the modern horn - so to use a period style mouthpiece with these instruments would be redundant.


To my mind using period mouthpieces have helped me gain more flexibility and nuance in my natural horn playing. Certain things like being able to bend notes (top As for example) seem to be easier, and I find that I can use a wider range of articulation.


Period mouthpieces tend to be more tiring at first due to them being generally smaller than most modern players are used to and due to their thinner, flatter rims. The illustration further below of the measurements of Gebr. Alexander mouthpieces in 2007 has 24.5 mm as the minimum diameter for the outer rim whilst many period mouthpieces are around 22 mm. Also period mouthpieces tend to feel less "notchy" than modern mouthpieces, everything seems a bit "wider" which is has advantages (more flexibility) and disadvantages (more tiring, more hard work).








Illustration taken from Reginald Morley-Pegge The French Horn: Some Notes on the Evolution of the Instrument and of its Technique (London, Ernst Benn Limited, 1960, p.102)

In general the difference is that period mouthpieces are more funnel shaped whilst modern mouthpieces have more of a "neck" and can be more cup shaped.

Illustration of modern mouthpieces taken from Gebr. Alexander 2007 Catalogue 

For further information on how mouthpieces and how they work I would recommend John and Phyllis Stork's Understanding the mouthpiece (Vuarmaren, Bim, 1989). Whilst written from the point of view of trumpet mouthpieces it contains a lot of valuable information about the variables and parameters of mouthpiece design.

My approach to mouthpieces

I remember finding it very difficult to "get into" using period mouthpieces.

For starters it was pretty tricky to get hold of them, and expensive as well. It felt like one could spend a lot of money on getting something at the risk of it not "suiting" me. Probably typical for any professional brass player I now have a box FULL of mouthpieces which means I've got several options open to me.



My first step was I got a PHC (Paxman/Halstead/Chidell) model 30 with a screw rim. PHC describe the model 30 as a "Very deep Viennese-style funnel cup"so this was as close to a period mouthpiece as I could get from my local horn shop (Paxmans). I also got a thinnish rim, the thinking being that as it was a detachable rim I could experiment.

A while later I was lent a Tom Greer/Moosewood LGC (a copy of a Courtois mouthpiece belonging to Lowell Greer). I liked this mouthpiece so ordered one again with a detachable rim made with a PHC, so if I didn't like it, or wanted to tinker further I could. NB! Before anyone goes hunting - these mouthpieces aren't currently available.

This mouthpiece worked brilliantly on my Jungwirth Lausmann copy but when I later got an original Marcel Auguste Raoux it was frustrating as the instrument and this mouthpiece really didn't work well together. Again, it was a chance conversation with a colleague who had a mouthpiece from Olifant that she wasn't using that brought their mouthpieces to my attention. This was what they now call their “Jean Joseph Rodolphe” model and it tends to be my most frequently used mouthpiece. NB! The Olifant website seems to hide the existence of these mouthpieces, it's easier just to email them about them rather than try and find the information on their website.

I also have a couple of original mouthpieces which I use. The best ones of these were bought in a job lot at an auction - I ended up with gazillions of old trompe de chasse mouthpieces, one bright purple plastic modern mouthpiece but two really good originals. If anyone wants to buy a trompe de chasse mouthpiece...



Also circulating in my "bag of tricks" is the big, flat HBJ-3 baroque mouthpiece by Egger, the Winkings model by Seraphinoff, the Olifant "Gallay" mouthpiece and a couple of mouthpieces by Geert van der Heide. All their details and many more can be found on this blog.

Period mouthpieces tend to have slim stems and tend to be slimmer than the lead pipe on many natural horns. Whilst they are almost always too slender for modern natural horn copies they don't don't always fit originals either. There are three solutions:

  • Some mouthpiece makers (for example Egger) make a little metal adaptor (Egger call it an "adapter for baroque shank" or a "tuning bit"). 
  • Cheaper alternative (but a bit fiddly) is copy woodwind players and use thin thread to wrap around the end of the mouthpiece.
  • Stil cheap but more flexible is to use PTFE tape. Wonderful stuff, and useful to have to hand in general!

I tend to use different mouthpieces for many of my horns, it would be nonsensical to think that one mouthpiece could work with all of them. So I use different mouthpieces depending on the instrument, the repertoire, the range, the ensemble size and sometimes also depending on the hall.


To my mind swapping mouthpieces does not make things more confusing but instead I find that the physical differences between them concentrate my mind and my playing as to the instrument I have in my hands. My suspicion is that if I was to use the same mouthpiece for all my instruments would I not be lulled into approaching my playing of these instruments all in the same way?

Period mouthpiece makers active today



Currently there are two approaches to making period mouthpieces; either to construct them in the original method using a layer of sheet brass or sheet silver, or to turn the mouthpiece out of a piece of solid brass.

Richard Seraphinoff wrote an article on the original methods of making mouthpieces for the Historic Brass Society (Historic Brass Society Journal Volume 1, Issue 1, 1989) which is reproduced on the HBS website here.


Egger (Switzerland).

  • HBJ-3 - Original in the museum Carolino Augusteum Museum, Salzburg.
  • HBE-7
  • HKB-9, Classical mouthpiece made of sheet metal - original in the Basel Museum.


* * * * * * *

Patrick Fraize (France).

Copies, either turned metal or sterling silver made in the traditional method.


* * * * * * *

Geert Jan van der Heide (Holland)


Mouthpieces are based on an original late 18th/early 19th century mouthpiece from the Cite de la  musique collection in Paris. 


The mouthpieces are made from solid brass or sheet material (silver or brass) and can be silver or gold plated.


  • Classical horn mouthpiece: funnel shaped cup with a bore of 4,7 mm and a small rim. 
  • Baroque horn mouthpiece: funnel shaped cup, a sharp edge into the 4,0 mm bore and a even smaller rim. 
  • The width of both types can be made to wishes from about 16,5 to 18,5 mm. 



* * * * * * *

Daniel Kunst (Germany).

No information currently other than that he makes mouthpieces.


* * * * * * *

Moosewood/Tom Greer (USA)


  • Model LGC: For Cor Alto or Cor Basso, from Lowell Greer’s Courtois original. Ex-deep convex contour, #11 bore, no backbore. Giardinelli threads and stem as requested.
  • Model LGR:  For Cor Alto, from Lowell Greer’s Raoux original. Medium-deep convex cup, #7 bore, minimal expansion backbore. Giardinelli threads and stem as requested.

NB: currently (Feb. 2017) getting Moosewood mouthpieces is tricky but there are plans for manufacture to recommence sometime soon.


* * * * * * *

L’Olifant (France).

  • Model “Jacques François Gallay”. Bore: 4.30mm, diameter: 16.50mm, depth: deep.
  • Model “Jean Joseph Rodolphe”. Bore: 4.50mm, diameter: 16.80mm, depth: deep.
  • Model “Frédéric Nicolas Duvernoy”. Bore: 5mm, diameter: 17mm, depth: deep. 
  • Model “Dauprat”. Bore: 5mm, diameter:18mm, depth: very deep.


* * * * * * *


Werner Chr. Schmidt (Germany)


  • Alto: outside Ø ?, inside Ø ?, cup depth 28mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 172: outside Ø 24.6mm, inside Ø 17.2mm, cup depth 33mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 176: outside Ø 25.6mm, inside Ø 17.6mm, cup depth 31mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 178: outside Ø 25.8mm, inside Ø 17.8mm, cup depth 31mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 180: outside Ø 26mm, inside Ø 18mm, cup depth 31mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 185: outside Ø 26.5mm, inside Ø 18.5mm, cup depth 31.5mm, bore 4.7mm.


* * * * * * *

Richard Seraphinoff (USA).

Rims can be made in a number of diameters and widths on request. All six designs are formed by hand from sheet metal with a separate turned rim soldered on. Shank sleeves are soldered to the mouthpiece, but can also be made detachable.

  • K1 - High horn mouthpiece copied from an original by Kruspe, mid 19th century. Inner rim diameter of 16-17mm.                      
  • K2 - Low horn mouthpiece copied from a mid-19th century original, possibly also by Kruspe. Inner rim diameter 17-18mm.
  • French cor-alto mouthpiece from an anon. original of the late 18th- early 19th century. Inner rim diameter 16-17mm. Rather narrow conical body shape.                                      
  • French cor-basse mouthpiece from an anon. original of the late 18th- early 19th century. Inner rim diameter 17-18mm. Wider conical body shape than the high horn model, with larger inner diameter at the shank end.
  • French classical  mouthpiece copied from an original possibly by Tabard, ca. 1810. Inner rim diameter of the original is around 17mm. This model tends toward the high horn side, but is a good general purpose mouthpiece. It is a good match for the Halari and Courtois french classical horn models.
  • English mouthpiece copied from an original possibly by Nicholas Winkings, London, ca. 1760. Inner rim diamer is just over 17mm. This is the earliest model that Seraphinoff makes and which he considers to be a good match for the Hofmaster English baroque horn.


* * * * * * *

Franz Windhager (Austria).

Baroque horn:

  • B/A Bore 4mm, depth 21mm,“very good upper range; for short tubing”.
  • B/B Bore 4mm, depth 23mm, “very good upper range; relatively full sound”.
  • B/C Bore 4mm. depth 24.5mm, “for long c; full sound”.
  • B/D Bore 4.4mm, depth 24.7mm.

Natural horn:

  • N/H Bore 4.6mm, depth 27.5mm .
  • N/A Bore 4.6mm, depth 29mm, “very good upper range; for short tubing”.
  • N/B Bore 4.6mm, depth 32.5mm, “good high register; rather pure sound”.
  • N/C Bore 4.6mm, depth 32.5mm, “full sound; for long tubing”.

A range of natural horn mouthpieces (EB Nr.1-6 ) made in collaboration with the horn player  Hermann Ebner are also available.

NB: It seems very difficult to get mouthpieces out of Windhager at the moment (Feb 2017)! The best advice seems to be to visit them in Vienna! 





Thursday, 6 October 2016

Which way round is right?

One of my bug-bears is when graphic designers "flip" images of musicians or musical instruments. I'm certain that they are trying to make things more visually pleasing but it grates so much to see an image like this:


Exploring the Musical Mind: Cognition, emotion, ability, function. John Sloboda (Oxford Univerity Press, 2004)


I don't think I'm the only one who starts to twitch when I see these things. But it's very common, to the extent that it can pass you by. For instance, here's the cover of a fantastic book, one that should be on any brass players bookshelf:


Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments edited by Trevor Herbert and John Wallace (Cambridge University Press, 1997).


I remember eagerly awaiting the publication of this book. Partially as I was a student at the time and really getting into period performance and brass history. But partially because the horn on the cover was "mine" (well, a college instrument, on loan to me). John Wallace was head of the brass department at the Royal Academy of Music at the time and co-opted a number of us to bring instruments to his room so that this collection of brass instruments could be photographed for the cover. It was only many years later I clocked that the image had been reversed.


Not so long ago I got a comment on social media from an old friend. She had commented on a photo of me, and made a joke about the fact that I should really know which way round the horn goes by now.




But which way round does a horn go?


When one reads the 18th and 19th century sources on how to play the horn, most of the writers encourage horn students to hold the horn with the right hand but do admit that the reverse is also possible, for example 

"Suivant quelques Artistes, il est indifférent qu'on tienne le Cor de la main droite ou de la gauche; cependant ce dernier système est plus généralement adopté." "In accordance with a few artists, it is indifferent whether one takes the horn with the right hand or with the left, however the latter system is the one most generally adopted." (George Kastner - Méthode élémentaire pour le Cor Paris: E.Troupenas, 1840, p. 9).
 "Gewöhnlich hält man das Horn zunächst dem Mundstücke mit der linken Hand, und an der Öffnung (Becher, Trichter, Sturz) mit der rechten Hand, die man auch zum Stopfen der Öffnung bei Hervorbringung verschiedener Töne gebraucht... Jedoch kann man das Horn auch umgekehrt halten, was aber nicht gewöhnlich ist, ob dies gleich, wenn man sich daran gewöhnt hat, den Vorteil gewährt, dass die beiden Hornisten sich besser hören können, indem die Öffnung beider Hörner gegen einander kommen, wenn der Primarius die linke Hand, der Secundarius aber die rechte zum Stopfen gebraucht". "Usually the horn is held by the mouthpiece with the left hand, and the right hand is in the bell, which is also used to seal the bell when the different notes are produced... However, the horn can also be reversed, but this is not usual, whether this is the case, when one has gotten used to it, it has the advantage of the two horns can hear each other better by this has been the case when one is accustomed to the advantage that the two horns can hear each other better with the bells being opposite each other, the first horn using his left hand, the second horn his right, to stop the bell." (J. H. Gördolt Ausfürliche Theoretisch-Praktische Hornschule Quedlinburg: Basse, 1833, p. 4)
and
 "The common method of holding the horn is with the right hand nearly in the middle of the hoop, the bell hanging over the same arm : But it may sometimes be held in the left hand, the bell hanging over the same arm ; and sometimes the bell perpendicular. When two horns are blown with equal strength, the two bells of the horns should be in one direction, that the tones may more equally unite" (The New Instructions for Horn, Longman & Broderip, c.1780).
The last of these sources (The New Instructions...) also illustrates the point that the bells "should be in one direction" with this frontispiece:





We also find sources where the bells are pointing in opposite directions:


Representation of horn-blowing beaters on a blue printed tablecloth border, Moritzburg, ca. 1740
(Bernhard Brüchle and Kurt Janetzky, A Pictorial History of the Horn, Schneider, Tutzing, 1976, pg 85).

Johann Elias Ridinger (1698–1767) Detail from an engraving, 1729
(Bernhard Brüchle and Kurt Janetzky, A Pictorial History of the Horn, Schneider, Tutzing, 1976, pg. 140)


The Mannheim Orchestra 


Here's Joseph Walters and myself recreating such an effect:





Les Ambassadeurs, directed by Alexi Kossenko, Tage Alte Musik Regensburg, 2015


For me there are six main reasons I like playing with the bells facing in opposite directions.
  • It makes the "stereo" antiphonal effects easier to achieve than if the bells are facing in the same direction. 
  • Whilst at the same time because the two horn players are in close proximity to one another, any details passages are easier to get together. (the beginning of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 is a great case in point, the hunting calls sound as if they're coming from different sides of the stage but once the music gets to the running passages it's easier to "lock in" to one another).
  • It looks good - this might sound shallow but symmetry is pleasing to the eye and in the 18th and 19th century musicians obviously had pride in the artistic value of their instruments - see for example painted bells.
  • By making a change such as reversing our instruments we can take the opportunity to see how that makes us question or rethink what we automatically do when playing "normally". Often when I play "backwards" my first shock is how loud the horn is, followed quickly by how out of tune. Shaking things up, making these sorts of changes, can be a very positive way of reevaluating.
  • Flexibility and strength of body. I like to be reminded about the muscles that aren't as strong on the right hand side of my body as my left! When I've done a period of "reverse" horn playing I often notice that by the end of the second or third day I'm feeling it physically. With this in mind it's worth being cautious about playing "backwards" (stretching before and after helps) especially if one has any back/neck problems.
  • Flexibility and strength of mind. I find I have to concentrate that little bit more when playing like this. Little things like getting water out of the horn become less of a reflex action. Distances are a bit different. These have to be taken into consideration.



For a much deeper investigation into "reversal" of horns and horn players I'd highly recommend readers consult Richard J. Martz's article "Reversed Chirality in Horns, or Is Left Right? The Horn, on the Other Hand" published in the Historic Brass Society Journal Vol. 15 (2003). And also available on line here.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

"Once you've heard the rumblings of a serpent, there really is no going back"

Last Sunday night Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolution et Romantique performed Beethoven Symphony No. 5 and Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique at the BBC Proms. (Broadcast available on the BBC website for a limited time). After the performance I got the following tweet asking about the horns we were using:



For the first half of the performance (the Beethoven) Joseph Walters and I used standard natural horns but, indeed, for the second half (the Berlioz), Joe, Chris Larkin, Martin Lawrence, Sue Dent and myself were using crookable piston horns. Now, Twitter being Twitter, for me to reply properly to the above enquiry from Alex Robinson would take more than 140 characters (!) hence me taking the liberty of replying in a more leisurely manner here.

Berlioz was a master orchestrator. Some of the effects he calls for in the Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio (the sequel to Symphonie Fantastique, which Gardiner/ORR are playing in concerts this week and next in the Edinburgh International Festival and the Festival Berlioz de La Côte Saint André) are incredibly inovative, for example in Lelio (V. La Harpe Eolienne-Souvernirs) he requests that the clarinet plays into a leather bag, thus to mute the sound of the instrument. Berlioz is often very exacting about the techniques and approaches he wishes the musicians to use, for example the general level of detail he uses for the percussion and timpani regarding exactly what sticks and (in the case of the Marche au supplice) hands to use. These works date from an interesting period in the development of the horn and it is clear that Berlioz was fascinated by what the instrument (or instruments, if one considers the natural horn and the valve horn two separate instruments) was capable of and in these two works we see hints of what contemporary horn players were themselves experimenting with.

The valve had been invented in 1814 and, between 1823 and 1831 the opera composer Gaspare Spontini (then working as Generalmusikdirektor for King Frederick William III of Prussia) sent a number of two and three valved horns, trumpets/cornets from Berlin to influential brass players in Paris including, most notably, the eminent horn professor Louis-François Dauprat (see Georges Kastner Manuel Générale de la Musique Militaire, Paris: Didot, 1848, p.192). Dauprat was not taken with the instrument but his student, Joseph Meifred (pictured below) was and set about improving the instruments sent from Berlin. In 1827 the new design (on which, more later) received a silver medal at the Exposition des Produits de L'Industrie" and the music writer François-Joseph Fétis dedicated an article to it in the August 1827 edition of Revue Musicale (you can read it here online). This was followed, on the 9th of March 1828, by Meifred performing a solo of his own composition in the first concert of the influential Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, alongside compositions by Cherubini, Rossini and one of the earliest performances in France of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. Again, Fétis was there and wrote:
"A solo, for horn with pistons, was performed by M. Meyfred [sic]... [which] gave a high idea of the resources you can find in this instrument. Difficult passages, frustrating on the regular horn, and multiple modulations were played by M. Meyfred with an ease that demonstrated, even to the least enlightened listeners, the benefits of new processes. I have no doubt that the valve horn generally be adopted as soon as a skillful factor multiplied the will, and that will be published Dauprat excellent method he composed for the use of this innovation." (Fétis, Revue Musicale, Vol. III, 1828, p. 148

Joseph Meifred (1791–1867) - Professor of the "Académie Royale de Musique". 
Not all were convinced by the new developments. Joseph d'Ortigue writing in La Quotidienne (22nd of June, 1833) voiced his doubts:
"A quintet, written with great talent by Mr. Strunz, for three cornets and two horns introduced us to the brilliant results that can be obtained by way of the pistons. We doubt that these results are a real advantage in the orchestra: the horn especially would lose this shy and virginal expression which gives it so much charm, and, in wanting too much to multiply the resources of instrumentation, one risks making of it something trivial, like a coquette who loses some of her real and naive appeal for every bit of finery she puts on. But in the concerto, the piston system is a clear advantage. Mr. Meifred, to whom we owe this happy development, has been appointed professor of horn at the Conservatory. This skilful artist was worthy of such a reward after so many years of care and work."

Both of these performances, one showing the new valved horn as a solo instrument, one as a chamber music instrument pre-date the oft quoted first appearance of the valved horn as an orchestral instrument in the opera La Juive by Jules Halévy. This work was premiered at the Paris Opéra on the 23rd of February, 1835 and calls for two pairs of horns, one pair on natural horns and one pair doubling valve horns (crooked in G, E, E flat and D) and natural horns. (More on this piece can be found on John Ericson's website here). Castil-Blaze (in his L'Académie impériale de musique; de 1645 à 1855, Paris: Castil-Blaze, 1855, p.148) recalls that the valve horn players for the premier were Frédéric Duvernoy and Meifred.

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Berlioz was fascinated with how instruments work and his Grand traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes (1844, subsequently reworked by both Berlioz himself and later Richard Strauss) goes into aspects of each orchestral instrument in fine detail. Berlioz treats the natural horn and the valve horn separately. 

The natural horn, Berlioz states, comes in the keys of C alto down to B flat basso. Each key has the following notes available, some are open and some are certain degrees of "stopped", i.e. the horn player uses their hand in the bell of the instrument to manipulate the acoustics of the instrument, thereby altering the open harmonics and creating a new note, often with a markedly different timbre.

A Treatise upon Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration by Hector Berlioz. Translated by Mary Cowden Clarke (London: Novello, Ewer and Co, 2nd edition 1858, p.131)
Berlioz then deals with the valve horn and explains that the instrument is best in the keys of A flat, G, F and E. One of the issues with crookable piston horns is that there are only a certain number of crooks that are going to work. The reason for this is that if you wish to use the crooks and the valves then as you lower the horn with lower and lower crooks you are going to have to also lengthen the individual tuning slides for each valve. According to Kastner (again in his Manuel Générale de la Musique Militaire) the first valve horns that Spontini brought to Paris were quickly copied by Parisian makers and, thanks to the guidance of Meifred, the makers improved the design of these instruments adding the valve slides thus making it feasible to tune for the individual crooks leading to this design of horn being known as the cor Meifred

Traditionally on most piston horns you will have three valves, though in the beginning two were deemed sufficient. Like on the modern instrument, the first valve lowers the instrument by a tone, the second by a semi-tone and the the third either lowers by a tone and a half (so in effect doing the same job as the first and second valves combined) or, in the case of some French instruments known as the cor ascendant, raises the instrument by a tone). To maintain these relationships the musician needs to incrementally change the length of each of these valve tuning slides when the crooks are being changed. This is limited, the valve slides will be all too long if the horn is crooked in a high alto key, or all too short if the horn is in a low basso key, hence Berlioz suggesting the keys of A flat, G, F and E. 

Raoux-Millereau cor ascendant (L) and cor descendant (R) from Émile Lambert Méthode Complète et Progressive de Cor Chromatique (Paris: Lemoine et Cie,1922) 


Opinion on what crooks worked varied. In Meifred's De l'étendue, de l'emploi et des resources du cor en général, et de ses corps de rechange en particulier, avec quelques considérations sur le cor à pistons (Paris: Richalut, 1829, pp.30-31)Meifred suggests the crooks of F, E, E flat and D as being the best saying that crooks higher and lower than these keys did not retain their unique character timbre on the piston horn, whilst Urbin, in his Méthode de Cor à trios pistons ou cylindres (Paris: Richault, 1853, p.11) suggests A, Ab, F and E, rationalising that A and E should be used for pieces in sharp keys and A flat and F used for pieces in flat keys. The French style of piston horn was very popular in the UK up until the mid 20th century with makers such as Boosey, Hawkes and their combined forces Boosey and Hawkes making what were in effect rip-offs of the top French makers Raoux and Courtois. Note below the "poinçon" from Joe Walter's Hawkes piston horn (left), this was Hawke's "take" on the recognisable Raoux mark (right). Also note the neat tuning slide markers on Sue Dent's Hawkes & Sons piston horn helping guide the player as to where to put the tuning slides dependent on the crooks. 








Berlioz revised both Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio a number of times and it's quite tricky (and perhaps a fruitless?) quest, to try and unpick what would have certainly been the original versions of these works. Symphonie Fantastique was originally written in 1830 and premiered on the 5th of December, 1830. Berlioz spent much of 1831–2 constantly revising the work and is thought to have continued tinkering with it up until the publication of the first printed score and parts in 1845 which is probably when directions as to where to use valves came in. Many of his changes, such as the added cornet obligato in II. Un Bal are visible in the manuscript held at the Bibliotheque National de Paris (and accessible on their marvellous Gallica website here). Lélio has a similar history of revisions, it was was composed as Le Retour à la Vie in 1831 (and, again, the manuscript is helpfully available on the Gallica website here) and greatly revised in 1855 (as Lélio) for Berlioz's performance of the work in Weimar.

One of the curiosities that emerges in the various editions is Berlioz's directions to the horn players as to when to use valves and when not to. The classic example is in the Marche au supplice in which he asks the horn players, at the beginning, to specifically use the instrument like a natural horn ("Faites les sons bouchés avec la main sans employer les cylindres" i.e. "play the stopped notes with the hand and do not use the valves") and then, in the "big tune" to use valves ("avec les cylindres, tous les sons ouverts" i.e. "with the valves, all the notes open").

Another clear indication to use valves comes in the final bars of the second movement, Chœur d'ombres, of Lélio. Over the years the direction in the score has changed and, as the Bärenreiter edition with the correct directions is in copyright here is what often is presented to horn players, the Malherbe/Weingartner "Berlioz Edition" published by Breitkopf und Härtel in the early 20th century.




This is a 20th century "rationalisation" of the earlier directions which should read: for the first two bars is "solo, sons bouchés avec les cylindres", followed by "sans cylindres" in bar three and then reverting to "sons bouchés avec les cylindres". This means that the horn player needs to use the valves to play the, normally open, notes (the written Cs and Gs) stopped, but would just use traditional hand technique for the E flat and D (stopped notes on the natural horn). 



If we look at the history of these pieces it's clear that Berlioz was a pragmatic composer and, whilst he includes revisions to include colours and effects possible on the early valve horn, there is very little in Symphonie Fantastique nor Lélio that would phase a competent natural horn player of the time. Many examples can be seen of Berlioz writing "dovetailed" horn parts, a trick where a composer writes for a pair of horns, each in a different key, one pair stop when the music starts to stray into difficult territory with the other pair crooked into a key that facilitates the rest of the music being played, so the melody straddles all the horn parts. A good example is the final movement of Lélio where the tune is played in its entirety by the clarinets and bassoons but divided between the two pairs of horns in F and C.



Berlioz Lélio 6. Fantaisie sur la tempête de Shakespeare - bars 286 -305.

If we return to the example from the second movement of Lélio the first 1831 version the manuscript shows Berlioz's original approach to the final four bars. Instead of one solo horn playing the phrase, all hand stopped, he divides the melody between the four horns thus:


So we can see how in these works there are these directions from Berlioz saying to USE valves in certain places, to NOT USE valves in others and, most fascinating of all, places in which he asks the player to USE valves on traditionally "open" harmonic notes, so that the note can be played stopped. With the exception of a couple of notes (such as the low A flat, top F sharp and B flat) all the notes on the natural horn are either open or stopped. What Berlioz seems to be hinting at in these directions is a type of "mixed" technique, partially natural horn and partially valve horn. This was exactly the type of approach advocated by Meifred, a musician who Berlioz knew. Berlioz recalled an incident with Meifred during rehearsals for Benvenuto Cellini in 1838:
"I had occasion to point out to the second horn a mistake in an important passage. I did so in the mildest and politest manner; but the player, Meifred, though an intelligent man, rose in wrath and, losing his head completely, shouted, "I'm playing what's there. Why do you suspect the orchestra like this?" To which I replied, even more mildly, that it had nothing to do with the orchestra but only with him, and that secondly I suspected nothing, for suspicion implied doubt, and I was quite certain he had made a mistake."
Memoirs, "Travels in Russia, Sequel" quoted in Hugh Macdonald Berlioz's Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary p. 182.
Could this be an example of what Berlioz himself suggested conductors should do when faced with a piston horn player playing material conceived for natural horn on their new instruments?
"Many composers object to this new instrument because, since it began to appear in orchestras, certain horn players use pistons to play parts written for the ordinary horn; they find it more convenient to use the mechanism to play as open notes those notes which the composer intended to be played stopped. This is in fact a dangerous misuse and it is up to conductors to stop it spreading". Berlioz Grand traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes (Paris: Schonenberger, 1844), translation from Hugh Macdonald Berlioz's Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary p. 181. 
Both Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio can be played by natural horn and I believe that Berlioz's originally intention in the 1830s would be that the works would be for natural horn. But in his revisions later in life he starts to be more enthusiastic about the benefits of the piston horn.
"A number of composers object to cylinder horns because, they maintain, their timbre is inferior to that of the natural horn. I have several times experimented by listening to the open notes of the natural horn and of the chromatic or cylinder horn one after the other, and I must confess I could not detect the slightest difference in tone or volume. There is at first sight more substance in another objection that has been raised against the new horns, but it can be easily disposed of. Since this instrument (now perfected, in my opinion) was introduced into orchestras, certain hornists who play natural horn parts on cylinder horns find it less trouble to produce the stopped notes indicated by the composer as open notes. This is certainly a serious abuse, but the fault lies in the player and not in th instrument. Far from it, indeed, for in the hands of a skilful artist the cylinder horn note merely produces all the stopped notes which the natural horn produces but can actually play the entire compass without resorting to a single open note. The conclusion is simply that horn players should know the technique of hand-stopping as if the cylinder mechanism did not exist, and that composers should henceforth indicate the notes that are to be played stopped by some special sign, the player producing as open sounds only those notes which carry no such indication."
Memoirs, "Travels in Germany", I/7, 1865, quoted in Hugh Macdonald Berlioz's Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary p. 183-4.
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As mentioned early, Meifred wrote a short method for piston horn in 1828 but then returned in much greater detail in a 1840 Méthode pour le Cor Chromatique ou à Pistons originally published for the two valved instrument and later (1849) revised for the three valve instrument. 

Chromatic horn by Antoine Halary as depicted in Joseph Meifred's Méthod pour le  Cor Chromatique ou à Pistons (1840)

In these works he gives great insight into the aesthetics of his approach setting out his "rules":


This means that Meifred proposed using valves to:

1. To restore to the horn the notes it lacks;
2. To improve the intonation of some of its notes;
3. To make the muffled notes sonorous, while retaining those that need only slight stopping, the tone of which is so agreeable;
4. To give all leading notes, whatever the key or mode, the character they have in the natural scale.
5. Lastly, not to deprive composers of crooks, each of which has its own particular tone colour.
Meifred Méthode (translation Reginald Morley-Pegge, The French Horn, p. 109).
The beauty of Meifred's method is that suddenly a whole new world of colours are available to horn players. For our performances of these Berlioz works the horn section decided to use crookable piston horns. The colour of each crook is particular identifiable - it's no accident that Berlioz chooses F major for the "pastorale" third movement of the Symphonie. For the basso crooks we use higher crooks and then use the valves as a crooking system, so, for example, in the Marche au supplice, I use an E flat crook (which works perfectly for the bit where Berlioz requires valves) and put all three valves down and use hand technique for the other "natural horn" passages which makes the horn in to a B flat basso instrument. (NB to anyone reading this in detail and wondering about this, E flat and 1st and 3rd valve should be sufficient but not quite on my instrument, hence all three valves). Then, on top of this we've been experimenting with various "effects" such as all of the horn section using hand stopping for the final bars of the first movement, I. Rèveries - Passions of the Symphonie.

The introduction of the valve was a very interesting development in the history of the horn. Like a number of other inventions, it didn't suddenly pop up over night. It was accepted in fits and starts and evolved in different ways in different countries. France, with it's superstar natural horn players were very sniffy about the new instrument and felt it potentially would loose the colours and effects that they held dear. Meifred's approach, combining the best of both instruments, offers a fascinating world for horn players to explore. Best of all, to my mind, the potential interpretations using his ideas are pretty endless, it feels like some sort of "choose your own adventure" story where you're constantly faced with decisions and artistic choices which is wonderfully fun!


Back row: Chris Larkin and Martin Lawrence
Front row: Sue Dent, Anneke Scott and Joseph Walters.
Photo courtesy of Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3.


For this project the section used the following instruments:
Anneke Scott: M.A.Raoux natural horn (c. 1862) with later (1918) Boosey detachable valve block crooked into F, E and E flat.
Joseph Walters: Hawkes piston horn crooked into F, E and E flat. (c. 1914)
Christopher Larkin: Raoux Milleraux piston horn crooked into F and E flat. (c. 1879-1911).
Martin Lawrence: Hawkes piston horn (with detachable valve block) crooked into F and E flat. (c. 1914)
Sue Dent: Hawkes and Sons piston horn (with detachable valve block) crooked into F, E and E flat. (c. 1920).