French Horns

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Although commonly known in English as the French horn, the orchestral brass instrument known as the cor d’harmonie in French is most often seen in its German form. Known there as Waldhorn, the circular instrument dates back to the mid 17th century, when hunting horns began to be used in orchestras. Most contemporary orchestras have four horn players.

The three valves used to control the pitch were added in the 1800s. Both contemporary versions of horn are made from several feet of coiled tubing with a large conical end, which is usually where the musician places one hand that's used to change the pitch of played notes.

The German style does away with the additional crook, a separate piece added to French horns to lengthen the tubing and change the pitch. The mouthpiece of the German version is larger. Most French horns have piston valves, while the German horns have rotary valves. Both use three valves and are usually tuned to F.

What is a Double Horn? Triple Horn?

Double horns, invented around 1900 by Fritz Kruspe, add a thumb valve that allows the musician to quickly switch between different keys, such as F and B flat. A descant horn also allows for two tonalities, but goes up in pitch when the thumb valve is activated, rather than lower. A triple horn combines the two designs; for example providing F, B flat, and high F from one instrument.

What Music Features French Horns?

Mozart’s hunting symphony, Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 are examples of classical orchestral music that feature notable horn parts. Brahms’ Horn Trio, Debussy’s Beau soir, and Schubert’s Auf dem Strom are a few Romantic chamber pieces that feature horn. Gil Evans, Claude Thornhill, Stan Kenton included French horn in their jazz ensembles.

“God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, “I Go To Sleep” by The Pretenders, and “All Of The Lights” by Kanye West are examples of popular songs with French horn parts. Polish veterans Kult have sometimes included French horn in their varying lineups.

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