Instruments | French Horn | Classical Era | Classical
Beginning as the simple pastoral and hunting instrument that its name suggests, the seventeenth-century horn was a brass tube with three coils, with a conical ‘bore’, or inner measurement, opening outwards from the funnel-shaped mouthpiece to the concluding ‘bell’. Pitch was controlled through breath pressure. This instrument, included by Handel in his Water Music (1717) and by J. S. Bach in his Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 (1721), had no means of changing key; players sometimes sat on stage with more than one, changing instrument as the key changed.
The Viennese instrument maker Michael Leichnamschneider (1676–after 1746) realized that by jointing in different extra metal hoops, the overall length of metal tubing could be varied, and these hoops, known as ‘crooks’, transformed the life of the horn. Some players found they could alter pitch by putting their hand more deeply or shallowly into the bell, and makers like Raoux and Courtois in Paris concentrated on reducing dimensions so that hand movements could become smaller, although the hand-stopped notes were of a different quality or ‘colour’ from the natural open tones. Mozart’s three horn concertos in E flat and one in D all date from the period 1783–91 and were written for this natural horn.
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