Natural horn

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Natural horn
Natural Horn (instrument).JPG
Natural horn in the V&A Museum, London
Classification Brass instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 423.1

The natural horn is a musical instrument that is the predecessor to the modern-day (French) horn (differentiated by its lack of valves). Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century the natural horn evolved as a separation from the trumpet by widening the bell and lengthening the tubes. [1] It consists of a mouthpiece, long coiled tubing, and a large flared bell. This instrument was used extensively until the emergence of the valved horn in the early 19th century.


Hand stopping technique

The natural horn has several gaps in its harmonic range. To play chromatically, in addition to crooking the instrument into the right key, two additional techniques are required: bending and hand-stopping . Bending a note is achieved by modifying the embouchure to raise or lower the pitch fractionally, and compensates for the slightly out-of-pitch "wolf tones" which all brass instruments have. Hand-stopping is a technique whereby the player can modify the pitch of a note by up to a semitone (or sometimes slightly more) by inserting a cupped hand into the bell. Both techniques change the timbre as well as the pitch.

It is commonly thought that hand technique emerged during the first half of the eighteenth century at the Dresden court with the horn player Anton Hampel. Domnich (1807) cited Hampel as the inventor of this technique and recounted the "invention" in which Hampel, trying to emulate oboist colleagues who used cotton plugs to "mute" their instruments, tried the same with his horn and was "surprised to find that the pitch of his instrument rose by a semitone. In a flash of inspiration he realised that by alternately inserting and withdrawing the cotton plug he could cover without a break every diatonic and chromatic scale." [2]

Pitch changes are made through a few techniques:


A natural horn in heraldry, crest of Gerardus Rubens. GERARDVS RVBENS ABBAS SBERNARDVS in SCALDIS.jpg
A natural horn in heraldry, crest of Gerardus Rubens.
"Cor Solo" (natural horn) - Raoux, Paris, 1797 P1084426.jpg
"Cor Solo" (natural horn) – Raoux, Paris, 1797
Playing horn at Palace Temple. Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India Playing horn at Palace Temple. Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.jpg
Playing horn at Palace Temple. Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India

The repertoire for horn includes many pieces that were originally written with the natural horn in mind. Until the development of the modern horn in the early to mid-19th century, Western music employed the natural horn and its natural brass brethren. Substantial contributors to the horn repertoire include Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Telemann, Weber, Brahms and many others.

The chromatic abilities of recently developed brass instruments, however, opened new possibilities for composers of the Romantic era, and fit with the artistic currents of the time. By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, almost all music was written for the modern valved horn.

However, the natural horn still found its way into the works of some composers. Brahms did not care for the valved horn and wrote for natural horn. [4] Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings , though written for the modern horn, makes notable use of the F harmonic series and has been recorded at least once on a natural horn.

György Ligeti's Hamburg Concerto makes a great use of the natural horn and of natural sounds on the modern horn in the solo part and requires four natural horns in the orchestra.

Natural horn and the modern horn

Below lists natural horn keys with their corresponding fingering on the modern horn. If a piece of music says the key on the left you can press the key combination on the right on the modern double horn to get the correct tube length. This is useful for simulating natural horn when playing older compositions.

See also

Related Research Articles

Brass instrument Class of musical instruments

A brass instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by sympathetic vibration of air in a tubular resonator in sympathy with the vibration of the player's lips. Brass instruments are also called labrosones or labrophones, from Latin and Greek elements meaning 'lip' and 'sound'.

Cornet Musical instrument

The cornet is a brass instrument similar to the trumpet but distinguished from it by its conical bore, more compact shape, and mellower tone quality. The most common cornet is a transposing instrument in B, though there is also a soprano cornet in E and cornets in A and C. All are unrelated to the Renaissance and early Baroque cornett.

Euphonium Brass instrument

The euphonium is a medium-sized, 3 or 4-valve, often compensating, conical-bore, tenor-voiced brass instrument that derives its name from the Ancient Greek word εὔφωνος euphōnos, meaning "well-sounding" or "sweet-voiced". The euphonium is a valved instrument. Nearly all current models have piston valves, though some models with rotary valves do exist.

French horn Type of brass instrument

The French horn is a brass instrument made of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. The double horn in F/B is the horn most often used by players in professional orchestras and bands. A musician who plays a horn is known as a horn player or hornist.

Pitch of brass instruments

The pitch of a brass instrument corresponds to the lowest playable resonance frequency of the open instrument. The combined resonances resemble a harmonic series. The fundamental frequency of the harmonic series can be varied by adjusting the length of the tubing using the instrument's valve, slide, key or crook system, while the player's embouchure, lip tension and air flow serve to select a specific harmonic from the available series for playing. The fundamental is actually missing from the resonances and is impractical to play on some brass instruments, but the overtones account for most pitches.

Trombone Type of brass instrument

The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. As with all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player's vibrating lips (embouchure) cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate. Unlike most other brass instruments, which have valves that, when pressed, alter the pitch of the instrument, trombones instead have a telescoping slide mechanism that varies the length of the instrument to change the pitch. However, many modern trombone models also have a valve attachment which lowers the pitch of the instrument. Variants such as the valve trombone and superbone have three valves similar to those on the trumpet.

Trumpet Musical instrument

The trumpet is a brass instrument commonly used in classical and jazz ensembles. The trumpet group ranges from the piccolo trumpet with the highest register in the brass family, to the bass trumpet, which is pitched one octave below the standard B or C Trumpet.

Tuba Type of musical instrument of the brass family

The tuba is the lowest-pitched musical instrument in the brass family. As with all brass instruments, the sound is produced by lip vibration, or a buzz, into a large mouthpiece. It first appeared in the mid-19th century, making it one of the newer instruments in the modern orchestra and concert band. The tuba largely replaced the ophicleide. Tuba is Latin for "trumpet".

Transposing instrument Musical instrument for which notated pitch differs from sounding pitch

A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which music notation is not written at concert pitch. For example, playing a written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C — that sounding pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. Playing a written C on clarinet or soprano saxophone produces a concert B, so these are referred to as B instruments. Providing transposed music for these instruments is a convention of musical notation. The instruments do not transpose the music, rather their music is written at a transposed pitch.

Crook (music)

A crook, also sometimes called a shank, is an exchangeable segment of tubing in a natural horn which is used to change the length of the pipe, altering the fundamental pitch and harmonic series which the instrument can sound, and thus the key in which it plays.

In music, fingering, or on stringed instruments sometimes also called stopping, is the choice of which fingers and hand positions to use when playing certain musical instruments. Fingering typically changes throughout a piece; the challenge of choosing good fingering for a piece is to make the hand movements as comfortable as possible without changing hand position too often. A fingering can be the result of the working process of the composer, who puts it into the manuscript, an editor, who adds it into the printed score, or the performer, who puts his or her own fingering in the score or in performance.

Fingering...also stopping...(1) A system of symbols for the fingers of the hand used to associate specific notes with specific fingers....(2)Control of finger movements and position to achieve physiological efficiency, acoustical accuracy [frequency and amplitude] and musical articulation.

Heinrich David Stölzel was a German horn player who developed some of the first valves for brass instruments. He developed the first valve for a brass musical instrument, the Stölzel valve, in 1818, and went on to develop various other designs, some jointly with other inventor musicians.

Contrabass bugle

The contrabass bugle is the lowest-pitched brass instrument in the drum and bugle corps and marching band hornline. It is essentially the drum corps' counterpart to the marching band's sousaphone: the lowest-pitched member of the hornline, and a replacement for the concert tuba on the marching field.

Hand-stopping is a technique by which a natural horn can be made to produce notes outside of its normal harmonic series. By inserting the hand, cupped, into the bell, the player can reduce the pitch of a note by a semitone or more. This, combined with the use of crooks changing the key of the instrument, allowed composers to write fully chromatic music for the horn before the invention of piston and valve horns in the early 19th Century. A stopped note is called gestopft in German and bouché in French.

There are many different types of trombone. The most frequently encountered trombones today are the tenor and bass, though as with other Renaissance instruments such as the recorder, the trombone has been built in every size from piccolo to contrabass.

Anton Joseph Hampel was a horn player who is generally credited with having developed, somewhere between 1750 and 1760, the technique of hand-stopping which allows natural horns to play fully chromatically. This was one of the most important innovations in the history of the horn, comparable with Heinrich Stölzel's development of the first valve horn in 1817.


The saxotromba is a valved brass instrument invented by the Belgian instrument-maker Adolphe Sax around 1844. It was designed for the mounted bands of the French military, probably as a substitute for the French horn. The saxotrombas comprised a family of half-tube instruments of different pitches. By about 1867 the saxotromba was no longer being used by the French military, but specimens of various sizes continued to be manufactured until the early decades of the twentieth century, during which time the instrument made sporadic appearances in the opera house, both in the pit and on stage. The instrument is often confused with the closely related saxhorn.

Horn (instrument) Family of wind instruments made of a tube

A horn is any of a family of musical instruments made of a tube, usually made of metal and often curved in various ways, with one narrow end into which the musician blows, and a wide end from which sound emerges. In horns, unlike some other brass instruments such as the trumpet, the bore gradually increases in width through most of its length—that is to say, it is conical rather than cylindrical. In jazz and popular-music contexts, the word may be used loosely to refer to any wind instrument, and a section of brass or woodwind instruments, or a mixture of the two, is called a horn section in these contexts.

German horn

The German horn is a brass instrument made of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell, and in bands and orchestras is the most widely used of three types of horn, the other two being the French horn and the Vienna horn. Its use among professional players has become so universal that it is only in France and Vienna that any other kind of horn is used today. A musician who plays the German horn is called a horn player. The word "German" is used only to distinguish this instrument from the now-rare French and Viennese instruments. Although the expression "French horn" is still used colloquially in English for any orchestral horn, since the 1930s professional musicians and scholars have generally avoided this term in favour of just "horn". Vienna horns today are played only in Vienna, and are made only by Austrian firms. German horns, by contrast, are not all made by German manufacturers, nor are all French-style instruments made in France.


  1. Hiebert, Thomas (October 1997). "The horn in the Baroque and Classical periods". The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. pp. 103–114. doi:10.1017/ccol9780521563437.010. ISBN   9780521565226 . Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  2. Humphries, John "The Early Horn" (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  3. Meucci, Renato; Rocchetti, Gabriele (2001). "Horn | Grove Music". doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.13353 . Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  4. Moore, K. C. "The persistence of the natural horn in the romantic period" . Retrieved 2008-07-20.