Heinrich Domnich and the Natural Horn
Excerpts from his important horn method.
Dr. John Ericson
This article is based on materials published in The Horn Call Annual 8 (1996) with additional materials from my dissertation.
Heinrich Domnich (1767-1844) was born in Würzburg, the son of hornist Friedrich Domnich (1728-1790), and he went on to study and build a distinguished career in Paris [Pizka, 102]. His Méthode de Premier et de Second Cor (1808) gave a very thorough examination of the natural horn and its technique. Of particular interest are the comments of Domnich on the use of crooks, the hand in the bell, and transposition, which generally expound what could be considered a very traditional and standard approach to the natural horn.
Two very different editions of the Méthode appeared in Domnich's lifetime. The original Le Roy edition in French, which appeared in 1808, contains extensive introductory materials on the history and technique of the horn which do not appear in Schott's French and German edition of 1832 [ibid]. This later edition does, however, contain materials which were either revised by Domnich or altered editorially; this is most clear with regard to the subject of crooks and transposition, and in itself sheds some light on the rapid changes occurring in performing techniques employed on the horn.
One passage from the introductory materials of the 1808 edition sums up much of his commentary about transposition and crooks. Domnich was particularly directing his comments to those players who were cultivating only the middle range of the horn and the medium crooks.
Equally deprived of the high and low tones, the Cors mixtes, which custom and disastrous development of the new species has introduced in almost all our orchestras, are able to play neither on the C crook, nor on those of A and B-flat. How do they manage? When they are given a piece in B-flat, instead of being provided with the proper instruments in this key, the horn in E-flat is employed. They make use of the horn in D if the piece is in A, and if it is in C it is necessary to use the horn in F. Now if a composer has to render a brilliant design in one of these three keys, to express, for example the noise of war, the glory of victory, the pomp of triumph, he arranges the horns in such a manner that they are able to do all without the aid of the hand in the bell. But the Cors mixtes being obligated to transpose as in this operation, the sonorous notes are transformed often to stopped notes and the brilliant to dark and lugubrious accents, the prestige of the illusion vanishes, and with the illusion is destroyed all effect. Furthermore, in the factitious scale which results from the transposition, the artist must, at times, change the second part by playing notes absolutely destitute of tone, and which are only rendered as a dull quivering.
From this we learn that some performers were transposing on the natural horn in order to avoid using either the high or low crooks, but true artists on the horn did not adopt this practice. We also learn that players were to avoid the low stopped tones as they "are only rendered as a dull quivering." Domnich taught both the use of the full range of crooks on the natural horn and to avoid stopped tones which were outside the intentions of the composer.
In contrast, in the 1832 edition, some of the sections on the crooks in article ten, "How to employ the different tonalities of the horn" have been modified to explain how to transpose the more difficult crooks of C basso, A, and B-flat alto on the natural horn. These three keys are transposed onto the F, D, and E-flat crooks, respectively, as explained in the following section, which also serves well to review the conventional wisdom of the period on all the crooks of the natural horn.
Horn in C.
So we see that by 1832 transposition was an accepted practice, if not by Domnich, at least by the editors responsible for the later German edition. Domnich concluded this section on crooks with the following section relating to the choice of crooks for the beginner (identical in both editions). Domnich made special note of the most characteristic crook for the horn and of how the other crooks should be approached.
We have seen that the low keys, such as those of C and D demand strength and that to be equal to it, one must have acquired firmness of lip, the late fruit of time and study. The high keys, such as G, A, and B-flat, demand on the contrary, delicacy and although shrill, they can be softened, but only by dint of skill. For giving to one and to the other the character which suits them, one has to be initiated up to a certain point in the practical knowledge of the instrument, of its means and resources.
About right-hand technique Domnich made many interesting observations. The most significant are stated in article five, titled "Evenness of tone."
All the notes of the horn can be divided into two principal classes: one whereby the notes are produced with the bell open, and the other whereby the notes are produced with the bell more or less stopped by hand.
Domnich also presented a hand position chart for the natural horn covering a complete four octave range from written range from G (notated by Domnich in "new" notation) to g'''. [NOTE: Old notation, used by Classical composers and most composers of the period, notated horn pitches in bass clef an octave too low. New notation, utilized by Domnich, is commonly associated with twentieth century composers].
A number of the low stopped tones were highlighted as notes to avoid. The section of observations which followed in article eleven, "Sharps and flats," showed how to effectively employ the stopped tones in passage work.
Placing the hand in the bell enables execution of all the notes of the horn with their sharps and flats, i.e., playing natural and chromatic scales in all keys.
Finally, the title of this work should be again noted; Méthode de Premier et de Second Cor. The high and low horn were treated as separate instruments in terms of range and equipment by Domnich; no one player could be expected to master the full range of the horn. Domnich did, however, feel that any individual player could master either range. The following passage from the article entitled "The two types of horn" is quite revealing.
It has already been said that it is impossible for the same player to play all the notes of the horn from the low register to the high register using only one mouthpiece. It is equally impossible for him to use in turn two mouthpieces of different diameters.
Illustrations of the two types of mouthpiece followed. Undoubtedly, these comments of Domnich reflected opinions which were shared by many horn players of the period.
Heinrich Domnich, Méthode de Premier et de Second Cor (Paris: Le Roy, 1808) viii, trans. in Birchard Coar, A Critical Study of the Nineteenth Century Horn Virtuosi in France (DeKalb, IL: Birchard Coar, 1952), 27, 36.
________, Méthode, German, French and English ed., English trans. Darryl G. Poulsen (Kirchheim: Hans Pizka Edition, 1985), 5, 9, 12-16, 19, 23-25. Several minor spelling errors have been corrected.
Hans Pizka, Hornisten Lexikon (Kirchheim: Hans Pizka Edition, 1986).
Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved.