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The Double Horn and Its Invention in 1897

The double horn is just over 100 years old.

John Ericson

This article originally appeared in The Horn Call 28, no. 2 (Feb., 1998), with additional notes from The Horn Call 28, no. 3 (May, 1998).

As the nineteenth century was coming to a close, controversy raged in the horn playing community. This controversy had its roots in the use of crooks on the valved horn, and came to be centered around the relative merits of horns crooked or pitched in the keys of F or B-flat. The solution to this controversy, which in the words of Reginald Morley-Pegge "revolutionized horn playing technique almost as much as did the invention of the valve" [Morley-Pegge, "Orchestral," 195], was the double horn.

The first prototypes of this design, which combined the F and B-flat horns into one instrument, were produced by the German horn maker Kruspe in 1897 [Heyde, 181]. The design of the double horn was created by Edmund Gumpert, who served as third hornist in Meiningen. Edmund Gumpert was a nephew of perhaps the most important German valved horn performer and teacher of the late nineteenth century, Friedrich Gumpert (1841-1906) [see the article Gumpert or Gumbert?] so we first turn to the elder Gumpert to better understand the musical context which led to the invention of the double horn.

Fr. Gumpert served as professor at the Leipzig Conservatory and as principal hornist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1864 until 1898 [Morley-Pegge, 2nd ed., 173] His equally famous student, German-American hornist Anton Horner (1877-1971, for many years principal hornist of the Philadelphia orchestra), recalled in 1956 the manner in which Fr. Gumpert used crooks on the valved horn. Horner, who studied with Gumpert from 1890-94, stated the following.

[Gumpert] had no use for the B-flat horn which was coming into use in Germany at that time; but he did advocate changing crooks or slides to G, A, and B-flat horn for some compositions. For instance, he played the Siegfried solo on the B-flat horn, and the slow movement of the Second Beethoven Symphony on the A crook; also played the Mendelssohn Nocturne on an E crook. The old German conductors like Reinecke in Leipzig, Bühlow [sic] in Berlin, and others would not tolerate the thin, harsh quality of the B[flat] horn, unless the composers called for that quality in their compositions, when they wrote for the G, A-flat, A, and B-flat horn. Of course, we, of today, think these restrictions are splitting hairs, but that was the opinion that prevailed in those days. I know that in many orchestras, when there were auditions for vacant positions, B[flat] horn players were not even considered. But eventually, B[flat] horn specialists were considered, when such excellent players as Preusse in Frankfurt proved and demonstrated its advantages [Horner, 91].

After his graduation in 1894 Horner returned to Philadelphia, but kept in close contact with a classmate named Hermann Brachold, who had also studied the horn with Fr. Gumpert. Horner was an early advocate of the double horn and later recalled receiving through Brachold a copy of an article which was published in Deutsche Musikerzeitung in 1898 titled "Hie F-Horn--hie B-Horn--was ist recht?" [Here F Horn--There B-flat Horn--What's Right?], which contained one of the very first published notices on the new double horn [Ibid, 92. This series of articles from Deutsche Musikerzeitung is reprinted with a (rough) translation in Pizka, 279-291].

This article appeared in three parts. The first part was written by Josef Lindner, who was professor of horn in Würzburg and had previously served as principal hornist in Meiningen. In short, Lindner was a very strong advocate of the use of the B-flat horn. At that time many of the valved horns which were in use still used terminal crooks in the same manner as an orchestral natural horn, and could be crooked into any orchestral key. Lindner did admit that if one were to take a terminally crooked valved horn in F and simply insert a B-flat shank into the instrument the resulting tonal quality is lacking [Pizka, 281]. However, Lindner pointed out that if a full length leadpipe were used on the B-flat horn--that is, the instrument was not built to use terminal crooks but instead had a fixed leadpipe--the tone was much better [My own experiments also confirm that a valved horn which uses terminal crooks to reach B-flat alto--requiring the use of a very short crook (with less than 6 inches of tapered length)--is lacking in tone compared to one built with a full length, fixed leadpipe (modern double horn leadpipes, for example contain 19.5 to 22 inches of tapered length)]. He additionally felt that the high range sounded "unnatural and pressed" on the F horn [Pizka, 284] concluding that the B-flat horn was basically superior.

Lindner's article was quickly followed by a lengthy reply written by Richard Tornauer, who performed in Cologne. Tornauer, predictably, was a strong advocate of the use of the F horn. He began by noting that composers preferred the lower tonalities of the horn, giving the example that the Fidelio Aria, if performed by two A horns and one E horn, was no longer an accompaniment but instead became obtrusive horn solo because of the very bright tonal quality of the horns [Ibid, 287]. While he admitted that the F crook required better lip technique than the B-flat crook, nevertheless, he stated that using the B-flat horn was not art. He additionally stated that the B-flat horn was used only in southern Germany, with the remainder of the country still cultivating the use of the F horn [Ibid, 288].

The conclusion of this discussion in Deutsche Musikerzeitung was an article on the new Gumpert-Kruspe double horn, which caught the attention of Brachold and Horner. The article reported that Edmund Gumpert, working with the instrument maker Kruspe in Erfurt, had combined the F and B-flat horns into one instrument [Ibid, 289]. The real genius of the design lay with its ability to combine and utilize the best aspects of the F and B-flat horns; the low range retained the full sound of the F horn, while in the high range one could use the B-flat horn for improved accuracy [Morley-Pegge, 2nd ed., 49-51 notes that the système équitonique of Gautrot and Marquet in France, a compensating system dating to 1864, embodied the principal on which the double horn operated. However, it is doubtful that this system was known to Edmund Gumpert, as the central issue for Gumpert was that of combining the F and B-flat horns into one instrument, not correcting for theoretical intonation problems].

The Double Horn

The Double Horn.

The above illustration comes from another very early published report on the invention of the double horn, an article titled "Ein neues Doppelhorn" [A New Double Horn] by hornist and composer Hermann Eichborn (1847-1918), published in 1899 in Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau. This particular illustration is of the first Gumpert-Kruspe design, which used a pair of valves, connected to each other, to accomplish the change from F to B-flat. This is the type of horn which Horner recalled as being his first double horn [Horner, 92]. When Horner began using the double horn in 1899 other hornists tried to discredit his work (and success) by saying that he used a "freak" horn [ibid], but the double horn was here to stay.

One of the first published notices in the USA on the double horn is a 1907 article by Gustav Saenger (1865-1935) in The Metronome. He reiterated the problem and introduced the solution as follows.

The extraordinary and remarkable accomplishments which modern composers demand from Wind Instrument players has led to many experiments and improvements in the construction of these instruments within recent years. . . .

Occasionally, of course, we still come in contact with the ideal Horn enthusiast who maintains and believes the Natural Horn to be the only and most perfect one; however, for orchestral uses, the success of the Valve Horn has proved beyond a doubt how immeasurably superior it is to the Natural Horn. But we find that even the Valve Horn players are divided into two very decided factions, each of which is stubbornly determined that their own system is the best, one preferring the B flat, and the other the F Horn.

It is a well-known fact that at the present time of writing the majority of high Horn players have adopted the B flat Horn, preferring a secure and easily produced high range, to a round, voluminous tonal quality. However, it cannot be denied that no matter how proficient or artistic a player will perform on a B-flat horn, this instrument will always be recognized at once by cultivated listeners, through its certain stiffness in tonal production and in the noticeable dryness of the intervals of the lower range.

In order to do away with these shortcomings and maintain the desirable qualities of both these instruments, innumerable experiments have been made in order to combine the qualities and technical advantages of a B flat and F Horn into one instrument . . . .

. . . [The Double Horn] is the talk of modern European Horn players and bids fair to revolutionize the playing of this instrument to a great extent. . . .

While it is prudent not to proclaim any new invention as an absolute success before its practical usefulness has been firmly established, it would seem that this new Double Horn has really come to stay. Mr. Aug. Hubl, the solo Horn player of the Royal Court Orchestra in Stuttgart, after a recent test of these new instruments, said that, in his opinion, their system was the best which had ever been invented, and positively declared it to be the French Horn of the Future.

Other prominent European Horn players who have had occasion to test the new Horn agree with this opinion, declaring it as an immense advancement in the construction and perfection of the French Horn, which, in all probability would be speedily introduced into all larger orchestras and bands [Saenger, 12].

The double horn, in terms of design, did pull the valved horn even further away from its natural horn roots, but the invention clearly allowed horn players to better meet the demands placed on them with less of a tonal compromise. "Higher, louder, faster" seems to be the motto of many composers, and the double horn is well suited to performing at these extremes of technique.

Finally, while the double horn did in general solve the problem of the choice between the single F and B-flat horns, and also eliminated the general issue of the use of crooks, it did not solve the other problems of horn players. German-American hornist Bruno Jaenicke (1887-1946, for many years principal hornist of the New York Philharmonic) gave the following example in his 1927 article, "The Horn."

The success of this invention was complete, although not quite as easy as a conductor, whom I know, thinks. Let me tell you about him. One nice day I played for him in order to get a position as first horn in his orchestra. I played the F horn then. He accepted me, advising me to use the double horn of which he had heard, "because," he said, "it is so easy. When you want a high note you just press a button and there it is." The good man did not know that we have to set our lips in the same position when we play the high C on the F or B-flat horn. . . . Conductors love horn players who can play high notes. A maestro once told me of a hornist who could play very high notes, and they sound like flute tone. I asked him if his flutist could play like a horn. For some reason or other he did not like my remark [Jaenicke, 60].

The double horn celebrated its one hundredth anniversary in 1997. While the controversy over the use of the F or B-flat crooks has not been totally resolved even today, certainly the double horn did much toward solving the problem, and with these instruments the modern era of horn playing was introduced. As predicted, the double horn was the "horn of the future."

A few additional notes on the double horn, from an article on Kruspe by Christian Primus, "Tradition und Fortschritt auf dem weg ins 21. Jahrhundert," Brass Bulletin 95 (III, 1996). 

1. Fritz and Walter Kruspe, sons of owner Ed Kruspe, filed for the patent on the double horn on October 5, 1897. Thus, the 100th anniversary of the double horn passed on October 5, 1997.

2. George Wendler was not only principal hornist in Boston for many years and Kruspe's son-in-law; he also later (from 1920) managed Kruspe. His double horn design, the "Model Prof. Wendler No. 6," is still produced today, but his compensating horn was not the very first double horn produced, as has been reported in some sources (see the published version of this article, footnote 14).

3. The well-known Horner Model double horn of Kruspe was introduced in 1904. This design of Anton Horner is the design upon which the Conn 8D (among others) was based.


H. Eichborn, "Ein neues Doppelhorn," Schlufs, Zeitschrift fur Instrumentenbau 20, no. 4 (November 1, 1899); illustration from p. 98.

Herbert Heyde, Das Ventilblasinstrumente (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1987).

Anton Horner, "A Letter From Anton Horner," reprinted in The Horn Call 23, no. 2 (April, 1986), 91-93.

Bruno Jaenicke, "The Horn," The Ensemble News 2, no. 2 (1927), 11-13. Reprinted in The Horn Call 2, no. 1 (November, 1971), 58-60.

R. Morley-Pegge, The French Horn, 2nd. ed. (London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1973).

R. Morley-Pegge, "The Orchestral French Horn, Its Origin and Evolution" in Max Hinrichsen, ed., Waits Wind Band Horn (London: Hinrichsen, 1952).

Hans Pizka, Hornisten Lexikon (Kirchheim: Hans Pizka Edition, 1986).

Gustav Saenger, "A New Double French Horn," The Metronome 13, no. 1 (January, 1907), 12.

Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved.


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