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Horn Folklore and "Urban Legends"

How up to date are your sources?

Dr. John Ericson

Omnitonic Horn

This article is expanded from materials published in Upstate Hornist 1, no. 1 (Fall, 1999).

As a performer and teacher who became fascinated with the history of the horn I am amazed by the rather large body of plausible sounding folklore which has been repeated so many times that much of it is widely accepted as historical fact. Maybe these stories are not really "urban legends" in the sense that this term is commonly used today, but many items from sources written before roughly the late 1970s are certainly not up to date with recent scholarship. I have addressed a number of these myths in my published writings; the below are only a few of the biggest "urban legends" of the horn which are floating around out there, with links to more information on these topics. Check out what recent sources have to say!

The Top Three Myths of Horn History:

"Hand-horn technique was invented by Hampel around 1750." This idea is repeated in numerous sources, but clearly the answer is not anywhere near this clear cut. I have an article underway on this topic; certainly hand-horn technique was known well before Hampel "invented" it. I touch on this topic in The Natural Horn and Its Technique, where I also point to important recent published sources on this topic by Richard Seraphinoff and Thomas Hiebert. Somebody needs to write a dissertation on this.

"Beethoven wrote the famous fourth horn solo in his Symphony No. 9 for the valved horn." NO, it just ain't so! It is completely playable and idiomatic for the natural horn, and the supposed performer of this part on the premiere in 1824 most likely did not even own a valved horn before 1826. Read more about this in detail in E. C. Lewy and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

"The valve was invented by Stoelzel and Bluhmel as a mere crook changing device, with no intent of making the horn chromatic." NO, NO, NO!!! This basic concept is repeated in so many sources (and keeps on getting repeated) that it really boggles the mind, especially when one realizes that the facts are very clear that this statement is totally false, with sources from Stoelzel and Bluhmel (actual quotations!) available since the late 1970s (!) which prove this idea wrong. Read why Stoelzel and Bluhmel really invented their valves [to make brass instruments chromatic!!] in Why Was the Valve Invented.

More Favorite Myths of Horn History:

"Wait a minute, don't the horn parts in Wagner's opera Lohengrin prove that valves were invented to make crook changes?" The valve was invented in 1814. Lohengrin was completed in 1848. The horn writing in this work is very interesting but it most certainly does not prove that valves were invented to make crook changes; most likely only one hornist advocated this practice, who influenced Wagner to write the parts the way he did. I have much to say about this in an article in The Horn Call Annual no. 9 (1997).

"The natural horn has a rough and uneven tonal quality; the valved horn has a much better tone." Many modern players seem to feel this is true, but the fact is that the best natural horn players played with a fairly even tonal color and that the covered tones provided what they considered to be expressive shades and nuances to the sound of the horn. Read more in Dauprat on the Tone of the Natural Horn and in Oscar Franz and Richard Strauss on the Horn in the Late Nineteenth Century.

"Auf dem Strom was the first work by a major composer for the valved horn." It was not even Schubert's first work for the valved horn, and this famous work is quite playable on the natural horn as well. Read more in Schubert and the Lewy Brothers and also The First Works for the Valved Horn.

"The omnitonic horn is a bridge instrument in the evolution of horn design, between the natural horn and the valved horn." I don't know of a source which actually makes this bold (and false) statement, but a number come rather close. These unusual looking instruments show up frequently in horn texts, but this is mainly because they look interesting, not because they are actually important historically. Read more in What Was the Omnitonic Horn. Also, on the "evolution" question see my thoughts in Changes in Horn Design--Development or Evolution.

"Nothing is known about Kopprasch." Well, not much is known, but you can learn much more than you knew about Georg Kopprasch in The Original Kopprasch Etudes.

"Didn't Gumbert produce the main edition of Kopprasch?" No, it really is Gumpert--the name of this important late 19th-century horn teacher is misspelled on every one of his published works. Read more in Gumpert or Gumbert? 

"Crooks weren't used on the valved horn." If this were the case, why were so many valved horn parts written in keys other than F?? There are articles relating to this all over the horn history section of this home page; one of the clearest (and most entertaining) overviews may be found in Henri Kling and the Valved Horn in the Late Nineteenth Century. I also published an article relating specifically to this topic in the November, 1999 issue of The Horn Call.

Wasn't the first horn part on the premiere performance of the Schumann Konzertstuck for four horns and orchestra performed on the natural horn? I read that somewhere." There are several sources that state this idea, and I fell into the trap and repeated the story in my dissertation. I am now very doubtful of the sources that state that hornist Eduard Pohle performed on the natural horn at this premiere. See my article in the November, 1999 issue of The Horn Call for more on this topic (footnote 21 of the article).

Suggestions for more horn history "urban legends" to point out in this home page are always welcome. 

Copyright John Q. Ericson. All rights reserved. 


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