The Early Valved Horn--Next Article

Keyed Horns and Slide Horns

Heinrich Stoelzel, the inventor of the valve in 1814, was not the only one experimenting toward making the horn completely chromatic.

John Ericson

This article is based on materials published in the Historic Brass Society Journal 9 (1997).

Although hand-stopping technique was highly developed by the late eighteenth century, making the horn a favorite solo instrument of the period, the natural horn had several drawbacks when used melodically. The tonal color of the natural horn can be very inconsistent when using a combination of open and closed tones in a melody, particularly in the hands of a less than proficient player; also, one must change crooks to modulate effectively, and there are large gaps in the lower range between the open pitches. Although composers could overcome these problems in the orchestra to some extent by crooking horns in several keys, these limiting factors led to much experimentation.

One of the first attempts to produce the chromatic scale on the horn by means other than hand-stopping dates from the 1760s. Ferdinand Köbel (ca. 1700-178?), a Bohemian hornist working in St. Petersburg, conceived the idea of adding keys and a perforated bell lid to the horn [Dahlqvist, 4], and gave his invention the rather romantic name of Amor-Schall, which can be loosely translated as "Cupid's horn" [Culbertson, 17]. The inventor of this instrument and Hensel, his son-in-law, performed on a pair of these horns in a concert for Tsarina Catherina II in November, 1766 [Dahlqvist, ibid]. It appears, however, that no other horn players took up this invention.

Another experimenter in the late eighteenth century was the Irish inventor Charles Clagget. He combined two horns or trumpets pitched one half step apart into one instrument by what appears to be an early valve. According to the description in his pamphlet Musical Phenomena (1793), the mouthpiece was connected to both instruments "by means of a piece of elastic, gum or leather, or otherwise" inside a mysterious horizontal cylinder with a small pin projecting from it, "so that the point of the mouthpiece may be directed to the opening of either of the horns or trumpets at pleasure ..." [Clagget, in Morley-Pegge, 27]. His experiments did not prove successful, and no examples of his design survive.

Nevertheless, a number of contemporary performers were conducting experiments toward making the horn completely chromatic. One of the most interesting experiments is documented in an 1812 article in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, "Wichtige Verbesserung des Horns" [Important Improvement to the Horn], by composer and theorist Gottfried Weber (1779-1839). Christian Dikhuth, a hornist in the court orchestra in Mannheim, had applied a short trombone slide with a return spring to the horn, a feat which he had accomplished by 1811. The invention operated on the same principal as the English slide trumpet, which dates from the end of the eighteenth century [Tarr, vol. 3, 404]. The slide could be used to lower the pitch of the instrument by a half step and was pulled into an extended position by means of a clock spring mechanism unless held in by the performer; the slide was normally held in. No example of this design is known to have survived, but based on the published description, the instrument could be illustrated as below.

Slide Horn

Slide Horn.

Weber's review showed how this mechanism could be used not only to correct intonation, but also to produce a number of new pitches without stopping the bell with the hand. Other notes, previously available only by heavily stopping the bell, could now be produced by using the hands in conjunction, the left thumb operating the mechanism by means of a cord attached to the slide and the right hand lightly stopping the bell. While not making the horn fully chromatic, it was now possible to use much less coverage with the right hand and thus obtain a much more even tonal color. (A rough idea of how the mechanism would have been used can be obtained by using the second valve of a standard valved horn in conjunction with the right hand in the bell to imitate the slide/hand technique.)

After reviewing in his article the technical advantages of the new instrument, Weber went on to show how the invention could be put to good use in the orchestra.

... the writer might also say that he was recently very surprised by the effect of the horn passage in the finale of Beethoven's Eroica symphony,

Beethoven 3 excerpt from finale, the loud first horn passage at F

which can scarcely be heard, but on this instrument has an astounding far-reaching effect.

With this comment Weber pointed out what he perceived to be a major problem of the natural horn in the orchestra; the muffled sound and poor projection of heavily stopped notes. This defect was easily corrected by the use of this invention, as a complete chromatic scale above written b-flat could be performed in open and lightly stopped notes. [NOTE: It should be noted, however, that even the use of valved horns did not solve the "problem" of projection in this passage, as conductors today often request this section to be performed by all three horns instead of only the first horn.]

He closed the review by stating "The manipulation of the slide is so simple that every proficient player might adapt himself to it," and concluded by noting his surprise that this invention had received so little public acknowledgment.

Several contemporary artists also tried to apply keys to the horn. Following up on his success with the keyed trumpet, the Viennese trumpeter Anton Weidinger (1767-1852) designed a keyed horn for his twelve-year-old son Joseph, who performed on the new instrument on a concert with his father on February 28, 1813, with other performances known in 1817 and 1819 [Dahlqvist, 17]. A report in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1815 also states that Schugt, a hornist from Cologne, had successfully demonstrated a keyed horn in the fall of 1813 [E., col 636-639]. Details of the construction of the instruments of Weidinger and Schugt are not known, but at least one nineteenth-century keyed horn survives which has three large keys in the region of the bell throat and bell tail. These could be used to raise an instrument pitched in F to F-sharp, G, and A-flat, but would not allow the placement of hand in the bell of the horn and would significantly alter the tonal color as well. [NOTE: This instrument is pictured Bruchle and Janetzky, 197. In a posting of 3 Jan 96 on the Internet horn discussion group (affiliated with the International Horn Society) Hans Pizka also reported two undated keyed horns formerly in the Bernoulli collection in Bale, Switzerland.]

The idea of placing keys on the horn seems to have received little notice, as did the slide horn. These inventions are however quite significant historically from the standpoint of showing a desire in some quarters to improve on the natural instruments then in use by increasing their chromatic capabilities.


Bernhard Brüchle and Kurt Janetzky, Kulturgeschichte des Horns (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1976).

Charles Clagget, Musical Phenomena (1793), cited in R. Morley-Pegge, The French Horn, 2nd ed. (London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1973), 27.

Robert Merrill Culbertson, "The Kopprasch Etudes for Horn" (D.M.A. treatise, University of Texas at Austin, 1990).

Reine Dahlqvist, The Keyed Trumpet and Its Greatest Virtuoso, Anton Weidinger (Nashville: The Brass Press, 1975), 4, 17, citing Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (1813), col. 844.

E., "Verbesserung des Waldhorns," Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 17, no. 38 (September 20, 1815), col. 638-639.

Edward H. Tarr, "Slide Trumpet," New Grove Instruments, vol. 3, 404.

Gottfried Weber, "Wichtige Verbesserung des Horns" Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 14, no. 47 (November 18, 1812), col. 759-764.

See also

Birchard Coar, The French Horn (Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, 1947), plate V between pages 52 and 53.

F. J. Fétis, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens, 2nd ed. (Paris: 1874; reprint, Bruxelles: Culture et Civilisation, 1963), vol. 3, 16.

Hans Pizka, Hornisten Lexikon (Kirchheim: Hans Pizka Edition, 1986), 97.

Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved.


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