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Unusual Notations in Works by J. R. Lewy

Note: This article continues the topic begun in the previous article, "J. R. Lewy and Early Works of Wagner." The below text is as presented in my 1995 dissertation, but with musical examples numbered as presented when this was published in 1997 as “Joseph Rudolphe Lewy and Valved Horn Technique in Germany, 1837-1851.” The Horn Call Annual 9, 23-35.

John Ericson

Finally, it is necessary to examine what is known of the horn technique of J. R. Lewy from his own publications.  While he did not write a method for the horn, J. R. Lewy did compose some very interesting etudes.  His Douze Etudes Pour le Cor chromatique et le Cor simple were published circa 1850 by Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig [1]. It is evident from these etudes that, at least in this period, J. R. Lewy considered fine hand-horn technique essential in playing the valved horn, as several numbers require the use of a combination of valve and hand-horn technique.  It may also be significant that the title is in French, in light of French use of the right hand in the bell on the valved horn.                                 

In the preface to these studies J. R. Lewy gave the following instructions:

These studies are to be played on the chromatic F horn, but the valves are to be employed only when the natural horn is inadequate for the bright and distinct emission of the sounds.  Moreover, what is written for the simple [natural] horn is also to be played on the chromatic horn, the valves being used only for playing in other keys without changing the crook.  When a part is marked 'In Es,' the first valve is to be used; when 'In E,' the second; and when 'In D,' the third.  In this way alone will the beauty of tone of the natural horn be preserved, and the instrument acquire increased capabilities [2].

Seven of the studies are simply extremely difficult valved horn etudes written in the standard manner, for the horn in F, with no additional notations.  Studies no. 3 and 9, however, are for the natural horn and studies no. 5, 10, and 11 feature frequent crook changes [3, and see UPDATE].  It is to these etudes that he primarily directs his prefatory comments on using the valves to make crook changes.

The following are two examples taken from etude no. 11.  Note the editorial instructions by Lewy of "Cor simple" and "ventil," which make it clear that the F horn sections were to be performed using the valves in the standard manner, and that the E, Eb, and D horn sections were to be performed using hand-horn technique, using the valves to make the required crooks.



A group of ten etudes, edited from the preceding work, were also published without piano accompaniment [4]. The following is another version of the same passage taken from Lewy's Ausgewählte Etüden für Horn [Selected Etudes for Horn].  In this version editorial instructions of "Cor simple," "avec le main," and "ventil" are omitted, but it is clear that the F horn sections were to be performed using the valves, and that the E, Eb, and D horn sections were to be performed using hand-horn technique, as in the other version.


Some forethought on the part of the J. R. Lewy as a composer was necessary in order to write etudes that could be performed by this technical approach to playing the valved horn.  The hornist must have all the requested crooks available as valve changes, and the music must all be notated in the proper transpositions and technically practical on the requested crook as well.  These three studies are challenging but highly idiomatic for this application of hand-horn technique.  These etudes, which cover an overall range from written F1 to db''', would have required from J. R. Lewy virtuoso technique on both the natural and valved horns, and say much of his technical ability.

We must not forget, however, that these etudes most often call for what can only be considered standard valved horn technique; J. R. Lewy did not treat the valved horn as an omnitonic horn.  The sections for the F crook noted above and the following example all require very fluid valved horn technique.  Note particularly the low range sections in the following extremely virtuostic etude, which concludes with a section of horn chords [5].


The valves are clearly used as fingerings in the majority of these etudes.

A final point of interest from the preface to these etudes is that Lewy used a three-valved instrument built to operate in the standard manner, and that the third valve alone was used to finger the D horn.  It would appear that J. R. Lewy preferred tuning each of the valve slides accurately for one key, and used the third valve alone instead of the first and second valves in combination; another possibility is that he wanted to avoid the extra interruptions in the air column caused by using the valves in combination.

J. R. Lewy's Divertissement, Op. 13, for horn and piano is another work from this period which sheds light on the unusual valved horn technique requested in some of his etudes.  Based on motives of Schubert, it was published shortly after the etudes [6].  The key of Gb is used in the following transcription of Schubert's famous Serenade.  The part opens notated for horn in Gb and in the following example alternates sections in Gb and F.


No explanation is given in the music for this curious notation.  The work later switches to E and then back to F [7].

The only previous writer known to the author to have discussed this unusual work, W. F. H. Blandford, commented that the notations for horn in Gb suggested the use of a half-step ascending valve by J. R. Lewy on his horn, rejecting the idea that he intended the phrases notated in Gb to be performed as an echo passage [8].  Since there are no recorded references to actually applying a half-step ascending valve to the valved horn (presumably a fourth valve), this solution seems unlikely.

There are several other possible solutions to what is meant by this notation.  The dynamics certainly imply an echo effect very strongly.  Meifred had suggested in his Méthode that one read echo horn passages up one-half step; however, if Lewy was simply in effect writing out the transposition for the hornist, the section in the above example should have been notated in E instead of Gb to accomplish this playing on the F crook.

It is also possible that Lewy performed with "modern" stopped horn technique, reading the passages down a half step.  If this is the case, this is the first known reference to this technique, and one could read the Gb section with standard fingerings on the F crook, fully stopping the bell with the hand.  This solution, however, doesn't take into account that Gb and E are both used in this work, unless two different types of hand stopping were requested.

It seems most likely that Lewy intended the entire piece for essentially hand horn performance, using the valves to crook the horn into the various requested keys, as in the three famous etudes.  For example, if he crooked his horn in G (Gb crooks have always been very rare), the key of Gb could be obtained with the second valve, the key of F with the first valve, and the key of E with the third valve; if the Gb crook were used, the second valve would be used for F and the first for E.  This would be possible technically and would give interesting "shades and nuances" to the work, which the French favored so much.

While the application of this technique of using the valves to make crook changes is somewhat different than Joseph Meifred's, as there are no multiple modulations in this work, this approach to solo playing would appear to have been influenced by Meifred's technical ideas about the use of the right hand on the valved horn.  This also corresponds with the ideals which J. R. Lewy stated in the preface to his etudes.  As this Divertissement was likely written for his personal use as a soloist, this work shows a practical application of this technique of using the valves as crooking devices.

One final work of J. R. Lewy is also highly worthy of examination, his Concerto in F.  This one-movement work, published posthumously, makes an interesting comparison with his other works.  Written in a free form, the Concerto is built upon alternating technical and lyrical sections; following are examples of both.



The horn writing in this work gives a few more clues to his actual technique.  Lewy requested an overall range from written f# to bb'' for the horn in F, somewhat restricted in comparison to his etudes.  First, it is clear from these examples that Lewy was not using the valves as crooking devices.  The second example, with its concluding chromatic scale, suggests that Lewy had a fluid valved horn technique.  It would be possible to use some hand-horn technique in either example, possibly using technique similar to that seen in France, but this was certainly not necessary; everything could be easily performed with standard technique.  It could be argued that the entire work is playable on the natural horn, but the use of the chromatic scale in the second example is certainly more idiomatic for the valved horn.  As this Concerto was likely written for his own personal use, it gives another perspective on his actual technique, which would appear to be, at its heart, standard technique using the valves not as crook changes but as fingerings. 

The topic continues in the next article, "Understanding Horn Notations in Later Works of Wagner"



 1. W. F. H. Blandford, "Studies on the Horn.  II.  Wagner and the Horn Parts of Lohengrin," part 2, The Musical Times 63 (October 1, 1922) 694.  Stephen Lyons Seiffert, in "Johannes Brahms and the French Horn" (D.M.A. diss., University of Rochester, 1968), dates these etudes to the 1830s without stating a source.  This work is listed in vol. 4 of Hofmeister's Handbuch, 58, indicating a publication date between 1844 and 1851.  Numerous sources date this publication to ca. 1850, and one, Tuckwell, 88, dates the work to 1850; Tarr, however, dates this publication to 1849 (Tarr, "Romantic," part 2, 200, citing Ahrens, 20).

2. Trans. in Blandford, ibid.

3. Tarr, ibid.  The author unfortunately did not have access to a copy of the original etudes. UPDATE: However, today (2016), there subsequently have been at least two modern editions of these 12 etudes Published, both appearing on the market in 2002. They are from O’Bannion Music and from Thomas Z. Hale. Both of these editions include piano parts and Midi accompaniment files and both preserve the original notations of Lewy.

4. Lewy, Joseph Rudolph, Ausgewählte Etüden für Horn (Leipzig: Hofmeister, 1969) is one example of this edition (also published by Belwin as Ten Progressive Studies for Horn, an incorrect translation of the title; "selected" is a better translation of "ausgewählte," as noted in Johnny Pherigo, "Horn Study Materials: A Survey of New and Reissued Publications Available in the United States with a 1965-1985 Copyright," The Horn Call Annual 2 [1990], 34); it is not clear, however, if this version was also published ca. 1850 or came out at a later date.

5. Horn chords, called for by a number of composers including Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) in his Concertino (1806), are produced by the simultaneous playing of one pitch with the lips and singing a second pitch with the voice.

6. Blandford, ibid, citing the plate numbers of the publications.

7. Ibid.  The author unfortunately did not have access to a copy of this work outside of Blandford's article.

8. Ibid, 694-95.  Blandford, 695, states ". . .it is unthinkable that Lewy should have intended playing the first twenty-two bars in a manner suggesting a ventriloquist imitating a cornet-player on the roof, and blurting into the full tone of the horn at the twenty-third bar . . . ."

Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved. This article posted online in 2016


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