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K. G. Reissiger on the Valved Horn--1837

"My love, I am a horn. Don't you recognize me any more?"

John Ericson

This article is based on materials published in The Horn Call Annual 9 (1997).

An important composer and conductor of the nineteenth century was Karl Gottleib Reissiger (1798-1859). Reissiger served as Hofkapellmeister in Dresden in the period that J. R. Lewy performed there. Reissiger expounded a very unfavorable view toward the valved horn in his 1837 article in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the same year J. R. Lewy was hired in Dresden [see J. R. Lewy and Early Works of Wagner].

Reissiger opened his article by quoting two passages on the valved horn by composer and critic G. W. Fink (1783-1846) from the third volume of Universal Lexikon der Tonkunst (pub. 1835-38), edited by Gustav Schilling (1805-1880). Fink first stated that the valves altered the characteristic tone of the natural instruments irrevocably, and followed by stating that there were wonderful effects possible by the use of open and stopped notes, as Beethoven and Weber understood [Reissiger, col. 608].

Reissiger went on to list several more objections to the new instruments, first stating his wish that these comments might stimulate other musicians in discussing issues relating to the current "mania" for the new valved instruments [Nearly the entire article is (somewhat roughly) translated in Pizka, 494-497; brief quotations in the present summary refer to this translation]. He objected to the neglect of the natural instruments and to the "ear-deafening" introduction of the new instruments into military music. After a discussion of the situation in military bands, he turned to operatic music. Reissiger noted the "characteristic pain" of the stopped horn sounds in, for example, the introduction to the second act of Fidelio; played on a valved horn, with a poor, trombone-like tonal color, "how heart-rending." Other examples followed, and he added,

I hear such a beautiful, sustained solo performed in a colorless monotone on a valve horn, and it seems to me as if the instrument is moaning: 'My love, I am a horn. Don't you recognize me any more? I admit that I am too severely constricted, I am somewhat uncentered and hoarse, my sweetness is gone, my tone sounds as if it has to go through a filter sack in which its power gets stuck' [Reissiger, col. 610, trans. in Gross, 21].

Reissiger urged musicians not to neglect the natural horn, thus indicating that the "colorless monotone" mentioned is likely a reference to the lack of color changes on the valved horn due to the use of the valves instead right-hand technique. He concluded by reiterating that this article was not written against virtuosos of the valved instruments but rather to stimulate thought and discussion among musicians [Reissiger, col. 610].


Ernest H. Gross III, "The Influence of Berlioz on contemporary nineteenth century use of brass instruments," part 1, Brass Bulletin 67 (1989), 20-31.

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

C. G. Reissiger, "Über Ventilhörner und Klappentrompeten," Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 39 (September, 1837), col 608-610.

Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved.


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