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The First Works for the Valved Horn

Two works from before 1820.

John Ericson

This article is expanded from materials published in The Horn Call Annual 8 (1996) and The Horn Call 28, no. 3 (May, 1998).

Sources frequently point to Schubert's Auf dem Strom (1828) as the first work by a major composer for the valved horn. However, Schubert himself had used the valved horn previously in his Nachtgesang im Walde of 1827 (see my related article on Schubert and the Lewy Brothers), and there are a pair of highly notable but generally unknown very early works for the valved horn that are know to have been performed in Berlin before 1820 which should be noted.

The first and most notable of these works is a Concertino for three natural horns and chromatic horn by hornist, composer, and conductor Georg Abraham Schneider (1770-1839). This work was premiered on December 14, 1818 [SEE UPDATE, below; October 16, 1818 is the correct date]; Pfaffe performed on the valved horn, as noted in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 21 (January 27, 1819), col. 63. This Concertino was performed again in March of 1819, as noted in AmZ 21 (April 18, 1819), with a third performance occurring on December 15, 1819, as recorded in AmZ 22 (January 19, 1820), col. 51. The second of these works, a Concerto for three horns by a hornist named Lenss, was premiered on November 26, 1819; Andreas Schunke performed the chromatic horn part, as noted in AmZ 21 (December 22, 1819), col. 874 [sources: Dressler, 66, and Tarr, 200].

Both of these important early works date from the period that Heinrich Stoelzel (1777-1844), the inventor of the valve, was first active in Berlin and, unfortunately, are very likely not extant today. That the Schneider includes a part for the chromatic horn does, however, say something important: he saw the valved horn as a completely chromatic instrument (as had Stoelzel). This is yet another piece of evidence proving that the idea that the valve was invented as a mere crook changing device is a myth [see the article Why Was the Valve Invented? for more information on this topic].

As to the hornists on these performances, John Dressler commented in his dissertation on the horn in German Romantic opera [66] that the text of the notice on the Lenss Concerto is unclear as to whether Schunke, a member of a well known family of hornists, performed the part on the chromatic horn or on the natural horn. Dressler also notes that all of the hornists just named were members of orchestra of the theater in Berlin in 1821, citing information supplied by the Staatsarchiv Potsdam. Interestingly, Pfaffe, the "chromatic" [valved] hornist on the Schneider premiere, is also listed in the Adress-Kalender für die Königliche Haupt-und Residenzstadt Berlin und Potsdam of 1818 and 1819 as a keyed bugle player; obviously he was a very multitalented performer [Dudgeon, 34].


John Dressler, "The Orchestral Horn Quartet in German Romantic Opera" (D.M. diss., Indiana University, 1987).

Ralph T. Dudgeon, The Keyed Bugle (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1993).

Edward H. Tarr, "The Romantic Trumpet," part 2, Historic Brass Society Journal 6 (1994), 110-215.


Besides pointing to an even earlier performance of the Schneider Concertino in Berlin (October 16, 1818--as published in AMZ for November of 1818, col. 790-791--read the notice in German--Friedrich Bode performed the valved horn) publisher Robert Ostermeyer presents a good case that his new publication of the Concerto for 4 Horns and Orchestra in E-flat by Schneider (dated on the score 30 March 1817) is in fact the same work as the Concertino. Read his case in English. At the very least he shows that the Concertino was performed at least four times before 1820; if it is the same work as his publication he has published (spring, 2000)it is a most interesting document. The work itself would appear to have be written for natural horns; the first part, while playable on the natural horn, is nevertheless a soloistic, obbligato line compared to the other horn parts, and thus may have been intended to demonstrate the unique ability of the valved horn to perform these lines without stopped notes.

Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved.


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