Matt and I take a look at the Alto Horn, A.K.A the Tenor Horn (or Peck Horn, or Blatweasel) and why it’s not used anymore in American bands.
This instrument is a taxonomic conundrum. It is shaped like the tubas, and has some of the characteristics of that family, but due to its narrower bore structure, I place it here with the cornets. If we look at the British brass bands, we will see that this is how they are grouped (as the middle voices in a cornet choir). Early in the history of American bands, the Alto Horn, then known as the E-flat Horn, was seen in nearly all groups as a substitute for the Horn. However, the Alto Horn is not a substitute for the noble Horn at all, and should never be treated as such. Continue reading “E-flat Alto Horn (Tenor Horn)”
This post is more of a catalog of availability than suggestions or orchestration
Tuba (Bass and Contrabass)
With some of the rarer instruments, like Flügelhorn, Mellophone, Alto Horn, Bass Trumpet and others, they can use mutes designed for some of the other brass instruments (in most of these cases, the Tenor Trombone).
Alto Flügelhorn or Alto Tuba or Alto Euphonium
Like the Piccolo Flügelhorn, I only include this instrument for completeness sake. It is extremely rare, and I can find only a few examples of such an instrument ever having been manufactured. In essence it is a wide bore Alto Horn. Do not use this instrument in your writing.
The Mellophone as an Alto Tuba
I’ve gone back and forth in my head as whether or not to include the so-called “marching brass.” In most instances, it’s a moot point. Marching brass instruments are just reconfigured and redesigned versions of the traditional brass instruments. There’s one exception though, the Mellophone.
There are actually two different instruments that go by the name Mellophone. One is the older style instrument that is shaped like a Horn but pitched in alto F or E-flat and played with the right hand instead of the left. The other instrument can more properly be called a “Mellophonium.” This instrument is bell-front and looks like a giant Flügelhorn. This version is the most commonly seen today in high school and college marching bands.
The Mellophone does not fit neatly into any one instrument family. It is an odd mélange of the cornet, tuba, and horn families. The wide bell flare is close to that of a Horn. The bore structure is closer to cornets, but the bore width is closer to tubas.
It is clearly not a horn because the mouthpiece is not that of the deep funnel cup type, so the choice must be narrowed down to between a cornet and a tuba. The closest analog is the Alto Horn. Here we must look at specifics. Alto Horns are pitched in E-flat while Mellophones are usually in F. This means that the Alto Horn should be bigger all around than the Mellophone assuming that they are members of the same family. However, this is not the case. The Mellophone, in general, has a much wider bore than does the Alto Horn. On average, the Alto Horn’s bore ranges between .409″ (top of the line professional) and .462″ (mid-range student) with an average of an 8.5″ bell, while the Mellophone’s bore is consistently .460″ with a 10″ to 11″ bell. As we’ve placed the Alto Horn firmly in the cornet family, the means that the Mellophone should really be classified as a tuba.
This opens up an interesting world. As we say in the entry on tuba species, there is no true member of the tuba family pitched in the alto voice range. We go from soprano with the Flügelhorn to the tenor/baritone range with the Euphonium/Tenor Tuba. The Mellophone could easily fill this gap. I would like to think of it as just an Alto Flügelhorn pitched in F a fifth below normal. I could easily replace the bottom voice in a group of Flügelhorns (say part four in a choir of four voices). This will give an additional solo voice to the ensemble (one never before included in concert music), and will extend the range of the Flügelhorn section.
Some notes: the Mellophone (hereafter referred to as an Alto Tuba) should always be written in F transposing in the treble clef. The instrument pitched in E-flat is a thing of a bygone age and no longer manufactured. When being used as an Alto Tuba, it is essential that the widest bore instrument made be used for that part. Also essential, is the use of the proper mouthpiece on the Alto Tuba. Modern instruments are manufactured so that a trumpet mouthpiece can be used on the instrument, but the result is far from satisfactory. In order to ensure proper results, a large, deep cup Alto Horn mouthpiece must be used by the player. This will result in a warm, sonorous sound that will blend with the rest of the tubas.
Oddly, the Alto Tuba (Mellophone) has never been used in a concert setting. This is probably a result of it being solely thought of as an instrument for the marching field. However, if we remove ourselves from the football field, and realize that this instrument is not meant to be a substitute for the F Horn, then we are free to use it as it truly is – an Alto Tuba.
Summertime on Mellophone. Note the wider bore and rounder south than the Alto Horn.
A section of 5 Mellophones
Cornets in the Band
Look at any old band score and you will see how to traditionally write for B-flat Cornets. They are the main melody section of the brass section (and more often than not, of the whole band). I’m not going to go down that route for this section, as it has been thoroughly covered. Since the cornets have become extinct in our bands, I am going to resurrect them, and christen them anew. Think of the possibilities of adding a whole new brass section to our bands!
First, I will start with a simple four-person section. Were I to only have four players, my first choice would be two B-flat Cornets, and one each of Alto and Baritone Horns. We have a nice and well-balanced quartet, capable of most SATB arrangements.
Going to six players, I see two interesting ways of expanding. We could have a group of two, two, and two. That is two B-flat Cornets, two Alto Horns, and two Baritone Horns. Or we could have one E-flat Cornet, three B-flat Cornets, one Alto Horn, and one Baritone Horn.
If we fully expand out to eight instruments, then we can combine the two groups of six players and come up with one E-flat Cornet, three B-flat Cornets, two Alto Horns, and two Baritone Horns. This section looks almost identical to that of a British brass band (less one Alto Horn part).
Note, no doubling can take place except between the E-flat and B-flat Cornets. Brass doubling, if we remember, takes place between pitch-classes and not between members of the same family.
As this is the technically most flexible family of brass, it is the one section that can keep up with woodwind flourishes and runs. Here alone is a solid reason for their inclusion. Unlike the other heave brass, they can blend more seamlessly into the woodwinds.
Their uniform warm sound is perfect for chorales and sustained harmonies. I can just imagine a chorale from the Alto and Baritone Horns soaring above the rest of the band.
For examples, I look no further than traditional British brass bands. Roughly 60% of a British brass band are cornets. The rest of the band is 1 Flügelhorn, 2 Euphoniums, 2 Bass Tubas, 2 Contrabass Tubas, and 3 trombones.
This piece has some fantastic bandestration. Look and listen for all the different muting possibilities. This is the first time I’ve ever heard cup mutes for tubas of any size.
Sadly, the cornets are a sound that we have almost entirely lost from the band. At one time, the Cornet was the most important brass instrument in the band. Today, the trumpet has completely taken over this role. Most people nowadays see no difference between the two instruments. I see a huge difference.