Whole-Tube and Half-Tube Instruments and the Pedal Range

In his classic text, Orchestration, Cecil Forsyth talked about brass instruments being classified into two categories – whole-tube instruments and half-tube instruments.

Whole-Tube Instrument – a brass instrument capable of playing its fundamental pitch (the so-called pedal tone).

Half-Tube Instrument – a brass instrument that cannot play its fundamental pitch.

harmonic series

Forsyth was never clear as to which instruments fell exactly into what category.  In general, he stated that tubas were most definitely whole-tube instruments while trumpets and cornets cannot.  He neglects to mention trombones in either category, but includes passages that show pedal tones. Continue reading “Whole-Tube and Half-Tube Instruments and the Pedal Range”

Advertisements

An Interview with Hornist Brian Brown

This is the first in a series of interviews with performers on what they expect from good band writing.  First up is Brian Brown an active freelance horn player in the DFW area. He recently joined the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse horn quartet, and serves as Principal Horn of the East Texas Symphony, and performs regularly with the Fort Worth, Plano, and Waco symphonies, the Dallas Opera, and the Dallas Wind Symphony. Additionally, he has performed in many productions with Dallas Summer Musicals and Casa Manana Theatre, and in numerous recording sessions and chamber ensembles. In addition to maintaining a diverse performing career, he also publishes custom brass arrangements as co-owner of BrownWood Publishing. Brian studied with Dr. William Scharnberg at the University of North Texas.

 1.       What is your biggest pet peeve about Horn writing in band?
Continue reading “An Interview with Hornist Brian Brown”

A List of All Available Brass Mutes

This post is more of a catalog of availability than suggestions or orchestration

Horn

  • Straight
  • Stopping
  • Cup (rare)

Wagner Tuben

  • Straight

E-flat Cornet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon (rare)
  • Plunger
  • Hat/derby

B-flat Cornet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • ClearTone
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Alto Horn

  • Straight
  • Cup

Baritone Horn

  • Straight
  • Cup

Piccolo Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Hat/derby

Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Cleartone/solotone
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Bass Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon

Alto Trombone

  • Straight
  • Hat/derby

Tenor Trombone

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Bucket
  • Cleartone/solotone
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Bass Trombone

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Contrabass Trombone

  • Straight

Cimbasso

  • Straight

Flügelhorn

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Bucket
  • Solotone/cleartone

Mellophone

  • None

Euphonium

  • Straight
  • Bucket (rare)
  • Cup (rare)

Tuba (Bass and Contrabass)

  • Straight
  • Bucket (rare)
  • Cup (rare)

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).

The Wagner Tuba versus the Horn

The idea of the magical Wagner Tuba has always fascinated me.  I think it’s the rarity of the instrument combined with the musical connotation with the otherworldly realm that makes it such an alluring instrument.  However, I’ve never had the pleasure to work with these instruments up close.  If I recall correctly, I’ve only seen them in performance twice.  once in a performance of Strauss’ Alpine Symphony and the other in a performance of The Rite of Spring.  Neither of these works give the Tuben a real chance to shine.  Instead they are background, filler, and occasionally countermelodies.

With this said, it can be hard for an orchestrator to get an idea of how the Wagner Tuben and the Horns differ in their sounds.  I’ve found a few sources detailing the differences, but recently, I’ve found a single video of a quartet of Horns and a quartet of Tuben playing an arrangement of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony.  This really gives the listener a clear example of how the two instruments differ in sound.  The Tuben are what I would call fuzzier and warmer, while the Horns are clearer and more direct.  The interplay between the two groups is really fantastic.  The Tuben form a base to the sound of the Horns.

Horns Part 4 – Horns in the Band

Horns in the Band

            Traditionally, there are four Horn parts in every work for band (works for young ensembles excluded).  This number is rarely deviated from.  In the orchestra, there are numerous examples of scoring for more or less than the traditional four horns.  Most Classical works use only two horns.  Works like Holst’s Planets use six Horns.  Mahler used seven in his First Symphony.  Many, many composers have used eight.  Schönberg used ten in Gürreleider.  Strauss used twenty in his Alpine Symphony.  And Havergal Brian used 24 in his Gothic Symphony.  Yet, the band has never used more than four.

            With its nearly four octave range, huge chords spaced over several octaves are possible for a group of massed Horns.  This is one reason that the Horn section is always larger than the sections for other brass instruments.  Or rather, I should say that there are always more Horn parts than parts for other brass instruments.

            I would love to envision a work that utilizes the full section of eight Horns like the larger symphonic works.  It would take the edge off the trumpet dominant sound of modern band works.  Many groups, both professional and amateur, have access to eight competent Horn players.  Why not utilize the resources?

The Bumper

            I nearly every larger ensemble, there is always one more Horn player than is actually scored for.  This extra player is known as the bumper.  The bumper almost always plays off of the first Horn part.  In tutti passages the bumper will reinforce the sound or give the principal player a well-deserved rest.  While the ubiquity of the bumper is almost universal among professional and semi-professional groups, no composer has taken the opportunity to make use of this resource.  If a composer were so inclined, they could indicate when and where the bumper would play for a precise desired effect.  However, remember with the bumper, their main job is to make sure the principal player does not tire out.

Doubling   

            If dealing with a professional group, we might consider having four of the Horn players double on Wagner Tuba for a wider palate of sound.

Ranges and Scoring

            The Horn in its highest register is dramatic and exciting.  It can easily drown out an orchestra.

In the middle register, the Horn is the great blender.  The sound of the Horn in this range can blend in seamlessly with every other instrument of the band or orchestra.

In its lowest register, the Horn can be sinister and snarling at a loud dynamic or soft and unobtrusive when played softly.

As I mentioned above, the Horn can blend with every instrument with a good deal of success.  The low register of the flute can match the tone color of a muted Horn, Bassoons share the exact same range, clarinets share their ability to be able to blend.  The only scoring oddity is Horns and trumpets.  The timbres are somewhat dissimilar.  Don’t use Horns as the bass to a trumpet ensemble unless you are very careful (trombones will be a much better substitute).

Vienna Horns playing the theme to Back to the Future (12 Horns)

Vienna Horns playing themes from Pirates of the Carribean

Opening to Mahler’s Symphony 3 (8 Horns in unison)

Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie – part for offstage horns (12 off stage, 8 on stage – 4 move back and forth)

Horns Part 3 – Horn Technique

General

            As the Horn differs in playing than all other brass instruments (hand in the bell, use of 16 harmonics, backwards playing position, etc.), it is only natural that its technique should be different.  Much, like the use of valves is similar, but the Horn poses its own unique scenarios.

Pedal Notes

            Like all brass instruments, the Horn can play pedal notes.  These are the fundament pitch of the harmonic series.  These notes are not general used in everyday literature, but can be effective.  Pedal notes are usually only used on the B-flat side of the Horn, and thus will make a natural chromatic extension down from the normal range.  I myself once wrote a pedal E-flat (written) below the bass clef.  The players looked quizzical at first, but were able to produce the note (1st valve on the B-flat side) with some confidence.  Much lower than this and the production can be suspect.  The pedal F (sounding a low B-flat) is widely used and should present no problems, but as the pitches descend, the notes will be harder and harder to produce.  Pedal notes on the F side are nearly impossible.

 

Mutes

            There is only one mute available for the horn, the straight mute.  It is used just like on other brass instruments to change the timbre to a buzzier and somewhat softer sound.  As the mute covers the whole of the bell opening, the Hornist’s hand will be displaced, which means that the hand cannot be used to affect the tuning.

Stopping

            Stopping is a technique that only Horn players can utilize.  It involves forcing the hand inside the bell to close off the airway.  In doing this, the sound will become brash and buzzy.  It can be used for loud aggressive passages or soft distant ones.  One special note, when player stops the Horn, the instrument will sound a minor second lower.  The composer does not have to notate the passage any differently.  The player will do all the transposition necessary.

A demonstration of stopping.  Note: the player goes into more detail about how the hand stopping affects the pitch than I do.  The composer needs not worry about the transposition.

Wait… does the pitch go up or down when you stop…  Evidently, there is considerable debate here.  I leave that to horn players to figure out.

Hand Horn Technique

            The Hand Horn is a colloquial name for the Natural Horn without valves.  Other natural brass instruments (i.e. trumpet) are limited to notes within the harmonic series.  By using the hand placed in the bell, Natural Horn players can alter the pitch of notes to be able to add a considerable variety of notes outside of the harmonic series.  All pitches half a step lower than notes in the harmonic series are available as fully stopped notes.  In essence, a Horn in F could become a Horn in E when stopped.  Half and three-quarter stopping will also give varying shades of pitches.  It is beyond the scope of this blog to mention every pitch than a Horn can produce via hand techniques.  What should be noted is that the notes outside of the natural harmonic series will sound different than the pure notes.  The will have either a full stopped or a half-stopped sound.

            While all modern Horns possess valves and a fully chromatic range, hand Horn technique can be utilized by all players on any instrument.

The famous 4th Horn solo from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Done on natural horn with hand horn technique.

Multiphonics

            All brass instruments are capable of producing more than one note at a time – or at least giving the impression of doing so.  In order to do this, the player must play a one note, usually in the lower register, while singing another note in a higher register.  Usually, the sung note is a note harmonious to the played note (e.g. a perfect 5th, an octave, etc.).  The result is not the two notes that are played/sung, but a fully fleshed out chord.  The Horn was the first brass instrument to exploit this technique.  The most famous example of this is Weber’s Horn Concertino written for natural Horn.  The cadenza of the works utilizes extensive multiphonics.

            Multiphonics should only be used for solo playing.  Their sound is weak and usually won’t project through a mass ensemble.

Weber’s Horn Concertino

Note: this performance uses a Natural Horn, so it is an excellent example of hand horn technique.  Listen for notes that do not sound like those next to each other.  Multiphonics start at 11:00.

Bells Up

            The last major technique is “bells up.”  This is where the Horn player tilts the instrument ninety degrees so that the instrument is parallel to the ground.  This effort is to produce more volume and to have a visual effect.  The visual effect only works in a live performance and is not apparent on recordings.  One thing to consider is that the player’s hand position will have to change, and therefore, the tuning will change.  Only use bells up on occasion for massive, loud passages.  It works best for unison lines or passages in octaves.

There are many passages in Mahler and the Rite of Spring where Horn players will use bells up.  Just before the Sacrificial Dance there is a huge unison Horn line where all 8 horns throw their bells in the air and shout out the theme.

An excerpt from Rachmaninoff’s The Bells.  Towards the end of the clip, the whole Horn section can be seen with their bells in the air.

A good example of historical Horns, hand Horn technique, and stopping.

Horns Part 2 – Horn Notation

Horn Notation

The Horn is the only instrument where we must take a look at how the instrument is notated.  A well-versed Horn player is required to be able to transpose the different keyed parts for their instrument at sight.  Players make no bones about doing this.  In fact, this is a point of pride for all Hornists.  However, this does not mean that you can write your Horn parts in any key willy-nilly.

 

As I see it, there are only two ways to notate the Horn in modern parlances.  The standard one is as a transposing instrument in F all pitches sounding down a fifth.  This seems common sense, except when we get to the bass clef.  In older scores, when the Horn was notated in the bass clef, the transposition changed, and instead of it sounding a fifth down, it sounded a fourth up.  In other words, the notation was an octave lower than today’s modern notation.  There is no need for this practice to continue, and in reality, it is extinct.  However, its inclusion in every orchestration text makes it confusing.

 

The alternative, and one I’ve never figured out why it hasn’t caught on, is to notate everything at concert pitch.  If we think about it, the majority of our brass instruments, no matter their pitched key, read in concert pitch.  Trombones, Euphoniums, tubas, all play in concert pitch even though their instrument is pitched otherwise.  Trumpet is slowly moving over to everything in concert pitch with the prominence of the C Trumpet over the B-flat.  Horn is the last holdout.  What makes this interesting is that Horn is the only brass instrument without a true “family” of other instrument for the player to switch to.  There’s no reason for the Horn not to be notated in concert pitch except for tradition.

Tradition brings us to our final oddity of Horn notation.  Horn is the only instrument not scored for in chord order.  What I mean by this is the first player plays the highest note, the second player plays the next highest, and so on, until the last player plays the lowest note.  Horn doesn’t do this.  Instead of the logical 1, 2, 3, 4; Horn parts are written 1, 3, 2, 4.  It comes from a time when Horns were only scored for in pairs.  When four Horns were scored for, it wasn’t thought of as a group of four members in the same section, rather it was thought of as two pairs of instrument that often played different parts and roles.  Stray from this arrangement, and Horn players will ridicule and mock you ridiculously.  It makes it more difficult for a composer to write for the Horn, because we have to remember this rule for this one instrument.  The logical solution, some would think, would be to group Horns 1 and 3 on one staff, and Horns 2 and 4 on the other, but once again, Horn players scoff at this idea.  Rule of thumb: odd numbered Horns are high parts/players, and even numbered Horns are low parts/players.  Stray from this and suffer.

 

The influence of modern practices is not to be found among Horn players.  Traditional is best, or so it would seem