Do you like books about music? Check out Jasper Rees’ book A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument. Then come to the library on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. for the first meeting of our second year of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club.
Beforehand, you might also want to check out some music performed on “the orchestra’s most difficult instrument” (i.e., the horn) and I’ve prepared a list below. To clarify, when talking about classical music, “horn” specifically means the coiled brass instrument also known as a French horn. See the book cover at left and the picture at the bottom of the post. The French invented it for hunting; the Germans made it an instrument for the orchestra. It acquired valves in the early 19th century. Be sure not to confuse it with the English horn, which is a kind of oboe.
Here are some recommended recordings of pieces for one, two, three and even four horns so you can surround your ears with the sound of wide-belled brass.
- In Rees’ book, the piece he makes his goal to play is Mozart’s third horn concerto in E flat (K. 447).
- For an overview with spoken commentary of the repertoire that horn players auditioning for orchestras need to know, listen to Orchestral Excerpts for Horn by A. David Krehbiel.
- In this recording of Beethoven’s delightful sonata for horn and piano, op. 17, hear it performed on the 18th century-style instruments (such as the valveless “natural horn”) for which it was originally composed.
- Even though he was a violist, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) always seemed to write well for brass. His Sonate für Horn und Klavier from 1939 is an intimate way to hear the horn sing over piano accompaniment.
- On this recording, the Virtuoso Horn Duo of Kristina Mascher and Kerry Turner play pieces composed for two horns and chamber orchestra by Haydn and his horn-playing contemporary Antonio Rosetti, plus an arrangement for 2 horns of a Vivaldi concerto, and a piece by Turner himself.
- Baroque concertos were shorter in duration and utilized smaller ensembles than later classical and romantic era works. Georg Philipp Telemann’s concertos for 2 horns and strings and continuo (TWV 52:D1 and TWV 52:D2) from the early 18th century exemplify concise craftsmanship.
- Chôros No. 4 by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is scored for the unusual quartet of three horns plus trombone. Its first half is ponderous, perhaps even menacing, while the last minute or so sounds more like a concert in the park.
- It’s a somewhat obscure piece, but Beethoven’s Quintet in E-flat major for three horns, oboe, and bassoon is worth seeking out.
- One usually associates Schumann with works for solo piano, vocal and piano, his great piano concerto and his four symphonies. But also worth hearing is his 1849 Konzertstück (concert piece) for four horns and orchestra. Originally composed for two valveless and two modern horns, it’s a bridge between two eras of the instrument.
- While it might not inspire Spanish-style dancing, Four-Horned Fandango by Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960- ) does have castanets accompanying the four horn soloists and, like a lot of contemporary classical music, gets better with repeated listens.
To add one more to the list, though it wasn’t composed specifically for horn, Richard Strauss’s tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks) was the most used piece for horn players’ orchestra auditions according to Facing the Maestro. So you know it will have some impressive parts for the instrument. (And Strauss did also compose two concertos for horn.)
Last but not least, if you want to get really serious about horn music, use our French Horn Resources page.