In the past we chose the approximately five minutes we would play to make our friends fall in love with classical music, piano, opera, cello, Mozart, 21st century composers, violin, baroque music, sopranos, Beethoven, flute, string quartets, tenors, Brahms, choral music, percussion, symphonies, Stravinsky, trumpet, Maria Callas, Bach, the organ, mezzo-sopranos, music for dance, Wagner and Renaissance music.
Now we want to convince those curious friends to love the golden soft sunshine of the horn. We hope you can discover and enjoy a lot here; leave your favorites in the comments.
Sarah Willis, Berliner Philharmoniker horn player
The French horn is so versatile. Heroic, romantic, scary, mysterious – you name it, the horn can play that part. And it is a social instrument: we like to play together. In the third movement of Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 2, the horn is a virtuoso and passionate hero, who join the horns in the orchestra at the end of the movement for a final fanfare. These final moments always lift my heart and make me proud to be a horn player.
Akshaya Avril Tucker, composer
Give me a long, quiet note on the horn and I feel like I’ve entered a place of timelessness. It’s an incredibly soothing, supportive sound – the best sonic cuddle buddy. In orchestration classes, I’ve heard the horn called “glue”; it muffles and sustains its neighbors in the orchestra like no other instrument. Jonathan Dove’s “Susanna in the Rain,” from his “Figures in the Garden,” is utter comfort. A small ensemble of woodwinds creates a soft clatter of rain, as the horn – first one, then two – hovers above it. When I listen to these languid melodies on the drought-stricken west coast, they sound like a nourishing downpour.
Paquito D’Rivera, saxophonist and composer
The horn – a rather exotic instrument in the history of jazz – has among its most creative practitioners Willy Ruff, John Grass, David Amram, Gunther Schuller, John Clark and Chris Komer; I just composed a piece for Komer and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. But we should always mention Julius Watkins, regarded by many as the father of the modern jazz horn, and a prime example of his masterful work – transcribed by Brazilian horn player-composer Victor Prado – is this interesting improvised solo on “Phantom’s Blues, recorded with the Quincy Jones Orchestra in 1960.
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor Cleveland Orchestra
The horn has this beautiful, warm, singing sound, which resembles the middle register of the human voice; that’s why it’s so easy to connect. The horn is a sort of cello of the brass section. The violins, trumpet and flute are in a high register and not many people can sing that high, while the register in which the horn plays is accessible to all.
I chose the opening of the third movement of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony simply because people usually think of the horn as a hunting instrument. The horn here represents the cry out of the human soul, sort of lost in the ocean of an overwhelming world. In this section, the horn is an individual human voice, surrounded by a frenzied, dancing universe of other instruments. Mahler was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, so his music is always about the psyche – of an individual and of humanity.
Zachary Woolfe, Times classical music critic
Brahms’ mother died early in 1865; later that year he wrote a trio for violin, piano and horn, an instrument he had learned as a child. The result—for which he specified the affable, rustic, if difficult to control, valveless horn, rather than the newer valved variant—is alternately serene, excited, mournful and joyful, with the horn everywhere taking walks in nature and an unspeakable evokes nostalgia.
Seth Colter Walls, Times writer
The horn, with its soft colors, does not always evoke pure relaxation; it can be regal even in quiet passages. Composer William Bolcom uses this simultaneously lyrical and powerful quality in parts of his Trio for horn, violin and piano, created in response to Brahms’ famous trio. But in the final movement — which he has described as a “resolute march of resistance,” written in the wake of the 2016 elections — Bolcom lets the instrument shine, with some raw, pressured tones, bringing it closer to its more jazz-associated cousins. in the copper section.
Kevin Newton, horn player for Imani Winds
“Ecos oníricos de la Basílica de San Marcos” was written for me by the Argentine composer José Manuel Serrano. The piece, for a soloist and pre-recorded horns, transforms the sound of the horn into ghostly echoes in a cathedral, providing the player with access to a wide variety of textures and microtones.
For me, the horn has always been an extension of the voice. My childhood was filled with many long car rides during which my mother taught me to sing harmony, as well as choir rehearsals and weekend mornings at the piano working out hymns or whatever of her songbooks I could get my hands on. When I first heard the horn, I wished my voice could produce those sounds, and the love for the instrument was born. Its flexibility has freed me from the limitations of my own voice, and this piece is a wonderful space to explore that freedom.
Mei-Ann Chen, Chicago Sinfonietta Conductor
I knew Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s granddaughter, Katy Korngold Hubbard, before I knew his music. Once, driving in the rain, I had to stop at the side of the road because I was so incredibly moved by the sublime music on the radio. I did not know the composer. The last part of the mystery work – it turned out to be Korngold’s “Much Ado About Nothing” Suite – was so upbeat and witty, with the horns prominently featured, that I was transported to another world. I became a huge Korngold fan. This rarely performed work should be better known.
Bernard Labadie, Orchestra of St. Luke’s conductor
Deep in the German psyche, the horn is closely associated with the forest – not only with regard to hunting, but also with the romantic idea of night, moonlight and starry sky. No piece of music embodies this connection like Schubert’s “Nachtgesang im Walde”, written for a four-part male choir and four horns. This highly unusual formation explains why this little masterpiece is a rare guest on concert stages. And yet, what fantastic music this is, with Schubert’s unmistakable blend of harmonic magic and deep connection to text. Never has the sound of the horn felt so grounded and ethereal at the same time.
Mark Almond, San Francisco Symphony horn player
Conductors and fellow musicians never seem to care how hard you can blow the horn, but they really care how softly you can play; in fact, your career depends on it. Because the instrument’s natural harmonics are very close in the high register, playing pianissimo in that range requires laser focus and surgical precision. The next time you’re at the symphony, imagine the horn players as darters, hitting the bullseye every 20 seconds for 45 minutes. Then imagine the conductor standing next to the dartboard, silently urging the player to throw each dart as softly as possible, yet demanding that the bullseye be hit every time.
The flip side: It’s incredibly liberating to play pieces where you can just let it rip and go for it, as hard as (tastefully) possible, like in this rousing recording of Haydn’s “Hornsignal” Symphony performed by the natural horn players – no valves! — by the Concentus Musicus Wien.
David Allen, Times writer
Deep within Strauss’s last opera, “Capriccio,” comes one of the most magical moments ever to flow from his pen. A countess has to choose between the love of a poet and a composer – between the primacy of words and music. She never makes a complete selection, but before the final scene, in which she struggles with her fate, Strauss makes his own feelings clear. As night falls and the moon lights up the scene, a horn glows in the twilight.
It’s a deeply moving interlude, and this is a deeply moving account, a tribute by a distinguished horn player, Alan Civil, to a colleague who was perhaps the greatest of them all: Dennis Brain, principal horn of the Philharmonia Orchestra, who came was killed in a car accident in 1957, two days before the sessions for this first recording of the work.