The Horn Call

A letter from Dennis Brain

   We are indebted to Alex Grieve for sharing with us the following letter to his brother, Gordon Grieve, from the late Dennis Brain. During Mr. Grieve's recent tour of the United States with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra he was asked many questions about the "best" horn, type of mouthpiece, bore, kind of metal, etc. The reproduction of this letter is timely because of its discussion of the French instrument of narrow bore.

( This page is re-printed from The Horn Call issued by International Horn Society (IHS) on May 1971 and August 2000, with the kind permission of Jeffrey Snedeker, the Editer. )

Hampstead 7294

37 Frognal
N.W. 3
3rd February 1953

Dear Gordon,

   Just a line to give you a few details of the instrument.
   It was an hand horn with crooks made by Raoux, and which later had three detachable piston valves added, and in that form, in F, I make most of my recordings including the Strauss Concerto and Britten Serenade, etc. There is an inscription on the uppermost flange of the bell. I then changed to the B-flat horn and played for a while on a B-flat crook, until I had it built into that key with one rotary valve for A (natural) muting. Then, bearing in mind that the modern French players use an ascending third valve with good effect, I added another rotary, putting the whole instrument in C alto, and providing, in addition to very good high notes, A, B, C, D, the pedal G, and low G which feature so much in the Schubert Octet.
   One reason why I prefered it to the big German horn was the softer and more legato tone obtained, partly due to piston action and partly the quality of old, soft metal. Now I use an Alexander B-flat with a narrow mouthpipe and small mouthpiece, which gives, I think, even better results though it is less easy to play so smoothly.
   However, I do not want to bore you with details, though if there is anything else you wish to know do not hesitate to drop me a line, and even though, as Tom will testify, I am a bad correspondent I will eventually get round to replying.

With best wishes,
Yours sincerely,
Dennis Brain

Dennis Brain's Raoux horn
Raoux horn of the late Dennis Brain
(photograph by Alex Grieve, Australia)