THE GERMAN HORN: A COMPARISON
The most casual of listeners, hearing a performance by a German orchestra, cannot but be struck by the peculiar, euphonium-like quality of the horn tone.
Let me say at once that my own preference is for the instrument as we know it in this country, nor do I wish, whether as a player or listener, for any other; but, not to appear too dogmatic, I would make it clear that mine is not the only view possible, and that, in fact, in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent, and even in America, opinion is almost unanimously in favour of what we call the German horn.
The German horn in F and B flat has a somewhat larger bore than ours, and the players invariably use a bigger mouthpiece; consequently a more voluminous tone is possible, and moreover both attack and a brassy tone are more easily produced. At the same time, for sheer beauty of tone as also for penetrating effect, this instrument can never compare with our horn.
There is, of course, a slight difference in quality of tone between the various makes of the German horn, as indeed there is between those made in France and in England. The Raoux horn, used so much in France and also in this country, is in this respect vastly superior to all others.
The one real advantage of the German instrument is the valve action – the rotary system – by which an immediate response to the finger pressure is accomplished; whereas with the English pistons the valve travels about three-quarters of an inch before making its effect, thus tending to retard a quicker intonation.
A more questionable advantage is the horn in B flat. No doubt it facilitates the execution of high or difficult passages; but here tone and intonation are sacrificed to such an extent as utterly to destroy the characteristics of the instrument. The added weight of a double set of slides and pistons is a great drawback to this instrument, resulting as it does in a badly balanced distribution.
The horn in F is 12 feet in length, and music written vocally, as is that of all the old masters of instrumentation, lies between the 3rd and 12th harmonics. This gives a tone and perfect intonation of intervals peculiar to this length of tubing; the effect is, however, lost if the instrument is shortened by use of a smaller crook. The tone quality of the C, D and E flat crooks is without question richer than that of the F, but for practical reasons the F is in general use. C, D and E flat – 8th, 9th and 10th harmonics – are perfect tones, but on a B flat crook, with valves, they become 6th, 8th and 8th, and are certainly not correct intervals. Again, C, E, G, C, D and E – 4th to 10th harmonics – are a series of perfect intervals on the F crook, but on a B flat crook, with valves, they become 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 8th, a mixture of harmonics which can only make imperfect intonation.
This brings me back to the question of comparisons. I must allow that in one respect horn players on the Continent have an advantage over us, inasmuch that they all play on the same type of instrument, and thus secure a far better ensemble than our horn quartets, which are composed sometimes of three or four distinct makes. The German type of instrument does not blend with the Raoux horn or the English makes; and it is my conviction that a quartet of horns should most certainly be composed of four instruments of similar make, to ensure equality and balance of tone. I would also stress the desirability of the same crooks being used by the quartet whenever possible.