Natural Horn in ensembles:

This gallery is dedicated to representations of the horn in its original form. Initially sharing a playing technique with the trumpet, the two instruments belong to the natural brass family. Both trumpet and horn are restricted to the natural overtone series and are played without any interference in the bell. Any corrections of pitch done to the 11th and 13th partials are through use of lips and air to bend these tones closer to tempered pitch. Virtuosi were able to apply this technique to bend partials down to include a few lower neighbor pitches.




At some point mid eighteenth century it was discovered that a hand in the bell affected the instrument’s pitch, transforming the horn into an instrument that can no longer be referred to as “natural brass”. This innovation was by no means immediately embraced and the dampening affect of the hand in the bell was viewed as problematic throughout the century. Initially, hand technique was the sole domain of solo and chamber settings. The classical symphonies of composers like Mozart or Haydn were (with very few notable exceptions) written with a natural horn in mind (without the use of the hand in the bell). Around the turn of the nineteenth century, the solo virtuoso’s hand technique gradually found its way into standard orchestral use, although not without complications: in order to keep open and closed tones as even as possible, the horn became limited in its dynamic spectrum. Balance with larger ensembles continued to remain a concern for horn players throughout the early part of the romantic era.



The introduction of valves to the horn did not initially replace the use of hand manipulations in the bell, but rather allowed the instrument to quickly change key (meaning it was no longer left by the wayside when a piece modulated). These instruments were however able to play every chromatic tone by utilizing only partials from the various overtone series available that conformed to standard pitch. Gradually, the subtle shadings and colors of hand technique were abandoned in favor of the uniform execution of the open tones and fingerings we employ today.




natural and hand Horn portraits:

This gallery contains various portraits of historical horn players. In addition to the virtuosi themselves, these paintings often include detailed depictions of instruments, mouthpieces, and music. The desire for an accurate representation of an individual’s likeness led to a higher emphasis on the quality and detail of the image painted. This makes it easier to identify certain aspects of the equipment in use by some of the most important and well known horn players of the time. 




Here we feature early pioneers on the valve horn. The instrument was in a constant state of development throughout the nineteenth century and many of these portraits help identify the various designs and models of valve horns in use. While ensemble depictions are almost always too distant to accurately depict horn construction, a portrait will usually have enough detail to give us information on valve type, slide formation, use of crooks, etc. 


horns at rest:

Included in this gallery are pictorial representations of the instruments themselves. These pictures are less informative than the ensemble or portrait collections, but they are not entirely without use. Even a pair of horns hanging in the background of an otherwise unrelated picture can offer useful information. One prime example of this is the predominance of fixed pitch horns without tuning slides represented. These horns appear so frequently and at such late dates that one must re-evaluate the assumption that the more convenient crooked orchestral horns were universally accepted and in use after their invention.


horn in the hunt:

Collected here are graphic depictions of the horn in use in the hunt. It is not clear exactly when the horn broke away from its use as a signal device for hunters. At some point the instrument’s structure and playing technique were altered (whether before or after its inclusion into musical ensembles). The horn’s ancestry and legacy are, however, undeniable. The artwork here displays another branch of the horn’s “family tree” and documents the aristocratic hunt that gave birth to the instrument.





horn in the Military:

The final gallery features the horn and its use in military wind ensembles. From the eighteenth century on, wind instruments have played an important role in military bands and the horn was no exception. The horn was incorporated into these ensembles very early on and filled out the harmony between oboes above and bassoons on the bass line. These military bands also played an important role in the development of the horn. Napoleon’s musicians traveling with his army were a significant factor in disseminating the high quality hand technique of the Paris Conservatoire.  Later, in the nineteenth century, military horn players were some of the first to switch over to the new valve horns and it is method books intended to instruct military musicians that first advocate the valve horn technique we use to today (namely a fingering for each note without manipulations with the hand in the bell).