Hand Horns in an ensemble setting

Horns at work

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.