Pilgrimage to Perpignan

Mask of Jacques-François Gallay (1795–1864) by Jean-Pierre Dantan (1800–1869). Collection of Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

One of the things I love about my job is the travelling that is involved. The opportunity to perform in venues around the world, with musicians from different places. Often, sadly, we get to see only a little of the places we visit and you end up only "experiencing" the airport, the hotel room and the concert hall and little in-between. The opposite extreme is when we're fortunate enough to have a residency somewhere, normally this will be for an opera production which calls for the orchestra to be in one place for several days of rehearsals followed by the performances.

I've just returned today from a two week project with one of my most favourite groups -

ensemble Pygmalion

. We've been performing a new version of

Telemann's Brockes Passion

. You can get a taste of this amazing project here with this video from one of our concerts for the

Krakow Misteria Paschalia Festival

. Absolutely awesome music - the horns only had about five numbers so we got to sit and listen to our inspirational colleagues performing night after night. A real pleasure. The final concert from the Paris Philharmonie has been recorded by

France Musique

for broadcast on the 30th of May, 2017 and

you can read the programme for this performance here


This project started with several days of rehearsals in the outskirts of Paris then concerts in Douai, Compiègne, Perpignan, Bordeaux,  La Rochelle, Krakow and Paris. When I was initially asked for this project one name, that of Perpignan, jumped out. I've been really wanting to visit Perpignan for several years now for the simple reason that it was birthplace of one of my big heroes, Jacques-François Gallay. And, due to a quirk of scheduling, we had two free days before the Perpignan concert - the ensemble was planning to send me back to London, or I could stay in Paris? But, no, I was heading straight to Perpignan!

"Gallay (Jacques-François)" from François-Joseph Fétis 

Biographie Universelle...

(Bruxelles: Meline, Cans et Compagnie, 1837, Vol. 4, p.248–49).

There were several reasons I wanted to visit. Partially because wanted to see if I could find out more about Gallay's youth, early career and the music scene there in the late 18th/early 19th century. There are various aspects of his life prior to his move to Paris that I've wanted to learn more about, such as what kept him there for so long? Gallay only moved to Paris to study in 1820. As he was twenty-four years old he was technically too old to enrol and special dispensation was needed for him to start his studies. 

A lot of information we have about Gallay's life pre-Paris comes from François-Joseph Fétis (1784–1871), and his

Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique

(Bruxelles: Meline, Cans et Compagnie, Vol. 4, p.248–49)

. Fétis, not always the most reliable of sources, says that Gallay had stayed in Perpignan due to his "attachment" to his father but also paints a very active music scene in Perpignan with Gallay founding a music society in 1818 and making a spectacular debut in 1810 performing the notorious horn solo from the Act II, Scene II aria "Ô toi dont ma memoir" from François Devienne's (1759–1803) opera 

Les Visitandines



François Devienne 

Les Visitandines

(Paris: chez Cousineau père et fils, 1792), collection Bibliothèque nationale de France.

I knew that, as I was going to be in Perpignan over the weekend there was little chance of getting into any archives that might divulge more about Gallay's youth. Perhaps there is, hidden away, a newspaper report about him jumping in when the principal horn of the theatre was too ill to perform the solo in

Les Visitandines

...? For the time being I had to be happy with visiting the theatre in which this performance took place:

Théâtre Municipal Perpignan

I was also entranced by this description in François-Fortuné Guyot de Fère's (1791–18??) 

Statistique des beaux-arts en France

(Paris: M. Guyot de Fère, 1834, p.295) which described the inhabitants of the region as being similar to Italians in their natural disposition towards music.

F. Guyot de Fère

Statistique des beaux-arts en France

(Paris: M. Guyot de Fère, 1833/4)

As I mentioned above, I knew the archives would be shut but I was so very sad that the

Musée d'art Hyacinthe Rigaud

, which houses the wonderful portrait of Gallay below, is closed for renovations until the 24th of June 2017. I'm going to have to come back...

"Jacques-François Gallay" by Nicolas Eustache Maurin (c. 1845?). Collection of the Musée d'art Hyacinthe Rigaud.

Part of the reason I'm interested in this portrait is that I suspect it was made some time after the 24th of July, 1845 when Gallay became a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur (thank you to Christine Minjollet of the

Musée national de la Légion d'honneur et des Ordres de chevalerie

 who was able to help me find this date).  The little red dash on Gallay's lapel is the giveaway here. I would love to get up close to this portrait and see if I can find out more about the horn and the music over Gallay's shoulder. 

Nicholas-Eustace Maurin (1799–1850) and his brother Antoine Maurin (1793–1860) were also born in Perpignan and both brothers made portraits of Gallay including this one held in the Bibliothèque national de France. The Maurin brothers and Gallay must have been childhood friends given their similar ages (with Antoine born in 1793, Gallay born in 1795 and Nicholas-Eustace born in 1799) and their friendships seem to have continued with all three living in Paris and with the artists portraying Gallay in later life.

"Jacques-François Gallay" (1846?) by Nicholas-Eustace Maurin. Collection of the Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt.

The date of 1846 is a suggestion based on a listing of a three-quarter (

i.e. half - there's an excellent NPG article here about these terms

) bust portrait of Gallay in the

Bibliographie de la France

of that year.  

Bibliographie de la France

(Paris: chez Pillet, Ainé, 1846, p.257)

Another thing I wished to see but didn't have the time to investigate more is this c.1850 portrait by Antoine Ferréol Jean Baptiste Guiraud (1800–1879) of Gallay. Again, next time....

"Jacques-François Gallay" by Antoine Guiraud (c.1850). Collection of the Institut du Grenat.

What I did manage to do was have a wonderful time hanging out with today's horn players in Perpignan and I was spoilt indeed! I met up with John Lepoultier, professor at the Conservatoire de Perpignan et principal horn of the Orchestre Perpignan-Méditerranée. John is a very knowledgable horn player and has done research specially into the history of the trompe de chase. You can hear him playing a rousing Gavotte by J.J.Mouret here: 

Followed by something a bit softer!

John and I met up and he took me to meet local musician (of many instruments) François Picard. François is the proud owner of a fantastic collection of original horns and we spent a very enjoyable morning trying out various instruments as well as listening to some incredible old recordings he owns.

And then afterwards John took me for a wonderful lunch in the picturesque seaside town of Collioure and then drove me around the area so I could see the more beautiful countryside. 

It was a wonderful few days getting to know a little bit more about Gallay's birthplace - next time I hope to return for longer!

Juggling horn player

Ursula Hill Lauppe (1922-1999) from


When I was a kid, learning the horn and playing in the school ensembles, one of the things I liked was that, in comparison to my friends learning woodwind and string instruments, the horn was REALLY easy to unpack and put away. Open the case, get it out, stick a mouthpiece in it and go. No rosin to deal with, bows to tighten, swabs to pull through etc. etc. etc. Even when I was a bit older and got an instrument with a detachable screw bell it seemed rather easy.

Maybe too easy?

The average Mozart opera requires arm loads of crooks and, to be perfectly frank, it is a faff dealing with them at times. Partially the fear of forgetting an essential one (which can, on occasion, be a total disaster), or not concentrating and putting the wrong one in (luckily, that's rare).

Recently I've been chatting with

Robert Percival


Boxwood & Brass

about how speedily we can change crooks. Robert seems to be making it his goal in life to arrange as much classical/early romantic repertoire for harmoniemusik ensemble and has come up with some fabulous arrangements and some interesting (yet idiomatic) challenges for us.

This conversation coincided with me performing Mozart's

Don Giovanni

which has a classic example of, if you'd pardon the pun, "too many crooks". 

One of the first things I asked when I was engaged to do this project was whether or not there was going to be a stage band. In the final scenes of both acts Mozart uses a stage band in addition to the orchestra in the pit. Today it is quite common for the stage band music to be performed by the orchestral players and, on modern instruments, this poses no problems. But, because the stage band horn parts are in different keys to the orchestral horn parts this becomes very tricky which, as I'll explain later, may be the point. But to start off, here are the challenges we have in these passages, and some tips to shave off a few milliseconds with the necessary crook changes.

* * * * * * * * *

Challenge No. 1: The music 

What's the problem then with these two Finales? The challenge comes down to the very fast crook changes. Some of them are caused by us having to incorporate the stage band parts into the orchestral parts but some are there whether or not you have a stage band.

(Don Giovanni, Gardiner, Holland Festival 1994 - tune in around 1:15:16 for the stage band in Act I)

The first set of challenges are in the Act I Finale. Here Mozart gives the orchestral horn players 4 bars and 2 beats rest in a 3/4 Andante to change from C basso to F. Whilst it all depends on the tempo, you have to be quite speedy here:

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act I Finale, bars 83–92.

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act I Finale, bars 93–99.

Then the fun and games with the stage band start. I particularly find this corner challenging.

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act I Finale, bars 246–252.

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act I Finale, bars 253–257.

Here we have two bars and three beats (in an Adagio, cut common time) to change from the F horn stage band parts to the E flat horn orchestral parts. What makes this section more tricky is that the music changes significantly at this point and becomes more sparsely orchestrated. This means that any "clanking" from the horns in the pit as we change crook is very audible.

Act II also often requires a stage band. In the Act II Finale Mozart's score doesn't indicate this as clearly as he does in Act I, where he writes the stage band parts in brackets but from the point of view of the plot it makes sense to incorporate a stage band if possible. The music is scored for a harmonieband of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons who provide "Tafelmusik" for Don Giovanni and Leporello. 

(Don Giovanni, Furtwängler, Salzburg 1954 - tune in around 2:33:01 for the stage band in Act II).

In this section Mozart uses a number of well known tunes from Vincente Martín y Soler's

Una Cosa Rara

(1786), Giuseppe Sarti's

Fra i due litigants il terse gode

(1782) and Mozart's 

Le Nozze di Figaro 

(1786). These are melodies that would have been well known to the audience and gives the opportunity for various "insider" jokes (for more on this see

Nicholas J. Chong "Music for the Last Supper: The Dramatic Significance of Mozart's Musical Quotations in the



Don Giovanni


Current Musicology

, No. 92, Spring 2011, p.7–52).

And we have to do them fast! We start off in D which is fine as we're already in that key but then we have five bars and four quavers in a 6/8 Allegretto to get from horn in D to horn in F. 

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act II Finale, bars 108–117 

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act II Finale, bars 118–127 

Then we have two beats, three bars and a pause in a 3/4 Allegretto to get from horn in F to horn in B flat alto.

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act II Finale, bars 154–163.

Is part of the "joke" at this point the horn players racing about for the crooks? Nicholas J. Chong's article (mentioned above) highlights the many ways Mozart cleverly uses the references of the music he appropriates, as well as the double meanings of Don Giovanni and Leporello's comments - e.g. "Ah che piatto saporito!" ("Ah, what a tasty dish!") being a pun on the name of the soprano who sang the role of Donna Anna -

Teresa Saporiti.

We joke about crook changes today, is this what Mozart is doing?

"Tasty" Teresa Saporiti (1763–1869). Portrait by Ferdinando Fambrini (1791).

Of course, tempo has a hand in the viability of this section. It is possible for the music to flow in such a way that it makes our lives easier but if there is no accommodation for us here are some more challenges and ways round them:

* * * * * * * * * 

Challenge No. 2: The sheet music 

This might seem simplistic but it's an easy one to fix.

Above is the music that was provided to us in the recent production. Nice


parts. Shouldn't be too controversial. But, in Act I at least, the orchestral horn parts and the stage band horns parts are separate. So you have to jump from one to another. To my mind this is just adding one more thing than can possibly go wrong. So instead...

I bring with me my old copy of the

Lucks Music Library

edition which has both parts all in the same score. A few penciled in changes to make it closer to the Barenreiter edition that everyone else has and that will help me avoid messing up any thing whilst jumping from one part to the other.

You can see how quickly you have to shift from one part to the other here in the manuscript.

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act I Finale, bars 134–145

Here we have 1 beat rest between jumping from the orchestral part to the stage band part.

Don Giovanni manuscript: Act I Finale, bars 146–156.

And then we jump back immediately between the stage band part and the orchestral part.

* * * * * * * * 

Challenge No. 3: The equipment

Changing a crook at speed needs to be a bit like a racing car pit stop. But, sadly, you don't have the benefit of a team of skilled professionals running around after you in order to make it work.

Here are somethings that I find help:

Crook hooks -

can be bought for a ridiculous amount of money from some unmentioned horn shops. Or go on google, search for something like "Metal/Hangers/Clip/Scarf" and bulk buy about 30 of them (as you will loose them one by one).

Basically these are designed to hang boots or scarves in fancy walk in wardrobes. Instead of attaching some form of clothing to the clip bit and hooking it onto a rail, you use the clip to hook on to the music stand and swivel the hook around so that you can put your crook on it. Watch out for weak music stands, or too many crooks as they can come clattering down (expensive error). Also some colleagues get tubing from aquarium supply shops to fit over the metal hook to soften the sound of putting the crook on the hook (life is a little too short for that IMHO).

I tend to try and give the impression of being in control but "lining up" the crooks - so the next one is normally the one on the far right and the hook on the far left is empty to receive the one I've just used.

Crook hooks just mean that the crooks are easily within reach, so you don't loose vital milliseconds putting the crooks on the floor.

Multiple mouthpieces

 - A very simple solution this one, I have mouthpieces already in the crooks ready to go, note the plumbers tape and little metal adaptors...

... these are helpful as the last thing I want (and this has happened to me) is to do a quick crook change only to send a mouthpiece flying across the pit.

A crook in hand

- again, this saves a small amount of time - it's really easy to play and have the next crook ready in your left hand:

It takes a little bit of getting used to but it does help as does:

Sitting down

 - if you are sitting down when you change the crook it means the body of the instrument can rest on your lap. In simplistic terms it means you're less likely to drop it and you can be a bit speedier. Hence me vetoing some requests for the winds to stand ("special effect!") for this point.

If anyone has any other tips as to how to make crook changes super speedy (other than "use valves" ;-) ) feel free to comment below.

NB The manuscript of Mozart's

Don Giovanni

is housed at the Bibliothèque National de France who have kindly uploaded it to

IMSLP here


Information on period mouthpieces

We have a number of sources of information about mouthpieces from earlier periods. Here's some of them:

Louis François Dauprat Méthode de Cor-alto et Cor-basse (Paris, Zetter et Cie, 1824, pp. 11 - 12).

Dauprat recounts that there are two types of very different mouthpieces; ones for the cor alto (high horn) players which should "facilitate the execution of very high notes" ("doit faciliter l'exécution des sons très aigus") whilst they must still be "wide enough to allow the lowest notes to sound fully and sonorously" ("doit être assez large pour permettre de fair entendre, pleins et sonores, les sons graves de son étendue"). For the cor bass (low horn) he recommends a mouthpiece which facilitates the very low ("des sons très graves.") whilst at the same time it must be "narrow enough to facilitate the sounding of its own highest notes" ("doit être étroite pour faciliter l'émission des sons aigus qui lui sont propres.")

Dauprat warns that mouthpieces which are too small give "a feeble and mediocre sound" ("Une embouchure trop petite donne un son faible et d'une qualité médiocre.") whilst those that are too large give the opposite effect ("C'est précisement le contraire avec l'embouchure trop large, dont on a signalé l'inconvénient.").

Dauprat also suggests that the edge of a mouthpiece should be "slightly rounded" as "flat edges, interior or exterior, offer a cutting edge that can harm the lips" ("il est à propos que le bord soit légèrement arrondi: les bords plats offrent, à l'interieur comme à l'extérieur, une ligne coupante qui peut offenser les lèvres.").

Amusingly Dauprat admits that it can be hard for students of the horn to know which genre (i.e. cor alto or cor basse) to choose and that "reluctance or indifference about this is entirely natural" ("son hésitation, ou son indifférence à ce sujet est très naturelle.") and recommends that the decision should simply be made for the student by the teacher.

Echoing teachers throughout the centuries Dauprat warns the student to not loose their mouthpiece as "the loss of the mouthpiece to which one is accustomed is almost irreparable" ("mai la perte de l'embouchure à laquelle on est accoutumé est presqu'irréparable").

Cor Alto
Cor Basse
Overall length: A to B
2 1/2 pouces [67.68 mm]
2 1/2 pouces [67.68 mm]
Exterior diameter of the rim: C to D
10 lignes [22.56 mm]
11 lignes [24.816 mm]
Interior diameter of the rim, from the point at which the rim is soldered to the cup: E to F
7 1/2 lignes [16.92 mm]
8 1/4 lignes [19.176 mm]
Width of the rim from interior to exterior: O
1 1/4 lignes [2.82 mm]
1 1/2 lignes [3.384 mm]

Exterior diameter of the end of the stem: I to K
2 1/2 lignes [5.64 mm]
3 lignes [6.768 mm]

Interior diameter: S
2 lignes [4.512 mm]
2 1/2 lignes [5.64 mm]
The information here is taken from Viola Roth’s translation of the Dauprat Méthode (Birdalone Music, Bloomington Indiana, 1994) and which uses information from Arthur E. Kenneley, Vestiges of Pre-metric Weights and Measures (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1928, p. 49).

Read more of Dauprat's Méthode de Cor-alto et Cor-basse here.

* * * * * * *

Heinrich Domnich Méthode de premier et de second cor (Paris: Imprimerie du Conservatoire de Musique, 1808, p. 8).

Dominich warns us that it is "impossible for one individual to go from the lowest to the highest notes on the horn with one mouthpiece and that it is impossible to use mouthpieces of two different diameters one after the other" ("J'ai dit qu'il était impossible au même individu de parcourir, du grave à l'aigu, toutes les notes du Cor avec une seule embouchure; il lui est également impossible d'employer tour-à-tour deux embouchures de different diamètres."). Therefore he, like Dauprat, suggests two different mouthpieces, one for "first horn" players (cor alto) and one for "second horn" players (cor basse). Interestingly, he suggests that the intermediate notes played by the "cor mixte" players could use either mouthpiece ("Les sons intermédiaires, qui constituent ce qu'on appèle le médium, appartiennent également aux deux genres.").

Dominch also raises the theory as to whether having a certain type of lip (thin or thick) has any bearing on a horn player being a high or low horn player. "It is generally received opinion that thin, flat lips are better for the First horn, and thick protruding lips have more ability as a Second horn" ("C'est une opinion assez généralement reçue que les lèvres minces et applies conviennent mieux au premier Cor, et que les lèvres épaisses et saillantes ont plus d'aptitude au second Cor."). Dominich rejects this idea ("Cette idée est dénué de fondement.") and suggests that the mouthpiece has more bearing than the profile of the horn players lips ("Les deux genres ne diffèrent que par l'embouchure qui, plus étroite pour le premier, aide à monter vers les notes élevées; plus ouverte pour le second, favorise la formation des sons graves.").

First horn
Second horn
Diameter of the exterior from one outside edge to the other. 
21 mm
24 mm
Diameter of the internal apature
18 mm
20 mm
Width of the inner edge to the outer
1.5 mm
2 mm

Inner diameter of the tip of the stem
4 mm
4 mm

Total length of the mouthpiece
7.1 cm
7.1 cm
These dimensions are based on measurements of the illustrations in Domnich's Méthode which he states are "true dimensions". They appear to be so given that they are similar to other measurements of the time but, of course, we should be relatively cautious taking measurements from a picture. 

Read more of Domnich's Méthode de premier et de second cor here.

* * * * * * *

Frédéric Duvernoy Méthode pour le cor (Paris: Imprimerie du Conservatoire de Musique, 1802. pp. 2 - 3).

Duvernoy, again, informs the reader that there are two genres of horn playing: the first (cor alto) that plays the high notes, and the second (cor basse) that plays lower notes. Similarly he says that the differences between the two genres are also seen in their corresponding mouthpieces and that a student who wishes to play one or other of the genres should choose an appropriate mouthpiece.

Duvernoy says that it's not necessary to "scrupulously adhere to the widths [he] specifies" ("il ne faut pas s'en tenir scrupuleusement à la largeur que j'indique") as we have "more or less lips" ("nous avons les lèvres plus ou moins grosses") and we "should search for suitable and proportional widths that suits the disposition of our lips whilst always hearing to the rule of the two genres" ("il faut chercher une largeur convenable est proportionnée à la dispotion de notre bouche, en se confront toujours à la règle des deux genres").

Read more of Duvernoy's Méthode pour le cor here.

* * * * * * *

Jacques-François Gallay Méthode pour le cor (Paris, Schoenberger, c.1845. p 6).

Gallay advises that the first thing any student of the horn should consider is a mouthpiece that is proportional, both in its aperture and in its width of rim to the shape and thickness of the student's lips ("Le premier soin de la personne qui se destine à l'étude du Cor, doit être de choisir une embouchure proportionnée à la forme et à l'épaisseur de ses lèvres, tant par son overture que par la largeur de son bord").

He warns that one mouthpiece cannot be used exclusively by everyone and suggests two types of mouthpieces ("Comme un modèle unique d'embouchure ne peut pas servir exclusivement de type, ses proportions vpuvant varier à l'infini, selon la conformation des individus, je crois utile d'en donner deux et d'y joindre les remarques que j'ai été à même de faire à ces sujet ; elles serviront de guide à l'élève qui pourra choisir entre l'une ou l'autre ou sans modifications.")

Gallay finds that small mouthpieces are more appropriate for thin lips whilst thicker lips require a larger mouthpiece ("J'ai très souvent reconnu qu'une petite embouchure convenait aux lèvres minces, tandis qu'au contraire des lèvres épaisses exigent une embouchure de plus grande dimension.").

Whilst the illustration only shows one model (Modèle No. 1) he includes a table with the dimensions of both. No. 1 is aimed at those with thinner lips whilst No. 2 is aimed at those with thicker lips and has the advantage of giving a better quality of sound and can cover the full range of the instrument with greater ease ("Le model No. 1 est par conséquent destiné aux premières ; quant aux autres elles trouveront dans le model No.2 dont le diamètre est plus grand, le double avantage d'obtenir une meilleure qualité de son et de parcourir toute l'étendue de l'instrument avec plus de facilité.").

Gallay also advises that the student's speed of progress can be affected one way or another by the choice of mouthpiece and emphasises that the right choice is very important and that these points should be brought to the most scrupulous attention of the teacher ("Les progrès plus ou moins rapides d'un élève pouvant quelquefois dépendre de l'embouchure qu'il a adoptée, le choix en est très important et je crois devoir appeler sur ce point l'attention la plus scrupuleuse du professeur.").

Model no. 1
Model no. 2
Diameter of the exterior from one outside edge to the other. 
21.5 mm
25.5 mm
Diameter of the internal apature
16.5 mm
18.5 mm
Width of the inner edge to the outer
2.5 mm
2.5 mm
Inner diameter of the tip of the stem
7 mm
7 mm
Total length of the mouthpiece
7.2 cm
7.2 cm

Read more of Gallay's Méthode pour le Cor here.

* * * * * * *

Georges Kastner Méthode Elémentaire pour le Cor (Paris, Troupenas & Cie, 1844, p.10). 

Kastner advises that "there is no one unvarying model of mouthpiece; one must seek the size which is best suited to the shape of the mouth; experience has shown that thick lips need a mouthpiece a bit wider and thin lips, on the contrary, are better with a smaller mouthpiece; but these nuances are always subordinate to the main principal which is that the second horn should have a wide mouthpiece than the first" ("Il n’y a point de modèles invariable d’embouchure; on doit chercher la grandeur qui convient le mieux à la conformation de la bouche; l’expérience a démontré que les grosses lèvres ont besoin d’une embouchure un peu large et que les lèvres minces, au contraire, s’arrangent mieux d’une petite embouchure; mais ces nuances restent toujours subordonnées à la proportion principale, qui veut pour le second Cor, une embouchure plus large que pour le premier.")

Where Kastner differs from other writers is in his suggestion that the mouthpiece is placed one third on the upper lip and two thirds on the lower lip ("Les lèvres étant bien jointes, vous y appliquez l’embouchure en pressant légèrement, vers le milieu de la bouche, et de façon qu’elle porte pour un tiers à peu près sur la lèvre supérieure et pour deux tiers sur la lèvres inférieure.") whilst most authorities suggest two thirds on the upper and one third on the lower.

* * * * * * *

A. Tosoroni Metodo per Corno a 3 pistoni (Milan, Lucca, after 1840, p. 1).

Tosoroni goes to some lengths to show the dimensions of the horn mouthpiece including a diagram of the inside of the mouthpiece.

"The mouthpiece must have the form that you saw in the aforementioned design (below), which alone provides the means to get the notes, both high and low, with equal ease."
"l bocchino deve aver la forma che vedevi nel sopraccennato disegno, la quale sola offre il mezzo di ottenere con pari facilità i suoni sia gravi che acuti."

The mouthpiece should finally rest in the centre of the upper lip, leaving the lower almost free.
"Avversati finalmente che il bocchino deve poggiare sul centro del labbro superiore, lasciando   quasi libero l’inferiore."

A. Internal silhouette of mouthpiece
A. Sagoma interna del Bocchino

B. External silhouette of the mouthpiece.
B. Sagoma externa del Bocchino.

C. Edge of the rim of the mouthpiece
C. Bordura de labbro superior del Bocchino

D. Lower edge of the mouthpiece.
D. Estremista inferire del Bocchino

The rim of the Mouthpiece (letter C) should be smoothed out so it rounds inside.
La Bordura del Bocchino lettera C deve essere smussata rotondamente tanto in fuori che in dentro.

Period mouthpieces - some thoughts

Unforgivable behaviour

I was told a very bad joke many years ago. Curiously enough it was told to me by a baroque oboe player who I would have thought would know better.

It is a quiet night in a quiet bar. There are four men sitting at the bar.

The first man turns to the second and asks: 
"Kind sir, may I ask if you happen to know your IQ level?"
The second replies"
"Why yes, you may ask, and I may tell you that I have an IQ level of 178. May I enquire the same of your good self?"
The former replies:
"Aha, I thought as much. Yes, I myself have an IQ level of 174. Would you care to join me in a discussion of the finer points of Schopenhauer and his thoughts on The Upanishads as we while away the hours?".
"By all means..."
The two other men observe this dialogue. One turns to the other
"How about you? Any idea what your IQ level is?"
"Yeah, scraping somewhere in the 80s, you?"
"Yup, similar. Want to talk about mouthpieces?"

 I think all the scraping of those reeds had got to this chap.


Funnily enough, in many circles, talking about mouthpieces is considered unforgivable behaviour. Either it's seen as really way too geeky. Or its seen as conversation matter only to be fallen back on when you've run out of anything else to speak about. Or, occasionally, it's seen as a little intrusive - that to ask about someones mouthpiece is almost like asking something rather too personal - perhaps it's seen as a judgemental to ask?

Many people come to play the natural horn, and period horns in general, from a background of playing the modern French horn. As a result many people find it useful to use the same mouthpiece for both instruments. Our lips are very sensitive to small changes in dimensions of mouthpieces and it's common for players to find it more comfortable to have, at least, the same rim on their lips as they change from one instrument to another and therefore often stay on the same mouthpiece.

To my mind, whilst I understand this rationale, I think that taking this approach ultimately undermines playing the natural horn. The mouthpiece is integral to the way an instrument operates - to use a modern mouthpiece feels akin to a violinist getting a baroque violin, with equal tension gut strings, and then using a modern bow. Why bother to use a natural horn and stick a modern mouthpiece in it?

Of course, there are different strokes for different folks - ultimately people want to get different things out of their natural horn playing. And indeed some natural horn makers are building instruments today which are designed specifically to be as close to the experience of playing the modern horn - so to use a period style mouthpiece with these instruments would be redundant.

To my mind using period mouthpieces have helped me gain more flexibility and nuance in my natural horn playing. Certain things like being able to bend notes (top As for example) seem to be easier, and I find that I can use a wider range of articulation.

Period mouthpieces tend to be more tiring at first due to them being generally smaller than most modern players are used to and due to their thinner, flatter rims. The illustration further below of the measurements of Gebr. Alexander mouthpieces in 2007 has 24.5 mm as the minimum diameter for the outer rim whilst many period mouthpieces are around 22 mm. Also period mouthpieces tend to feel less "notchy" than modern mouthpieces, everything seems a bit "wider" which is has advantages (more flexibility) and disadvantages (more tiring, more hard work).

Illustration taken from Reginald Morley-Pegge The French Horn: Some Notes on the Evolution of the Instrument and of its Technique (London, Ernst Benn Limited, 1960, p.102)

In general the difference is that period mouthpieces are more funnel shaped whilst modern mouthpieces have more of a "neck" and can be more cup shaped.

Illustration of modern mouthpieces taken from Gebr. Alexander 2007 Catalogue 

For further information on how mouthpieces and how they work I would recommend John and Phyllis Stork's Understanding the mouthpiece (Vuarmaren, Bim, 1989). Whilst written from the point of view of trumpet mouthpieces it contains a lot of valuable information about the variables and parameters of mouthpiece design.

My approach to mouthpieces

I remember finding it very difficult to "get into" using period mouthpieces.

For starters it was pretty tricky to get hold of them, and expensive as well. It felt like one could spend a lot of money on getting something at the risk of it not "suiting" me. Probably typical for any professional brass player I now have a box FULL of mouthpieces which means I've got several options open to me.

My first step was I got a PHC (Paxman/Halstead/Chidell) model 30 with a screw rim. PHC describe the model 30 as a "Very deep Viennese-style funnel cup"so this was as close to a period mouthpiece as I could get from my local horn shop (Paxmans). I also got a thinnish rim, the thinking being that as it was a detachable rim I could experiment.

A while later I was lent a Tom Greer/Moosewood LGC (a copy of a Courtois mouthpiece belonging to Lowell Greer). I liked this mouthpiece so ordered one again with a detachable rim made with a PHC, so if I didn't like it, or wanted to tinker further I could. NB! Before anyone goes hunting - these mouthpieces aren't currently available.

This mouthpiece worked brilliantly on my Jungwirth Lausmann copy but when I later got an original Marcel Auguste Raoux it was frustrating as the instrument and this mouthpiece really didn't work well together. Again, it was a chance conversation with a colleague who had a mouthpiece from Olifant that she wasn't using that brought their mouthpieces to my attention. This was what they now call their “Jean Joseph Rodolphe” model and it tends to be my most frequently used mouthpiece. NB! The Olifant website seems to hide the existence of these mouthpieces, it's easier just to email them about them rather than try and find the information on their website.

I also have a couple of original mouthpieces which I use. The best ones of these were bought in a job lot at an auction - I ended up with gazillions of old trompe de chasse mouthpieces, one bright purple plastic modern mouthpiece but two really good originals. If anyone wants to buy a trompe de chasse mouthpiece...

Also circulating in my "bag of tricks" is the big, flat HBJ-3 baroque mouthpiece by Egger, the Winkings model by Seraphinoff, the Olifant "Gallay" mouthpiece and a couple of mouthpieces by Geert van der Heide. All their details and many more can be found on this blog.

Period mouthpieces tend to have slim stems and tend to be slimmer than the lead pipe on many natural horns. Whilst they are almost always too slender for modern natural horn copies they don't don't always fit originals either. There are three solutions:

  • Some mouthpiece makers (for example Egger) make a little metal adaptor (Egger call it an "adapter for baroque shank" or a "tuning bit"). 
  • Cheaper alternative (but a bit fiddly) is copy woodwind players and use thin thread to wrap around the end of the mouthpiece.
  • Stil cheap but more flexible is to use PTFE tape. Wonderful stuff, and useful to have to hand in general!

I tend to use different mouthpieces for many of my horns, it would be nonsensical to think that one mouthpiece could work with all of them. So I use different mouthpieces depending on the instrument, the repertoire, the range, the ensemble size and sometimes also depending on the hall.

To my mind swapping mouthpieces does not make things more confusing but instead I find that the physical differences between them concentrate my mind and my playing as to the instrument I have in my hands. My suspicion is that if I was to use the same mouthpiece for all my instruments would I not be lulled into approaching my playing of these instruments all in the same way?

Period mouthpiece makers active today

Currently there are two approaches to making period mouthpieces; either to construct them in the original method using a layer of sheet brass or sheet silver, or to turn the mouthpiece out of a piece of solid brass.

Richard Seraphinoff wrote an article on the original methods of making mouthpieces for the Historic Brass Society (Historic Brass Society Journal Volume 1, Issue 1, 1989) which is reproduced on the HBS website here.

Egger (Switzerland).

  • HBJ-3 - Original in the museum Carolino Augusteum Museum, Salzburg.
  • HBE-7
  • HKB-9, Classical mouthpiece made of sheet metal - original in the Basel Museum.

* * * * * * *

Patrick Fraize (France).

Copies, either turned metal or sterling silver made in the traditional method.

* * * * * * *

Geert Jan van der Heide (Holland)

Mouthpieces are based on an original late 18th/early 19th century mouthpiece from the Cite de la  musique collection in Paris. 

The mouthpieces are made from solid brass or sheet material (silver or brass) and can be silver or gold plated.

  • Classical horn mouthpiece: funnel shaped cup with a bore of 4,7 mm and a small rim. 
  • Baroque horn mouthpiece: funnel shaped cup, a sharp edge into the 4,0 mm bore and a even smaller rim. 
  • The width of both types can be made to wishes from about 16,5 to 18,5 mm. 

* * * * * * *

Daniel Kunst (Germany).

No information currently other than that he makes mouthpieces.

* * * * * * *

Moosewood/Tom Greer (USA)

  • Model LGC: For Cor Alto or Cor Basso, from Lowell Greer’s Courtois original. Ex-deep convex contour, #11 bore, no backbore. Giardinelli threads and stem as requested.
  • Model LGR:  For Cor Alto, from Lowell Greer’s Raoux original. Medium-deep convex cup, #7 bore, minimal expansion backbore. Giardinelli threads and stem as requested.

NB: currently (Feb. 2017) getting Moosewood mouthpieces is tricky but there are plans for manufacture to recommence sometime soon.

* * * * * * *

L’Olifant (France).

  • Model “Jacques François Gallay”. Bore: 4.30mm, diameter: 16.50mm, depth: deep.
  • Model “Jean Joseph Rodolphe”. Bore: 4.50mm, diameter: 16.80mm, depth: deep.
  • Model “Frédéric Nicolas Duvernoy”. Bore: 5mm, diameter: 17mm, depth: deep. 
  • Model “Dauprat”. Bore: 5mm, diameter:18mm, depth: very deep.

* * * * * * *

Werner Chr. Schmidt (Germany)

  • Alto: outside Ø ?, inside Ø ?, cup depth 28mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 172: outside Ø 24.6mm, inside Ø 17.2mm, cup depth 33mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 176: outside Ø 25.6mm, inside Ø 17.6mm, cup depth 31mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 178: outside Ø 25.8mm, inside Ø 17.8mm, cup depth 31mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 180: outside Ø 26mm, inside Ø 18mm, cup depth 31mm, bore 4.7mm.
  • NH 185: outside Ø 26.5mm, inside Ø 18.5mm, cup depth 31.5mm, bore 4.7mm.

* * * * * * *

Richard Seraphinoff (USA).

Rims can be made in a number of diameters and widths on request. All six designs are formed by hand from sheet metal with a separate turned rim soldered on. Shank sleeves are soldered to the mouthpiece, but can also be made detachable.

  • K1 - High horn mouthpiece copied from an original by Kruspe, mid 19th century. Inner rim diameter of 16-17mm.                      
  • K2 - Low horn mouthpiece copied from a mid-19th century original, possibly also by Kruspe. Inner rim diameter 17-18mm.
  • French cor-alto mouthpiece from an anon. original of the late 18th- early 19th century. Inner rim diameter 16-17mm. Rather narrow conical body shape.                                      
  • French cor-basse mouthpiece from an anon. original of the late 18th- early 19th century. Inner rim diameter 17-18mm. Wider conical body shape than the high horn model, with larger inner diameter at the shank end.
  • French classical  mouthpiece copied from an original possibly by Tabard, ca. 1810. Inner rim diameter of the original is around 17mm. This model tends toward the high horn side, but is a good general purpose mouthpiece. It is a good match for the Halari and Courtois french classical horn models.
  • English mouthpiece copied from an original possibly by Nicholas Winkings, London, ca. 1760. Inner rim diamer is just over 17mm. This is the earliest model that Seraphinoff makes and which he considers to be a good match for the Hofmaster English baroque horn.

* * * * * * *

Franz Windhager (Austria).

Baroque horn:

  • B/A Bore 4mm, depth 21mm,“very good upper range; for short tubing”.
  • B/B Bore 4mm, depth 23mm, “very good upper range; relatively full sound”.
  • B/C Bore 4mm. depth 24.5mm, “for long c; full sound”.
  • B/D Bore 4.4mm, depth 24.7mm.

Natural horn:

  • N/H Bore 4.6mm, depth 27.5mm .
  • N/A Bore 4.6mm, depth 29mm, “very good upper range; for short tubing”.
  • N/B Bore 4.6mm, depth 32.5mm, “good high register; rather pure sound”.
  • N/C Bore 4.6mm, depth 32.5mm, “full sound; for long tubing”.

A range of natural horn mouthpieces (EB Nr.1-6 ) made in collaboration with the horn player  Hermann Ebner are also available.

NB: It seems very difficult to get mouthpieces out of Windhager at the moment (Feb 2017)! The best advice seems to be to visit them in Vienna! 

Which way round is right?

One of my bug-bears is when graphic designers "flip" images of musicians or musical instruments. I'm certain that they are trying to make things more visually pleasing but it grates so much to see an image like this:

Exploring the Musical Mind: Cognition, emotion, ability, function. John Sloboda (Oxford Univerity Press, 2004)

I don't think I'm the only one who starts to twitch when I see these things. But it's very common, to the extent that it can pass you by. For instance, here's the cover of a fantastic book, one that should be on any brass players bookshelf:

Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments edited by Trevor Herbert and John Wallace (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

I remember eagerly awaiting the publication of this book. Partially as I was a student at the time and really getting into period performance and brass history. But partially because the horn on the cover was "mine" (well, a college instrument, on loan to me). John Wallace was head of the brass department at the Royal Academy of Music at the time and co-opted a number of us to bring instruments to his room so that this collection of brass instruments could be photographed for the cover. It was only many years later I clocked that the image had been reversed.

Not so long ago I got a comment on social media from an old friend. She had commented on a photo of me, and made a joke about the fact that I should really know which way round the horn goes by now.

But which way round does a horn go?

When one reads the 18th and 19th century sources on how to play the horn, most of the writers encourage horn students to hold the horn with the right hand but do admit that the reverse is also possible, for example 

"Suivant quelques Artistes, il est indifférent qu'on tienne le Cor de la main droite ou de la gauche; cependant ce dernier système est plus généralement adopté." "In accordance with a few artists, it is indifferent whether one takes the horn with the right hand or with the left, however the latter system is the one most generally adopted." (George Kastner - Méthode élémentaire pour le Cor Paris: E.Troupenas, 1840, p. 9).
 "Gewöhnlich hält man das Horn zunächst dem Mundstücke mit der linken Hand, und an der Öffnung (Becher, Trichter, Sturz) mit der rechten Hand, die man auch zum Stopfen der Öffnung bei Hervorbringung verschiedener Töne gebraucht... Jedoch kann man das Horn auch umgekehrt halten, was aber nicht gewöhnlich ist, ob dies gleich, wenn man sich daran gewöhnt hat, den Vorteil gewährt, dass die beiden Hornisten sich besser hören können, indem die Öffnung beider Hörner gegen einander kommen, wenn der Primarius die linke Hand, der Secundarius aber die rechte zum Stopfen gebraucht". "Usually the horn is held by the mouthpiece with the left hand, and the right hand is in the bell, which is also used to seal the bell when the different notes are produced... However, the horn can also be reversed, but this is not usual, whether this is the case, when one has gotten used to it, it has the advantage of the two horns can hear each other better by this has been the case when one is accustomed to the advantage that the two horns can hear each other better with the bells being opposite each other, the first horn using his left hand, the second horn his right, to stop the bell." (J. H. Gördolt Ausfürliche Theoretisch-Praktische Hornschule Quedlinburg: Basse, 1833, p. 4)
 "The common method of holding the horn is with the right hand nearly in the middle of the hoop, the bell hanging over the same arm : But it may sometimes be held in the left hand, the bell hanging over the same arm ; and sometimes the bell perpendicular. When two horns are blown with equal strength, the two bells of the horns should be in one direction, that the tones may more equally unite" (The New Instructions for Horn, Longman & Broderip, c.1780).
The last of these sources (The New Instructions...) also illustrates the point that the bells "should be in one direction" with this frontispiece:

We also find sources where the bells are pointing in opposite directions:

Representation of horn-blowing beaters on a blue printed tablecloth border, Moritzburg, ca. 1740
(Bernhard Brüchle and Kurt Janetzky, A Pictorial History of the Horn, Schneider, Tutzing, 1976, pg 85).

Johann Elias Ridinger (1698–1767) Detail from an engraving, 1729
(Bernhard Brüchle and Kurt Janetzky, A Pictorial History of the Horn, Schneider, Tutzing, 1976, pg. 140)

The Mannheim Orchestra 

Here's Joseph Walters and myself recreating such an effect:

Les Ambassadeurs, directed by Alexi Kossenko, Tage Alte Musik Regensburg, 2015

For me there are six main reasons I like playing with the bells facing in opposite directions.
  • It makes the "stereo" antiphonal effects easier to achieve than if the bells are facing in the same direction. 
  • Whilst at the same time because the two horn players are in close proximity to one another, any details passages are easier to get together. (the beginning of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 is a great case in point, the hunting calls sound as if they're coming from different sides of the stage but once the music gets to the running passages it's easier to "lock in" to one another).
  • It looks good - this might sound shallow but symmetry is pleasing to the eye and in the 18th and 19th century musicians obviously had pride in the artistic value of their instruments - see for example painted bells.
  • By making a change such as reversing our instruments we can take the opportunity to see how that makes us question or rethink what we automatically do when playing "normally". Often when I play "backwards" my first shock is how loud the horn is, followed quickly by how out of tune. Shaking things up, making these sorts of changes, can be a very positive way of reevaluating.
  • Flexibility and strength of body. I like to be reminded about the muscles that aren't as strong on the right hand side of my body as my left! When I've done a period of "reverse" horn playing I often notice that by the end of the second or third day I'm feeling it physically. With this in mind it's worth being cautious about playing "backwards" (stretching before and after helps) especially if one has any back/neck problems.
  • Flexibility and strength of mind. I find I have to concentrate that little bit more when playing like this. Little things like getting water out of the horn become less of a reflex action. Distances are a bit different. These have to be taken into consideration.

For a much deeper investigation into "reversal" of horns and horn players I'd highly recommend readers consult Richard J. Martz's article "Reversed Chirality in Horns, or Is Left Right? The Horn, on the Other Hand" published in the Historic Brass Society Journal Vol. 15 (2003). And also available on line here.

"Once you've heard the rumblings of a serpent, there really is no going back"

Last Sunday night Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolution et Romantique performed Beethoven Symphony No. 5 and Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique at the BBC Proms. (Broadcast available on the BBC website for a limited time). After the performance I got the following tweet asking about the horns we were using:

For the first half of the performance (the Beethoven) Joseph Walters and I used standard natural horns but, indeed, for the second half (the Berlioz), Joe, Chris Larkin, Martin Lawrence, Sue Dent and myself were using crookable piston horns. Now, Twitter being Twitter, for me to reply properly to the above enquiry from Alex Robinson would take more than 140 characters (!) hence me taking the liberty of replying in a more leisurely manner here.

Berlioz was a master orchestrator. Some of the effects he calls for in the Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio (the sequel to Symphonie Fantastique, which Gardiner/ORR are playing in concerts this week and next in the Edinburgh International Festival and the Festival Berlioz de La Côte Saint André) are incredibly inovative, for example in Lelio (V. La Harpe Eolienne-Souvernirs) he requests that the clarinet plays into a leather bag, thus to mute the sound of the instrument. Berlioz is often very exacting about the techniques and approaches he wishes the musicians to use, for example the general level of detail he uses for the percussion and timpani regarding exactly what sticks and (in the case of the Marche au supplice) hands to use. These works date from an interesting period in the development of the horn and it is clear that Berlioz was fascinated by what the instrument (or instruments, if one considers the natural horn and the valve horn two separate instruments) was capable of and in these two works we see hints of what contemporary horn players were themselves experimenting with.

The valve had been invented in 1814 and, between 1823 and 1831 the opera composer Gaspare Spontini (then working as Generalmusikdirektor for King Frederick William III of Prussia) sent a number of two and three valved horns, trumpets/cornets from Berlin to influential brass players in Paris including, most notably, the eminent horn professor Louis-François Dauprat (see Georges Kastner Manuel Générale de la Musique Militaire, Paris: Didot, 1848, p.192). Dauprat was not taken with the instrument but his student, Joseph Meifred (pictured below) was and set about improving the instruments sent from Berlin. In 1827 the new design (on which, more later) received a silver medal at the Exposition des Produits de L'Industrie" and the music writer François-Joseph Fétis dedicated an article to it in the August 1827 edition of Revue Musicale (you can read it here online). This was followed, on the 9th of March 1828, by Meifred performing a solo of his own composition in the first concert of the influential Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, alongside compositions by Cherubini, Rossini and one of the earliest performances in France of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. Again, Fétis was there and wrote:
"A solo, for horn with pistons, was performed by M. Meyfred [sic]... [which] gave a high idea of the resources you can find in this instrument. Difficult passages, frustrating on the regular horn, and multiple modulations were played by M. Meyfred with an ease that demonstrated, even to the least enlightened listeners, the benefits of new processes. I have no doubt that the valve horn generally be adopted as soon as a skillful factor multiplied the will, and that will be published Dauprat excellent method he composed for the use of this innovation." (Fétis, Revue Musicale, Vol. III, 1828, p. 148

Joseph Meifred (1791–1867) - Professor of the "Académie Royale de Musique". 
Not all were convinced by the new developments. Joseph d'Ortigue writing in La Quotidienne (22nd of June, 1833) voiced his doubts:
"A quintet, written with great talent by Mr. Strunz, for three cornets and two horns introduced us to the brilliant results that can be obtained by way of the pistons. We doubt that these results are a real advantage in the orchestra: the horn especially would lose this shy and virginal expression which gives it so much charm, and, in wanting too much to multiply the resources of instrumentation, one risks making of it something trivial, like a coquette who loses some of her real and naive appeal for every bit of finery she puts on. But in the concerto, the piston system is a clear advantage. Mr. Meifred, to whom we owe this happy development, has been appointed professor of horn at the Conservatory. This skilful artist was worthy of such a reward after so many years of care and work."

Both of these performances, one showing the new valved horn as a solo instrument, one as a chamber music instrument pre-date the oft quoted first appearance of the valved horn as an orchestral instrument in the opera La Juive by Jules Halévy. This work was premiered at the Paris Opéra on the 23rd of February, 1835 and calls for two pairs of horns, one pair on natural horns and one pair doubling valve horns (crooked in G, E, E flat and D) and natural horns. (More on this piece can be found on John Ericson's website here). Castil-Blaze (in his L'Académie impériale de musique; de 1645 à 1855, Paris: Castil-Blaze, 1855, p.148) recalls that the valve horn players for the premier were Frédéric Duvernoy and Meifred.


Berlioz was fascinated with how instruments work and his Grand traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes (1844, subsequently reworked by both Berlioz himself and later Richard Strauss) goes into aspects of each orchestral instrument in fine detail. Berlioz treats the natural horn and the valve horn separately. 

The natural horn, Berlioz states, comes in the keys of C alto down to B flat basso. Each key has the following notes available, some are open and some are certain degrees of "stopped", i.e. the horn player uses their hand in the bell of the instrument to manipulate the acoustics of the instrument, thereby altering the open harmonics and creating a new note, often with a markedly different timbre.

A Treatise upon Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration by Hector Berlioz. Translated by Mary Cowden Clarke (London: Novello, Ewer and Co, 2nd edition 1858, p.131)
Berlioz then deals with the valve horn and explains that the instrument is best in the keys of A flat, G, F and E. One of the issues with crookable piston horns is that there are only a certain number of crooks that are going to work. The reason for this is that if you wish to use the crooks and the valves then as you lower the horn with lower and lower crooks you are going to have to also lengthen the individual tuning slides for each valve. According to Kastner (again in his Manuel Générale de la Musique Militaire) the first valve horns that Spontini brought to Paris were quickly copied by Parisian makers and, thanks to the guidance of Meifred, the makers improved the design of these instruments adding the valve slides thus making it feasible to tune for the individual crooks leading to this design of horn being known as the cor Meifred

Traditionally on most piston horns you will have three valves, though in the beginning two were deemed sufficient. Like on the modern instrument, the first valve lowers the instrument by a tone, the second by a semi-tone and the the third either lowers by a tone and a half (so in effect doing the same job as the first and second valves combined) or, in the case of some French instruments known as the cor ascendant, raises the instrument by a tone). To maintain these relationships the musician needs to incrementally change the length of each of these valve tuning slides when the crooks are being changed. This is limited, the valve slides will be all too long if the horn is crooked in a high alto key, or all too short if the horn is in a low basso key, hence Berlioz suggesting the keys of A flat, G, F and E. 

Raoux-Millereau cor ascendant (L) and cor descendant (R) from Émile Lambert Méthode Complète et Progressive de Cor Chromatique (Paris: Lemoine et Cie,1922) 

Opinion on what crooks worked varied. In Meifred's De l'étendue, de l'emploi et des resources du cor en général, et de ses corps de rechange en particulier, avec quelques considérations sur le cor à pistons (Paris: Richalut, 1829, pp.30-31)Meifred suggests the crooks of F, E, E flat and D as being the best saying that crooks higher and lower than these keys did not retain their unique character timbre on the piston horn, whilst Urbin, in his Méthode de Cor à trios pistons ou cylindres (Paris: Richault, 1853, p.11) suggests A, Ab, F and E, rationalising that A and E should be used for pieces in sharp keys and A flat and F used for pieces in flat keys. The French style of piston horn was very popular in the UK up until the mid 20th century with makers such as Boosey, Hawkes and their combined forces Boosey and Hawkes making what were in effect rip-offs of the top French makers Raoux and Courtois. Note below the "poinçon" from Joe Walter's Hawkes piston horn (left), this was Hawke's "take" on the recognisable Raoux mark (right). Also note the neat tuning slide markers on Sue Dent's Hawkes & Sons piston horn helping guide the player as to where to put the tuning slides dependent on the crooks. 

Berlioz revised both Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio a number of times and it's quite tricky (and perhaps a fruitless?) quest, to try and unpick what would have certainly been the original versions of these works. Symphonie Fantastique was originally written in 1830 and premiered on the 5th of December, 1830. Berlioz spent much of 1831–2 constantly revising the work and is thought to have continued tinkering with it up until the publication of the first printed score and parts in 1845 which is probably when directions as to where to use valves came in. Many of his changes, such as the added cornet obligato in II. Un Bal are visible in the manuscript held at the Bibliotheque National de Paris (and accessible on their marvellous Gallica website here). Lélio has a similar history of revisions, it was was composed as Le Retour à la Vie in 1831 (and, again, the manuscript is helpfully available on the Gallica website here) and greatly revised in 1855 (as Lélio) for Berlioz's performance of the work in Weimar.

One of the curiosities that emerges in the various editions is Berlioz's directions to the horn players as to when to use valves and when not to. The classic example is in the Marche au supplice in which he asks the horn players, at the beginning, to specifically use the instrument like a natural horn ("Faites les sons bouchés avec la main sans employer les cylindres" i.e. "play the stopped notes with the hand and do not use the valves") and then, in the "big tune" to use valves ("avec les cylindres, tous les sons ouverts" i.e. "with the valves, all the notes open").

Another clear indication to use valves comes in the final bars of the second movement, Chœur d'ombres, of Lélio. Over the years the direction in the score has changed and, as the Bärenreiter edition with the correct directions is in copyright here is what often is presented to horn players, the Malherbe/Weingartner "Berlioz Edition" published by Breitkopf und Härtel in the early 20th century.

This is a 20th century "rationalisation" of the earlier directions which should read: for the first two bars is "solo, sons bouchés avec les cylindres", followed by "sans cylindres" in bar three and then reverting to "sons bouchés avec les cylindres". This means that the horn player needs to use the valves to play the, normally open, notes (the written Cs and Gs) stopped, but would just use traditional hand technique for the E flat and D (stopped notes on the natural horn). 

If we look at the history of these pieces it's clear that Berlioz was a pragmatic composer and, whilst he includes revisions to include colours and effects possible on the early valve horn, there is very little in Symphonie Fantastique nor Lélio that would phase a competent natural horn player of the time. Many examples can be seen of Berlioz writing "dovetailed" horn parts, a trick where a composer writes for a pair of horns, each in a different key, one pair stop when the music starts to stray into difficult territory with the other pair crooked into a key that facilitates the rest of the music being played, so the melody straddles all the horn parts. A good example is the final movement of Lélio where the tune is played in its entirety by the clarinets and bassoons but divided between the two pairs of horns in F and C.

Berlioz Lélio 6. Fantaisie sur la tempête de Shakespeare - bars 286 -305.

If we return to the example from the second movement of Lélio the first 1831 version the manuscript shows Berlioz's original approach to the final four bars. Instead of one solo horn playing the phrase, all hand stopped, he divides the melody between the four horns thus:

So we can see how in these works there are these directions from Berlioz saying to USE valves in certain places, to NOT USE valves in others and, most fascinating of all, places in which he asks the player to USE valves on traditionally "open" harmonic notes, so that the note can be played stopped. With the exception of a couple of notes (such as the low A flat, top F sharp and B flat) all the notes on the natural horn are either open or stopped. What Berlioz seems to be hinting at in these directions is a type of "mixed" technique, partially natural horn and partially valve horn. This was exactly the type of approach advocated by Meifred, a musician who Berlioz knew. Berlioz recalled an incident with Meifred during rehearsals for Benvenuto Cellini in 1838:
"I had occasion to point out to the second horn a mistake in an important passage. I did so in the mildest and politest manner; but the player, Meifred, though an intelligent man, rose in wrath and, losing his head completely, shouted, "I'm playing what's there. Why do you suspect the orchestra like this?" To which I replied, even more mildly, that it had nothing to do with the orchestra but only with him, and that secondly I suspected nothing, for suspicion implied doubt, and I was quite certain he had made a mistake."
Memoirs, "Travels in Russia, Sequel" quoted in Hugh Macdonald Berlioz's Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary p. 182.
Could this be an example of what Berlioz himself suggested conductors should do when faced with a piston horn player playing material conceived for natural horn on their new instruments?
"Many composers object to this new instrument because, since it began to appear in orchestras, certain horn players use pistons to play parts written for the ordinary horn; they find it more convenient to use the mechanism to play as open notes those notes which the composer intended to be played stopped. This is in fact a dangerous misuse and it is up to conductors to stop it spreading". Berlioz Grand traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes (Paris: Schonenberger, 1844), translation from Hugh Macdonald Berlioz's Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary p. 181. 
Both Symphonie Fantastique and Lélio can be played by natural horn and I believe that Berlioz's originally intention in the 1830s would be that the works would be for natural horn. But in his revisions later in life he starts to be more enthusiastic about the benefits of the piston horn.
"A number of composers object to cylinder horns because, they maintain, their timbre is inferior to that of the natural horn. I have several times experimented by listening to the open notes of the natural horn and of the chromatic or cylinder horn one after the other, and I must confess I could not detect the slightest difference in tone or volume. There is at first sight more substance in another objection that has been raised against the new horns, but it can be easily disposed of. Since this instrument (now perfected, in my opinion) was introduced into orchestras, certain hornists who play natural horn parts on cylinder horns find it less trouble to produce the stopped notes indicated by the composer as open notes. This is certainly a serious abuse, but the fault lies in the player and not in th instrument. Far from it, indeed, for in the hands of a skilful artist the cylinder horn note merely produces all the stopped notes which the natural horn produces but can actually play the entire compass without resorting to a single open note. The conclusion is simply that horn players should know the technique of hand-stopping as if the cylinder mechanism did not exist, and that composers should henceforth indicate the notes that are to be played stopped by some special sign, the player producing as open sounds only those notes which carry no such indication."
Memoirs, "Travels in Germany", I/7, 1865, quoted in Hugh Macdonald Berlioz's Orchestration Treatise: A Translation and Commentary p. 183-4.

As mentioned early, Meifred wrote a short method for piston horn in 1828 but then returned in much greater detail in a 1840 Méthode pour le Cor Chromatique ou à Pistons originally published for the two valved instrument and later (1849) revised for the three valve instrument. 

Chromatic horn by Antoine Halary as depicted in Joseph Meifred's Méthod pour le  Cor Chromatique ou à Pistons (1840)

In these works he gives great insight into the aesthetics of his approach setting out his "rules":

This means that Meifred proposed using valves to:

1. To restore to the horn the notes it lacks;
2. To improve the intonation of some of its notes;
3. To make the muffled notes sonorous, while retaining those that need only slight stopping, the tone of which is so agreeable;
4. To give all leading notes, whatever the key or mode, the character they have in the natural scale.
5. Lastly, not to deprive composers of crooks, each of which has its own particular tone colour.
Meifred Méthode (translation Reginald Morley-Pegge, The French Horn, p. 109).
The beauty of Meifred's method is that suddenly a whole new world of colours are available to horn players. For our performances of these Berlioz works the horn section decided to use crookable piston horns. The colour of each crook is particular identifiable - it's no accident that Berlioz chooses F major for the "pastorale" third movement of the Symphonie. For the basso crooks we use higher crooks and then use the valves as a crooking system, so, for example, in the Marche au supplice, I use an E flat crook (which works perfectly for the bit where Berlioz requires valves) and put all three valves down and use hand technique for the other "natural horn" passages which makes the horn in to a B flat basso instrument. (NB to anyone reading this in detail and wondering about this, E flat and 1st and 3rd valve should be sufficient but not quite on my instrument, hence all three valves). Then, on top of this we've been experimenting with various "effects" such as all of the horn section using hand stopping for the final bars of the first movement, I. Rèveries - Passions of the Symphonie.

The introduction of the valve was a very interesting development in the history of the horn. Like a number of other inventions, it didn't suddenly pop up over night. It was accepted in fits and starts and evolved in different ways in different countries. France, with it's superstar natural horn players were very sniffy about the new instrument and felt it potentially would loose the colours and effects that they held dear. Meifred's approach, combining the best of both instruments, offers a fascinating world for horn players to explore. Best of all, to my mind, the potential interpretations using his ideas are pretty endless, it feels like some sort of "choose your own adventure" story where you're constantly faced with decisions and artistic choices which is wonderfully fun!

Back row: Chris Larkin and Martin Lawrence
Front row: Sue Dent, Anneke Scott and Joseph Walters.
Photo courtesy of Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3.

For this project the section used the following instruments:
Anneke Scott: M.A.Raoux natural horn (c. 1862) with later (1918) Boosey detachable valve block crooked into F, E and E flat.
Joseph Walters: Hawkes piston horn crooked into F, E and E flat. (c. 1914)
Christopher Larkin: Raoux Milleraux piston horn crooked into F and E flat. (c. 1879-1911).
Martin Lawrence: Hawkes piston horn (with detachable valve block) crooked into F and E flat. (c. 1914)
Sue Dent: Hawkes and Sons piston horn (with detachable valve block) crooked into F, E and E flat. (c. 1920).

The sad demise of a much beloved friend.

Ok, a disclaimer from the start. I know that one shouldn't write when cross. Best always to leave it to a calmer time. But I am cross. And sad. And all sorts of other emotions.

I've also (as a result of this and a long day) just consumed a nice amount of saké courtesy of Akashiso  a friendly sushi restaurant in the town of Saintes, France.


A DISCLAIMER (feel free to skip this bit)

This blog is going to have a lot of "name checks". Shout outs to various people/organisations whose work I appreciate (starting with the above purveyor of saké). This disclaimer comes in light of several long chat's I've recently had with one of the most fantastic musicians and out and out general good guys I know - Joe Walters. Mr Walters has put up with me blasting in his left ear for many a year, he's the most stunning second horn a girl could want. A good example might be a recent recording patch for Pygmalion which we did of wonderful Mozart arias with Sabine Devieilhe (very popular in France, but I think currently less known in the UK - coloratura to knock your socks off). The orchestra was asked to pick a note, any note, and play it LOUD - the director (Raphael Pichon - another one to watch, more talent in his little finger than a lot of big name conductors twice, or thrice his age) wanted a "nasty" chord to prelude the famous Queen of the Night aria. Unfortunately, Joe seemed to second guess my ever move and always picked a unison to my note. Mr Walters is ridiculous good and when not playing the horn is the mastermind behind a wonderful charity bringing music to kids in India - Songbound. Go check it out and chuck him a tenner whilst you're at it. Good work being done here. (He's also married to the most outstanding operatic soprano who just melts me every time she opens her mouth - more of later).

Anyhow - Joe and I had a number of chats about "internet etiquette" and how we feel less inclined to state anything in case it might be misread as boasting / showing off. We'd both been working in Paris in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings and had felt disinclined to mention on Facebook etc  that we'd been on the march incase some one out there thought we were bragging ("Look at me! I'm in Paris"). Ugh. Anyhow. BTW Did I mention the sake?

Regardless of this trepidation I've decided that there are so many good things happening and many wonderful musicians and organisations that, sod it, they're all going to get a mention. If it rubs you up the wrong way best skip the whole thing. A lot of this particular blog is about supporting one another and trying to get the message out about the amazing work that's going on so consider it part of my effort.


So, why am I so very cross? What pushed me over the edge was this picture a colleague shared on Facebook:

This picture really touched a nerve because I had recently learnt that my beloved Bath Compact Discs was closing. Their owner, Steve Macallister,  had recently told me that they were planning to shut up their shop and go mail order before Christmas but for them to close completely was really a terrible blow.

I'd known of Bath Compact Discs for years. Their's was the sort of shop I'd always pop into if I was in town. There used to be loads independent CD stores dotted about and it was always worth looking into as their stock would vary so much. You might stumble across something you'd never come across before purely thanks to the choices (and probably also some lucky mistakes) made by the owners. There used to be a little CD store in Parma, Italy which I have to thank for introducing me to the most wonderful Berwald Quartet for clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano. It was the only recording they had with horn in stock, I didn't know it, I bought it and fell in love. The serendipity of browsing....

A few years back I had been on a (un-Bridget-Jones-esque) mini break in Bath with (in for a penny, out for a pound name checks) "composer John Croft". (Sod it, his music is great) and dragged him along to Bath Compact Discs. We easily spent three figures but we came away with an amazing hoard of discs. Some stuff I really wouldn't normally buy but love. I remember the big hits of that day was a boxed set of Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky (really exciting stuff) and a recording of above mentioned operatic soprano who makes me melt singing Lutosławski. I didn't even know she had done this recording and blimey it's good.

It was a little while later that I began to question my Amazon addiction. 

It might have been kickstarted by me doing my accounts and finding TONS of payments to Amazon and having to wade through them working out what were legitimate expenses I could claim as tax deductible (business related expenses such as CDs) and what wasn't (such as filters for the vacuum cleaner). Over the course of a year it was a lot of money. Yes, I had Amazon Prime and the "One Click" setting. If I fancied a CD or a filter for my vacuum cleaner, "One Click" and it'd be there the next day. 

It may also have been me discovering that Amazon were able to sell my CDs cheaper than I could buy them. This is not the time or place for a discussion of the various "market forces" in the classical music industry. Suffice to say over the last few years I've recorded various solo discs which have (in a small niche market) been favourably received but in the greater scheme of things I'm small fry. Strike that, plankton. In Amazon terms - 361,507th in "Music". Ok, I enjoy recording the more obscure end of the horn repertoire partially because there is SO much good stuff out there and partially because I do wonder whether the world really does need another recording of the Mozart horn concerti given all this untapped wealth? From what I understand it's more due to their nanobots than their clout but Amazon can afford to sell my CDs for less than I can buy them and that kind of felt wrong.

There were rumblings of Amazon's dodgy ethics. This was before the Panorama documentary on them. It bothered me. I try and make ethical choices as much as I can. I try and bank and shop ethically. Yes, I'm certain my various choices could be shot down in flames but I (naively?) believe that at least trying to do this is better than sticking my fingers in my ears and going "nah-nah-nah-nah-I'm-not-listening" and spending my money with the nearest/fastest/cheapest retailer....

So - I decided to cancel my Amazon Prime account and drop Bath Compact Discs a line. From the outset they were great. Here comes some more name dropping:

I wanted to buy a load of CDs by James Gilchrist. He's smashing and I was working with him a lot around this time. He's recorded many CDs with an equally first class pianist Anna Tillbrook, check her out as well. James and I were going to record some Schubert (Auf dem Strom - on a horn from the Bate Collection, Oxford) and I wanted to have a listen around how he sang Schubert before we did so. Basically, I cut and pasted my "basket" on Amazon and sent it to Bath CDs saying that I'd had enough and would rather spend my money with them.

I got a nice reply (basically saying that they couldn't possibly disagree with anyone wanting to boycott Amazon) but politely pointing out that I might not have noticed that one of the four Gilchirst/Tillbrook CDs I'd requested was actually a compilation CD containing...material from the other three discs I wanted and asking if I was sure I wanted that one as well? Oh, and by the way, did I happen to know that James had a recording of the Britten Serenade coming out (ah, yes, the owner of Bath CDs is a horn player), did they want me to grab a copy when it came out? They were fabulous, knowledgable, prompt, helpful, a wonderful shop and I will miss them sorely.

The thing that has been bugging me about this hasn't just been necessarily the normal rants about Amazon and the tax they do/don't pay or the working conditions they impose. Many people can do that better than I can. What's bugging me is that the small independent companies in addition to supporting their local community, employing people, paying their taxes etc etc etc (aka known as the things we should all do and take pride in) supported the artists themselves. 

The first time I rang up Bath CDs to give them my debit card details (oh, lord, please don't hack them now - we had an Amazon-esque set up, they had my details and I'd just email them my latest wish list - more of anon), I had been told by their owner that it'd be fine to ring after closing as he was going to be there till late as he was working on their latest batch of accounts so ring whenever I wanted. As mentioned above Steve Macallister is a fellow horn player. I actually did my FIRST EVER baroque horn date with him many moons ago so he has a lot to be blamed for.  When I rang him to hand over my card details we had a lovely long chat about what was going on and he said that I should send him some CDs for his shop. At the risk of sounding ridiculous - come on, did Amazon EVER offer me THAT level of service?

But over the years it became a point of pride that anything good I heard about coming up I'd buy through Bath Compact Discs. I remember the buzz surrounding the Tavener Choir recording of Monteverdi's Orfeo. Some of my friends were on it and the sessions had obviously been good so I dropped Bath CDs a line saying that I wanted this as soon as it came out. Yes, of course, that's not the most obscure of obscure records, I'm certain that "my little effort" wasn't going to bring a hidden gem to the eyes of what was a savvy and well informed independent record store but it just felt part of what was a nice relationship. They supported us and I tried to do the same back.

What makes me cross is this. We spend god knows how much money per year on classical music CDs. Thanks to the internet they could be coming from Lands End to John O'Groats or even further afield. The reason I think most people use Amazon is because (a) it's easy, (b) it's cheaper (see above and their nanobots) (c) they're fast. 

Oh for crying out loud. Are we (a) that lazy, (b) that tight and (c) that impatient? 

Some solutions:

(a) Find an independent and patronise them. Here's a list of them. Pick one and get to know them, it's worth it.
(b) Spend A LITTLE more and see your money going into employing people, paying taxes (which benefits all of us!) and supporting the arts and the artists.
(c) Good things come to those that wait!

A final penultimate thought to share with you all:

Here is/was (*sniff*) my final list to Bath CDs:


Joseph & Michael Haydn, Franz Xaver Gruber: Heiligste Nacht: Christmas Music (Hassler Consort, dir. Franz Raml, DG Scene MDG 614 1048-2. _ 

- Someone, I'm embarrassed but I forget who (I think it was one of the kickstarter backers for my recent Gallay disc, coming soon on Resonus), recommended this. If someone recommends something I tend to get it. If it's something I don't care about I download.


Nassauische Hofmusik; Franz Christoph Neubauer: Kantate 'Der Herr ist würdig', Giovanni Punto: Hornkonzert E-Dur; Giuseppe Demachi: Sinfonia Es-Dur; Johann Paul Rothfischer: Convertere Domine; Carl Ludwig +Junker: Klavierkonzert B-Dur; Kim Patrick Clow, Mark Kroll, Robert Ostermeyer, Klaus Mertens, Stephan Katte, Kantorei der Schlosskirche Weilburg, Capella Weilburgensis, Doris Hagel; 1 CD Profil PH14041; 9/13 (69'51) - Rezension von Guy Engels & Remy Franck.

- Three people in the space about a week mentioned horn player Stephan Katte. I don't know him but I rate the people who mentioned him. Steve from Bath says it's not yet available in the UK but my new source (www.abergavennymusic.com) have said they can either order it in from the States or keep an eye out and let me know if it comes out in the UK. As I say, I don't know Katte but he's getting off his backside and recording not-another-Mozart-horn-concerto so I've asked them to order it in. Good for him.


Brahms: Trios / Stransky, Schmidl, Wachter, Varga, Okada -  Camerata Records (28075).

Now Steve from Bath says this is tricky. I've just finished doing a run of "La Chauve-Souris" (more commonly known as "Die Fledermaus") at the Opera-Comique in Paris with Marc Minkowski and the Musicians de Louvre Grenoble. Mr Peter Wächter, violinist with the Weiner Philharmoniker, and therefore much more knowledgable on Johann Strauss than the rest of us, was the guest concermaster. I thought he was nice and was interested in his work, googled him and it turns out he's recorded the Brahms Horn Trio so I thought I'd get a copy. Steve from Bath says it's sadly only available in Japan so maybe I can pick it up when I'm there in February.


Pip Eastop’s new Mozart / Hanover Band / Hyperion disc - CDA68097 

Pip was one of my teachers. He hated me saying that he was a bit of a mentor but he does things differently and it was great as a student to be shown that there was more than one pathway into a life as a professional horn player. Yes, ANOTHER, Mozart horn concerto disc. But I can totally guarantee that this one will be unique. Steve from Bath said "The cadenza in the last movement of no.4 had me giggling out loud while I was listening to it" which is to be expected.


Edding Quartet / Northern Light - Schubert: Octet D803 & Quartettsatz D703 (Phi) - LHP015 - readily available.

A good friend and stunning musician, Nicola Boud (clarinet) along with some other excellent folk are on this. I saw Nic the other day and remembered that this was now out so wanted to buy it.


The good news is that Steve from Bath pointed me in the direction of a number of similar shops to his. I've been in touch with Abergavenny Music with the above list and they're on to it. (NB they don't charge P&P for CDs and DVDs). It crushed my already broken heart just a little bit when James Joseph of Abergavenny Music wrote that "My wife tells me I've been quoting them [Bath Compact Discs] as a sort of gold standard ever since we opened here in 1990!".

So I'm going to carry on boycotting Amazon. Not just due to their lack of taxes or their dodgy employment record, mainly as I believe small independent stores are much more supportive of the work that small independent musicians do.

A sad goodbye to Bath Compact Discs. You've been fab and I will miss you greatly. Thank YOU for all the support you've offered me over the years - both in stocking excellent discs and the various advice you've shared with me over the years. If anyone is looking for "a horn-playing CD salesman" (Mr Macallister is much more than that) there's him and a number of others now looking for new employment which also really sucks.

Recovering post Gallay recording

I'm taking a few days off after what feels like a very very long period of work. It's been a busy couple of months what with some big concerts in Europe back in June followed by July and early August in Australia and New Zealand and then straight back into the thick of things with teaching in Malvern, performances for the International Horn Society London Conference and then the Gallay opera fantasias recording. On top of all that the kickstarter campaign!

Photos of Gallay recording session - with thanks to John Charlton of www.johncharltonphotography.co.uk

I'm extremely grateful to all the very generous people who backed the kickstarter campaign. This helped us raise a considerable sum towards the overall cost of the whole recording. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Backers choose from a number of different "rewards" - some going for the sheet music newly edited for this recording, some for CDs, whilst others just donated generously.  I was really delighted at the range of people who so kindly helped out. Backers came from all over the globe - all around Europe, Northern America, Australia and New Zealand. Some backers were well known to me (the final donation came from a fellow horn player from youth orchestra days) whilst a good number were strangers. I was particularly touched by a number of first time kickstarter backers who wrote words of encouragement as putting on something like this is quite a challenge.

So thank you so very much to (in no particular order) Eva, Julia, Jay, Ann A., Paul, Christopher S., Johannes, Charles, Meredith, Rob, Cheyney, Chris, John W., Josiah, Sandra, John L.-N., Daren, Hilary, Chris, Niall, Phillipp, Jeremy, Graham R., Toby M., Lionel,  Heather, Robert, Rafael, Sally, David, Stefan, Gabriel, Jamie, Rachel, Christopher F., Timothy, Stuart, Graham S., Peter, Vicent, Stephen Mac, Richard V., Alexis, Katy, Richard T., Naomi, Ruud, Paul, Kathryn, Javier, Michael, Olivier, Carl, Outi, Stephen S., Marian, Maxine, Andrew, Joe, Jacqueline, Sabrina, Louise, Wen Chaun, Toby C., Lester, Alan, Doug, Ann S., Shigeru, Rolf, John D., Anon, John C., Lucy, John S., Simon, Maggie, Marc, Geertrui and Alex.

Photos of Gallay recording session - with thanks to John Charlton of www.johncharltonphotography.co.uk

The recording took place at the new Ruddock Performing Arts Centre in Birmingham. Why Birmingham? Well, the University of Birmingham has an incredibly special Érard grand piano from 1851 which we wished to use for this recording. Whilst the University was happy for us to arrange for the piano to be transported to wherever the recording was to take place, the further we moved it the higher the associated costs in moving the instrument would be, so we had to weigh up the costs of various halls versus the distance from Birmingham. Happily the Ruddock is almost opposite the University so this was a perfect solution. It's also an incredibly quiet hall - a surprisingly rare thing - which kept our producer and engineer Adrian Hunter very happy.

Photos of Gallay recording session - with thanks to John Charlton of www.johncharltonphotography.co.uk

Over the course of the three days we recorded six fantasias for horn and piano by Jacques-François Gallay.  Gallay was the leading natural horn player in mid 19th century France and is probably responsible for the French scene continuing to champion the instrument for longer than much of the rest of the musical world. He was obviously a sensational musician and highly respected by fellow musicians and critics, Berlioz being a notable example. Gallay was principal horn of the Theatre Italien and through that came into close contact with, and inspired a number of composers such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti etc. The works we recorded highlight Gallay’s assertion of the natural horn being “Another Voice”, blending a very vocal, lyrical style with the tremendously virtuosic.

Photos of Gallay recording session - with thanks to John Charlton of www.johncharltonphotography.co.uk

I was joined by some fantastic musicians for this project. Steven Devine had a great time on the Erard which was lovingly cared for by Ed Pickering. We were overjoyed that Lucy Crowe, one of the most stunning and stylish young sopranos around, joined us for three song settings by Gallay. The Bate Collection, once again, leant me their exquisite 1823 Marcel Auguste Raoux cor solo. Many others helped out  - thanks to Chris Holley and Hetti Price from the University of Birmingham Music Department for their page turning services and very special thanks to my old Brummy pal John Charlton for popping in to take photos. Finally thanks for the exacting Adrian Hunter for running the whole show.

I'm hoping to have some sneak behind the scenes footage of the actual recording to share soon but for the time being much more information on the project can be seen here:

So now that's all done and dusted - much needed relaxation. Paint nails, read book, drink wine and enjoy a well deserved rest.


Delighted to that the venerable Gramophone Magazine so enjoyed our recent ensembleF2 Danzi disc. It was a really memorable project, the wonderful Fritz piano gets a well deserved mention in the review. The disc is available from Devine Music which also has online audio samples of the various pieces included on the disc. We're hoping there will be a second instalment with the E minor horn sonata and the basset-horn sonata plus another Danzi quintet for piano and winds (sadly, perhaps somewhat foolishly in my mind, Danzi ditches the horn in favour of a flute for the other quintets!).

Steven Devine and myself rehearsing the Danzi Sonata in Eb at Finchcocks Museum of Musical Instruments

So here's what the Gramophone had to say:

DANZI Music for Piano and Winds Vol 1

·         Quintet

·         Sonata for Horn and Piano

·         Sonata for Clarinet and Piano

Ensemble F2’s project, prepared last year for Finchcocks Musical Museum in Kent, explores the chamber music of Franz Danzi (1763-1826). A versatile musician who joined the famous Mannheim court orchestra at the age of only 15, he replaced his father as the orchestra’s principal cellist after the court relocated to Munich; in 1798 he was promoted to the position of vice-Kapellmeister, but after some setbacks he worked in Stuttgart (where he befriended Weber and Spohr) before settling in Karlsruhe.

His Quintet in D minor for fortepiano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon (Op 41) was published in Leipzig in 1810, although he simultaneously issued a version for strings (Op 40). The brooding yet beguiling sonority of the Larghetto opening features softly sustained chords that are immaculately balanced by James Eastaway (oboe), Jane Booth (clarinet), Ursula Leveaux (bassoon) and Anneke Scott (horn); all are on scintillating form in this masterfully crafted and elegantly dramatic music.

Steven Devine’s supple fortepiano contributions are flawlessly lyrical, but in the Turkish-style Rondo allegretto conclusion to the Sonata in E flat major for fortepiano and horn (Op 28) he makes astonishing use of ‘Janissary band’ special effects (bells, crashing cymbal, drum and bassoon imitations), operated by an additional pedal and knee lever of a Fritz grand piano (c1815); Scott’s enthralling natural horn-playing takes no prisoners either. Devine’s alert sensitivity and Booth’s cantabile expressiveness form a fine partnership in the Sonata in B flat for fortepiano and clarinet (Op 54). This is a wonderful match of interesting repertoire and classy musicianship.

Educating young musicians

Over the last few weeks the BBC have been broadcasting highlights of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. As always, there have been a lot of comments about the format of the show and discussions about what can be gleaned from the competition about the state of music education in the UK. I remember being hooked on the programmes when I was growing up. I loved being able to see every stage of the compeition as well as the masterclasses that they used to have. Some of the masterclasses were filmed at the old BBC studios at Pebble Mill which was just around the corner from where I grew up so I got to go and listen to them. It was all very inspiring stuff for me.

I read with great interest the Guardian article by Mark Simpson which picked up on the high number of privately educated BBC Young Musician competitors and winners and warns that given the current climate, things are unlikely to change. Mark's article reminded me of my experience when I started at the Royal Academy of Music in London as an undergraduate in 1996. I was really shocked how many of my peers had come from either a private school, a specialist music school (such as Chethams, Wells Cathedral School, Menhuin School or Purcell School), had attended a junior music department (Junior RAM, RCM, Guildhall, Trinity etc etc) or played in the National Youth Orchestra. This had not been my trajectory into music college and, at first, I was very daunted. Many of them had known one another for years, many were reminiscing with anecdotes of their experiences in National Children's Orchestra together and very many of them already knew the various professors well. People were friendly and excited about what lay ahead but initially I felt like an outsider and was somewhat intimidated by the cliques. It turned out that, really, there was very little that I had missed out on. 

Over the years I've really appreciated the amazing musical experiences and training I had as a kid growing up in Birmingham and it has really bothered me that current and future generations around the UK are less and less likely to have such an experience. It is my absolute belief that there is no way I would be doing what I do today if it wasn't for the Birmingham Music Service. What is probably even more important though is for every professional musician like me that came out of Birmingham, there were plenty more people going on to a huge range of careers and jobs. Many of these people have continued to have music very much part of their lives. These people love music, listen to music, go to concerts, play in amateur orchestras etc etc.

It was unlikely that I would go through my childhood without learning an instrument at some stage or other. My parents love music and both had played instruments when they were children. It was that sort of family where music was very much part of the furniture, but not necessarily the be all and end all.

I went to a local primary school in Bournville, an idyllic place to go to school and, as far as I'm aware, the only UK primary school to boast a carillon tower with 22 bells. I remember being tried out for violin lessons at one point and being told that my arms were too short and replying that that was fine as I really wanted to play the flute. My mother recalls being shocked at this as I hadn't ever mentioned the flute (and I don't think I did ever again), I suspect this was bravado in having been "turned down" for violin lessons. At some stage I started going to Heather Wastie's Saturday morning recorder group at the Midlands Arts Centre and started piano lessons with a local teacher, Becky Storey.

Like many primary schools there was one teacher who was in charge of the school music and she, Miss Reed (if memory serves me right), was my form teacher in what we now call year 5. I get the impression that the visiting brass teacher from the music service was scouting for new students and Miss Reed picked a handful of us to try out.

Initially I was allocated the trumpet. I was TERRIBLE at the trumpet. I remember really struggling. As I was making very little progress eventually my teacher, Bob Vivian, made an ultimatum. Shape up or stop. I was quite keen on playing the tenor horn so I was allowed to continue but switched to the tenor horn which I LOVED!

Pretty soon I joined the South West Area Birmingham Schools' Wind Band (conducted by Cormac Loane) as second tenor horn in Eb. This was absolutely no indication of any prodigious talent, just what the music service did. They ran a series of such ensembles and joining the local area wind band was the first step in a journey that could take you all the way up to the main symphony orchestra or in other directions, with young musicians finding repertoire or ensembles that suited them. To give you an idea just how basic my abilities as a tenor horn player was at that stage, I vividly remember copying the fingering of the 1st tenor horn player as I had no idea what I was doing and some how busking through what was required of me.

The local wind band was the first step. I could then audition for the Birmingham Schools' Training Wind Band where I played tenor horn for a while (my favourite piece was Birdland) and then, thanks to my teacher at the time Mike Bates, swapped to French Horn. From the Training Wind Band you could go on to the Birmingham Schools' Wind Orchestra or the Concert Orchestra (conducted by the chap who started me off, Bob Vivian). String players had a similar "pathway" with local groups, then Junior strings, Intermediate strings followed by the Concert Orchestra. By this stage I was at secondary school and had continued lessons with my beloved teacher Mike Bates. However, as he was a trumpet player it was wisely suggested that I changed to the "proper" French Horn teacher at the school, none other than Richard Duckett, author of the Team Brass series. I already knew Richard as he, along with the rest of the brass teachers would put on "Brass Days" when all the local brass students, of all sorts of standards, would get together for a day of en masse playing. I loved Brass Days, and not just as it was a day out of normal school.

Now I was in the Concert Orchestra, things started to get much more interesting. The Concert Orchestra would go on trips and have holiday courses. We would compete in the Music for Youth festival which meant we got to play at the Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall and get to hear fellow young musicians from the length and breadth of the UK. We took part in an offshoot of Music for Youth, "Let music live" where local Birmingham hero Simon Rattle conducted a massed choir and orchestra of 2.000 young musicians as part of a "Keep Music Alive in Our Schools" day. By the time I got to the end of my schooling in Birmingham I had a hectic week. Monday after school was the school orchestra (conducted by Simon Palmer), Tuesday the Birmingham Schools' Brass Ensemble (a dectet based on the Philip Jones formation, conducted by Bob Vivian), Wednesday could be, when they needed horns, the Birmingham Schools' Baroque Orchestra (conducter by Alan Davis), Thursday was Birmingham Schools Chorale (conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, of Ex Cathedra fame), Friday was the Academy of St Philips (a chamber orchestra, separate from the Music Service run by Peter Bridle, recent winner of the Classic FM Music Teacher of the Year, Lifetime Award) and Saturday was the Birmingham Schools' Symphony Orchestra (also conducted by Peter Bridle). My parents were the best of taxi services you could imagine.


Throughout this time, all lessons, instruments and these orchestras and ensembles were provided by the Birmingham Schools Music Service to students such as myself - for free.


I received the most wonderful of opportunities. I received the most excellent training. I met other young musicians from all over Birmingham, many coming from all sorts of different backgrounds but being brought together to take part in these ensembles. You had a peer group which could provide the complex mix of camaraderie - the support but also competition that helps you progress. You'd be inspired by older students in the system who you could aspire to emulate (Heather McNaughton, a young musician brass finalist in 1992 was a few years ahead of me). You'd also be inspired by other students, who after term after term of doggedly trying to master some aspect of playing suddenly would be racing ahead of everyone.

Even with the most inspiring of teachers, learning a musical instrument will be a very limiting experience if all you're doing is having a weekly half hour lesson. Having all the ensembles and groups in Birmingham gave young musicians a reason to play. It gave us context, both of the music itself, but also the journey of learning an instrument. We could see and hear where we could get to on our instruments and thus returned each week to our instrumental lessons, maybe having done zero practice, but having got the instruments out of the cases and learnt ever so much from our fellow students and the rehearsals in general.

As long as I can remember we've had to fight for music to be respected in the curriculum and for pupils to have the chance to learn to play an instrument. Fewer and fewer opportunities to have lessons and instruments for free exist. Music Services get closed down. Happily, Birmingham seems fighting fit and I hope will continue to thrive for many generations to come.


Not everyone aspires to be a BBC Young Musician of the Year. Not everyone wants a career in music. But everyone deserves the opportunity to access this level of music education.

A bit of detective work

One of the things I did during my time in Paris on my Finzi Scholarship was to compile a catalogue of Jacques-François Gallay's works. It was an interesting task and was very helpful in me getting a good overview of his work. There were quite a few anomalies that have crept in over the years - a mysterious "2nd concerto" that some allude to for example, it may have been mooted but never transpired. 

I was able to put together a catalogue and managed to track down a sizeable portion of his works. Various libraries around the world were very helpful, especially the Bibliothèque national de France and the Biblioteca del Conservatorio di Musica "Giuseppe Verdi", and slowly I've been putting together my own library of copies of first editions of Gallay's works.

All of these works are out of copyright (though I've had quite a fight with one particular Italian library who seemed to think this was not the case, more another time) but of course libraries need to at least cover the costs and so many charge for "reproduction". Some libraries you have to go through quite a process to order copies of music in their collection. A laborious series of websites that you have to subscribe to, bank details to fill in, library codes and all sorts of brain ache and then eventually a few months later the photocopies arrive in the post (BnF I'm looking at you). Every so often though I would be delighted to email a collection only to receive in their reply a scan of the work I was looking for almost by return of post (Biblioteca Conservatorio Statale di Musica "G.Rossini" were wonderful!).

Back in 2011 La Revue du Corniste (the biannual magazine of the Association Française du Cor) published the catalogue I was working on and included with it my plea to any readers who might have any of my missing  works to contact me. 

One chap did, Yves Tramon (professor of horn at the Conservatoire de Lille) contacted me with a number of works. One of them was of particular interest, he had a copy of the Troisième Mélodie sur La Somnambula de Bellini (Op. 28), one of the operatic fantasias I was searching for with this recording in mind. But... it was missing the final page!

I received the incomplete score back in January 2012 and over the last couple of years have been diligently searching for a version with the final page. The Op. 28 Mélodie was, frustratingly, not turning up in various library catalogues. I was beginning to consider actually reconstructing the final page! 

Every so often I try a google search for various terms hoping something might crop up. Some Gallay works appear in transcription for cornet à pistons so a bit of lateral thinking will help you find potential sources (more on this subject anon). 

A couple of weeks ago I tried another of these fishing trips and stumbled upon this interesting pdf about the Meir Rimon collection held at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Meir Rimon (1946-1991) was an eminent horn player. He was principal horn of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and his collection now resides at the University. Amongst it is a first edition of the piece I was searching for.

So a couple of emails later, low and behold, in my inbox is a lovely scan of the COMPLETE Troisième Mélodie sur La Somnambula de Bellini. Totally mixing my fairy tales, now this sleeping beauty can go to the ball! Many many thanks to the Bar-Ilan University, their wonderfully helpful librarian Efrat Mor and the memory of Meir Rimon. 


Mulling over money

So, as mentioned in much earlier posts - I'm hoping to complete the Gallay Trilogy with a recording of the Gallay opera fantasias, more about this anon I'm sure...

In a way I've been working through these discs in an economical fashion - starting with the solo works which is probably the cheapest place to start, this though was made a lot easier in having the support of the wonderful Finzi Scholarship which didn't finance the disc but did finance the preparation for it. The next disc involved co-opting my marvellous friends and colleagues in Les Chevaliers de Saint Hubert for the quartet and trios. This got slotted in amongst other work we had in France near a very good venue recommended by our top notch sound engineer

Throughout these other projects, at the back of my head was the possibility of recording some of the Gallay opera fantasias. These works are hardly known of as much of the music is not available or even known about. Much digging in archives and libraries around the world plus many hours work in producing new editions of all these works have meant that a new wealth of nineteenth century works for horn and piano have been rediscovered.

These works are typical of both Gallay's compositions and style of horn playing, mixing incredibly virtuosic music with beautifully lyrical melodies deeply influenced by his position as solo horn of the Parisian Theatre Italien. In many ways these works represent a "missing link" in today's repertoire for horn illustrating a sizeable body of works that come between the classical concerti and sonatas of Mozart/Haydn/Beethoven and their contemporaries and the later nineteenth century Romantic tradition typified by Franz and Richard Strauss.

These charming and entertaining works are still capable of captivating audiences in the 21st century and by recording the music and publishing editions of the works I hope to help renew interest in this important period of musical history.

To date we've got an excellent team together, both with musicians, the producer/engineer and technician for the piano plus a great venue and perfect instruments for the period. Period pianos can be hard to source, tune and move. Venues with good acoustics and no risk of external noise don't come cheap. Accommodation, travel, food to eat, all mount up. All this means that to do this last disc is going to cost a far bit when all is added up. We'll be looking at the region of £10,000 and that's with a number of people giving their services for free (controversial at the best of times).

Recently, many artists have turned to crowd funding to raise the much needed capital for projects such as recordings. At the moment a fabulous Australian ensemble, Ironwood, are in the middle of such a campaign on Pozible. This group is doing really innovative, ground breaking work, especially in 19th century performance practice. I was lucky enough to work with them recently and part of the funding they're trying to raise will be to support a recording project with them so I'm keeping everything crossed that they reach their target.

I'm currently investigating running a Kickstarter campaign. I've spent the last few days coming up with the bumpf and the all important "rewards". Actually this part I've found quite fun - I've divided the rewards into four categories:

  • Thanks! (quite self explanatory, a donation of £5 gets a thank you email and a track of music working up to donations of £100 getting a thank you in the sleeve notes.
  • Hear the music Various options giving donors advance downloads or advanced copies of the new recording through to snazzy "deluxe" boxed editions of the three Gallay CDs plus the Bate Collection recording. I'm a real sucker for elegant packaging so I'm having great fun playing with ideas for this. Ribbons? Deluxe boxed set would also come with a personal thank you in the sleeve notes.
  • Play the music. Having done all the research, found all the source materials, made all the editions so that we have the dots for the recording, it would be great to share the music with other musicians. So there are various options to buy sheet music of these works. Like the boxed editions above I've been looking at the various options of getting the music properly printed as it'd be nice to have good editions rather than something dashed off on the home printer. I'm also contemplating getting a small factory line going at home and making some really good hosepipe horns (in F at A440) - inspired a little by the success of the P-bone so people can buy the music then have an "instrument" to try it out on!
  • Meet the artists. This has been a fun one to plot! Need to check a few logistical things but we've got options from horn lessons, drinks with the musicians after one of our concerts in 2015, attending one of the recording sessions, through to a private concert at the donors house. But my favourite one here is a possible event involving the wonderful Bate Collection and afternoon tea...
Having dreamt all that up (and gone through to make sure none of the rewards cost so much that they end up negating any donations) I've now spent some time playing with the Kickstarter website plus a bit more time coming up with a emailout for it.

But the big question is this - Kickstarter and their ilk work on the premise that the campaign only gets money if the target is reached. I'm hoping that this is a campaign that will attract the horn playing fraternity and hopefully other music lovers. But with more and more people running these sorts of things have we reached saturation point? Is it like the frequent emails we all receive from our very well meaning, athletic, friends and colleagues running another marathon for a deserving course? It looks like social media and "reach" (how many people you're connected to on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn etc etc) play a big part in crowd funding - but is it not like a lot of social/political/fundraising things you see on social media i.e. people are trigger happy clicking "like" for things but rarely follow through with a real life action? 

Either way - it's been a long day of beautiful Mozart in Copenhagen, teaching an enthusiastic Masters student, and then looking at a computer screen for way too long trying to figure out funding. At the moment I'm going to sleep on it a bit but in the meantime would be fascinated to know of other's experience with crowd funding - either as artists themselves running a campaign or as potential philanthropists!

This year marks the bicentenary of the birth of Adolphe Sax. Whilst most people will immediately associate the name of Sax with, of course, the saxophone this was but one of very many instruments he invented or developed.

Over the past few months I've been involved with a group of musicians who are delving into the history of another of Sax's inventions - the family of brass instruments known as the saxhorn. This group, The Prince Regent's Band, takes it's name from the private band of the Prince Regent, later George IV,  late eighteenth/early nineteenth century. The original Prince Regent’s Band was an elite ensemble of musicians from throughout Europe and the new group has set out to explore much of the wealth of music for brass and wind instruments from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Prince Regent's Band decided to mark the Adolphe Sax bicentenary with the reconstruction of a programme music influenced by the Distin Family, one of the earliest and most famous of brass ensembles. 

Founded by John Distin, a former member of the original Prince Regent's Band, the group comprised himself, his four sons George Frederick, Henry John, William Alfred and Theodore, and his wife Anne Matilda Distin (neé Loder). In their earliest formation in 1836 the ensemble included John Distin on slide trumpet, keyed bugle or even "walking stick cornet", George Frederick on trombone with Henry, William and Theodore on horns and Mrs Distin appearing on piano. Over the course of three decades the ensemble travelled the length and breadth of Europe and Northern America giving more than 10,000 concerts and gaining many important and influential admirers.

"Never have I heard wind instruments played with so much splendor, purity, and precision; to add to this, that nothing equals the grandeur of their style" (West Brighton and Cornwall Advertiser, September 19th 1851) 

"The combination of bugles, horns, and trombones in a concert room might be presumed too noisy an exhibition for the tender ears of a fashionable auditory, but such is the beautiful tone and perfect understanding between this family of musicians, that unmingled gratification and delight attend their efforts." (The Musical World, February 9th 1838)

In 1844 the family travelled to Paris where they were engaged to perform for a month. Here they heard the great cornet player Jean Arban performing on a new valved brass instrument by Adolphe Sax in a concert organised by Hector Berlioz. The Distins were so taken with the instrument that they immediately arranged a meeting with Sax from which they came away with three new instruments. The family quickly aquired a full set of five of the new instruments which they claimed to be the first to call "sax horns". These instruments are today the instruments that make up the modern brass band. In keeping with one of Adolphe Sax's main tenets these instrument provided a homogenous group of valved brass instruments from covering all ranges from the Soprano in E flat down to the Contrabasse in E flat providing performers and composers with a new sonic world for brass instruments.

The Distins were resourceful arranging and rearranging popular works of the time, including many works from the genres of opera, ballad and folk song. Their programmes often advertised works by composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Meyerbeer, Handel and Beethoven. Sadly no arrangements by the Distins remain but inspired by their pioneering work the Prince Regent's Band has set about similarly arranging works for sax horn ensemble which are performed alongside similar arrangments from the time.

The group has two concerts coming up:

Holywell Music Room, Oxford. “Oldest custom built concert room in Europe” 
Friday 30th May 2014 - 7.30pm 
Tickets £12 - available on the door or from: www.oxfordplayhouse.com/ticketsoxford

St Cecilia's Hall, Niddry Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LJ 
Saturday 31st of May 2014 - 7.30pm 
Tickets: £14 /senior citizens £10 / students and unwaged £5. 
Available on the door or from the Queens' Hall Box Office, 85-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh EH8 9JG. 01313 668 2019. www.thequeenshall.net

So I desperately need to get practising this beautiful Courtois alto sax-horn in Eb that I've been lent by the fantastic Bate Collection in Oxford who are kindly loaning us a number of instruments for this project.

It's been a busy few weeks in "Gallay" world.


DISC ONE - Jacques-François Gallay: Préludes, Caprices & Fantaisies" was released last year by "the world's first solely-digital classical label" Resonus Classics and, happily, has received a number of glowing reviews. Resonus Classics provides not only high quality downloads of the album but also free sleeve notes and art work here. But very soon the "physical" disc will be available from the wonderful Bath Compact Discs, a great independent record store doing much to champion the very best of classical music recordings.

DISC TWO (!) - Les Chevaliers de Saint Hubert's recording of the Gallay chamber music for natural horn ensemble is almost finished and will be available from Resonus in october, plus we will be giving a concert at St Olave's Church in London on Thursday 21st of November (1.10pm) to launch the disc. More news on this soon

DISC THREE (!!!) - Can't neglect the wonderful Opera Fantasias can we? Currently concocting plans to record Gallay's fantasias on the works of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini et al. More news about the fundraising for this very soon!


Rehearsing the Bach Mass in b minor at the Thomaskirche, Leipzig

Right now I'm in the middle of John Eliot Gardiner's / Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists Bach tour. As the ensemble is performing various programmes, the only one for me being the Bach B minor Mass, I have a little time on my hands. 

We performed the work in Barcelona a couple of days ago and the next day I had to get up really early to travel to Turin to start work with another ensemble and ended up writing a few words about performing the Quoniam from the B minor Mass. The Monteverdi's have a tour blog to which this was contributed but I thought I'd share it here as well. We'll be performing this work twice more on this tour, Monday 1st of April at the Royal Albert Hall and then the Sunday 7th of April at the Cité de la Musique in Paris.

To quoniam is a strange experience. It is regarded as one of “the” big baroque horn solos, if not one of the biggest horn solos full stop. The most obvious challenge is the first 45 minutes, the ones when you are not doing anything. Nothing at all. Bach doesn’t write a single note for the lone horn player. If you are sneaky you might quietly play along with the trumpets and timpani sotto voce. Then a leap of faith. A jump into the unknown. No time to check whether the instrument is in tune. After pirouetting around with the bassoons and basses of both the string and vocal variety, you’re done. No opportunity to redress any balances later.


Horn players normally come in pairs. You normally have a buddy or there is a little gang of four or five. Like minded fellow adventurers. Others who understand exactly what you’re battling with in your day to day valiant attempts to tame a notoriously fickle instrument. When quoniaming, their absence is keenly felt.

Musicians can have a type of gallows humour. Jokes about the Quoniam abound. To be honest none of them tend to be THAT funny but in the idle moments that precede “your bit” they can loiter in the recesses of the mind,

Q. Why should Bach be the trumpet players favourite composer?
Q. Because he doesn’t write anything for them in the slow movement of Brandenburg 2.

I warned you.

Q. Why should Bach be the horn players favourite composer?
A. Because he doesn’t start the Quoniam on the top note.

You see?

Not so long ago I fulfilled a long time ambition and had a flying trapeze lesson. Baroque horn players obviously are often thrill seekers. I once knew one who combined baroque horn playing with being a ski instructor and flying planes. Performing the Quoniam requires many of the same skills as flying the trapeze. When jumping off a 25 foot ledge onto the trapeze I learnt the worst thing you could do was doubt. If you did, you risked the trapeze pulling you out before you were ready and would probably end up tottering on the platform only to slip and plummet to the safety mat. You have to confidently hop off the ledge. Brace yourself, don’t fling yourself over the edge, just step, the trapeze and momentum will do the rest. So long as you are strong enough. Ditto with the Quoniam. Brace yourself and go with the music.

I also discovered that flying trapeze is a team effort. Before you jump, two colleagues have the job of getting the trapeze ready. They pull it in towards the platform and hold it steady for you so you can concentrate. The trapeze wants to pull you out. It takes three people to hold it. Once you jump, you trust others, especially the one controlling the safety harness, that between you everything is going to be alright. If you are really lucky then you start to fly. Again, ditto with the Quoniam. Despite what I said at the start, it’s not really a horn solo. It’s a jostling quintet for bass singer, basso continuo, two tremendous bassoon parts and a horn player. It’s a team effort. And if you are really lucky then you start to fly.

Another bad joke about the Quoniam concerns a horn player who, if memory serves me correct, was also on his way to the Royal Albert Hall. Wanting to avoid the walk from South Kensington he hailed a taxi only to get a particular chatty cabbie. The cabbie wanted to know what was the odd shaped bag and is told that it is a french horn. The horn player patiently explains that he is off to play the great Bach’s Mass in b minor. The cabbie seems nonplussed, Bach and the b minor mass do not seem to register with him. No matter. They arrive at the hall, the horn player pays the fare. As the horn player approaches the stage door he hears the cabbie shout after him “Don’t screw up the Quoniam mate”.

Everyone seems to have a Quoniam disaster story. It’s easy to sit there for the first three quarters of an hour obsessing about all the deadly corners that await. The large leaps, the sinuous runs. Even the relatively simple bits, such as the repeated low notes accompanying the bassoons, can become treacherous when they follow acrobatics. But focus beyond the technical challenges and the music carries you. For me the music in the Quoniam, like so much of Bach, somehow marries a simple, yet authoritative, declaration of faith,”You alone are holy, you alone are most high”, with something euphoric and joyous. The Quoniam should resist being ponderous, heavy and earth bound but instead be a shout to the heavens.

My final story about the Quoniam is often repeated. I do hope it is true, if not, it ought to be. The great horn player Alan Civil appeared on Desert Island Discs and choose the B minor Mass. Roy Plomley duly announced his request and dryly suggested he could guess which bit Civil would have selected and then was shocked to realise it wasn’t the Quoniam but the second half of the work. Civil’s rationale was that he had never heard that bit, he was normally half way home by the time the interval was over. However what he had heard of the first half was so good that he’d always wanted to hear the second half.

I’ve often worked with very well meaning musicians who assume that you will wait backstage and come the closing bars of the Qui sedes will stride on for “your bit”. I’ve always resisted this as it feels nonsensical. The Quoniam is a glorious part of a one of the most astounding pieces of music. As you sit there you are constantly inspired by the wondrous things you hear around you. Last night I sat and relished the interweaving string writing of the opening Kyrie, the woodwinds sparing with one another in the Ex resurrexit, the eloquent violin in the Laudamus te the first trumpet riff at the end of the Cum sancto spiritu. And the singers, to single things out is nigh on impossible but if I have to I’d take the basses in the Sanctus. Actually I’d take the Sanctus full stop. To perform it having not experienced everything either side makes one feel hollow and turns the Quoniam into a circus trick rather than part of something profound.

With JEG we perform the work without an interval. I suppose I could slip offstage in a tuning break but often I’ve made a home for myself somewhere amongst my fellow musicians. Last night I was an honorary member of the second violins, an utter joy. Every time I sit there, a good two hours of music, I hear new things. Details emerging, different, fresh each time.

Contrary to popular opinion, rather than suffering, the horn player in the Bach Mass in b minor really has the best seat in the house.

Almost as good as the third oboe’s seat I’d say. But that is someone else’s story…

The British Horn Society

When I was a young thing the arrival of the British Horn Society magazine was always a huge treat. Whilst I was very lucky, growing up in a vibrantly musical city full of plenty of things to keep young musicians happy and busy, the BHS provided a bit of an outlook on what other people were up to and gave me a taste of things to aspire to.

The annual horn day (in those days it always seemed to be at the Guildhall School of Music) was partly terrifying (going along and rarely knowing anyone, my father quite happily leaving me there for the day to fend for myself) but very inspiring. I still have my copy of "The Business" (a book co-authored by a number of leading horn players on how to survive "the business") which was signed by the authors and anyone who seemed to know how to weald a horn in an impressive style.

I was very flattered to be asked to play at the last BHS event in Cardiff. It had a french theme and I had been asked to play some Gallay. It was an even bigger treat as they had invited Claude Maury as guest of honour so it was a joy to see him.

The most recent edition of the BHS mag arrived on my doorstep the other morning. I must admit to having let my subscription flag for, oh about a decade, but whilst I was at the last BHS bash it came back to me just what good work they do inspiring musicians young and old, and therefore thought I really ought to join up once more and support their valuable work. An added bonus was finding a lovely review of the Gallay disc in the review section which can now also be found here: http://www.annekescott.com/reviews.html

2013 and the Art of Blogging (or not)

I started this new year in a slightly different fashion to normal. Unfortunately I had a nasty bout of food poisoning that kicked in on new years eve and laid me low for all of new years day (aka as my birthday) which was pretty miserable.

It's a funny time of year at the best of times. The evaluating of the previous year and the hopes and aspirations for the following one. The mixture of the hype of NYE plus birthdays is a potent mix so perhaps spending the 1st of January feeling a bit sorry for myself on the sofa wasn't such a bad thing.

January tends to be a quiet month for many musicians. I've got some nice bits and pieces to keep me going but am looking forward to getting on with things that the last few months of touring have prevented me from doing. The tail end of last year was incredibly full on, lots of great concerts, tours plus writing a couple of things, a chapter for a book and a paper for a journal. So it felt that I hardly had any time at all!

A lot of that pressure is off for a while so I'm beginning to remember all the other bits and pieces that I'd been meaning to do. Blogging is one thing, updating my website another. Preparing for the "physical" release of the Gallay Caprices disc (only available "virtually" up until now). Last year my house was rearranged a bit so that my husband and I could each have a room to work in - so I'm now up in the attic (being a fair bit shorter than my husband this suits me perfectly whilst it would have been impossible for him). This is proving a wonderful move, it makes an excellent practice room and it's great to have the time to prepare for performing the Gallay Caprices this coming week.

Préludes, Caprices, Fantaisies – Concerts Cachés

How time flies when you're having fun!

It's curious to think back to when this blog started and why. The original impetus was to have some way of documenting my trip to Paris as part of my Finzi Scholarship and the eventual outcome of that is the album Préludes, Caprices, Fantaisies - Concerts Cachés which has just been released by Resonus Classics.

The disc is available directly from www.resonusclassics.com (where you can also download the sleeve notes - in English, French and German - for free, regardless of whether you buy the disc as well!). It's also available from iTunes and Amazon.

And here is a little video all about Jacques-François Gallay and the pieces on the album.