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