Excerpts from a lecture for the 9th International Horn Workshop, Hartford, 1977. The complete article is available only to IHS members.
The title of this little talk can perhaps be taken as a provocation; isn't a beautiful horn tone exactly what we are all striving for? Yet I ask this question because I am convinced that the tone we produce is the most unimportant aspect of getting the best result, and it must not be the focus of our problems and concentration.
How often don't we say: "Oh, what an ugly sound he or she has!"? Do we really mean what we say? Couldn't there be something else displeasing us? Try to analyze: perhaps he or she has a hard or clumsy attack? Or there could be something else I haven't mentioned here. Anyway, if it is any of these characteristics or any other kind of playing behavior, it has nothing to do with the tone; it is the treatment of the tone.
If the tone ideal as such is an important question, my highest ideal as a horn player wouldn't be Dennis Brain. To my taste he didn't have an especially charming sound, certainly not the so-called "romantic" sound. A less gifted horn-player wouldn't have had such a tremendous success with that particular sound. Now then, what is the difference between a master and the less brilliant star?
Of course, in the case of Brain, the musicality: the "agogik" [ebb and flow of musical energy] and phrasing. That's an important part of the treatment of the tone.
But even more important elements of what we are talking about here are:
- how he starts his tone,
- how he finishes his tone,
- the flexibility,
- the colour-changes: by this I mean the possibilities to vary the treatment of the tone for what is needed at the moment,
- the dynamic range,
If one, like Dennis Brain, has all of these important elements, one has reached the level of an "Interpretative-capacity." I do hope that this word will be understood. I cannot find a better one in English.
At this level, the tone becomes most important, at least I think so! Why don't some horn players touch me a bit when I hear them play, while other fascinate me, despite very different tone ideals?
With players such as Tuckwell, Bujanovsky, Peter Damm, Gerd Seifert, Ifor James, Alan Civil, and Hermann Baumann you can find that all of them have very different tone ideals, but what links them together is that they all have this "Interpretative-capacity." They also have the ability to make the music they are working with sound interesting and alive, so to speak, to the listener. It is not necessary for them to conform to your own idea of how a composition should be played for it be an inspiring and convincing performance.
A young horn-player with a big, dark sound who wants to play like Dennis Brain, will make a big mistake if he wastes his energy trying to copy Brain's sound: he has a different chest, oral cavity, lips, and so on. What he should do, if he must sound like Brain - is to behave on the horn as Brain does! Listen to as many recordings of his as possible, and try to analyze exactly what it is that he is making with his sound, that makes him so different from other players.
Make your own personal rule, that horn-playing is not a question of good or bad sound, it' a question of good or bad treatment of sound.
This brings us to one small aspect of the Interpretative-capacity, namely the part called "colour-changes" or the ability to vary the treatment of the tone for what is needed at the moment. That ability is most importantly a matter of psychological thinking. Depending on what piece is to be played, one should think bigger, think brighter, think more elegantly, think heavier, and so on.
I myself have always tried to follow this rule - Use as many colour-changes as you can. Don't play everything in the same manner. Use your imagination, but don't compromise with your individuality: your horn sound.
Your horn-tone is your soul!
Ib Lansky-Otto is the principal horn of the Stockholm Philharmonic. He is very active as a soloist, chamber musician and lecturer.