I read Mr. Cerminaro's article rejoicing the triple horn in the latest Horn Call with great interest. Especially this statement was touching: "Phrasing with triple horns transforms fluid vocal ideas into confident musical realities." Congratulations to all who find an instrument with which they are really happy, it be a certain make, or, as in this case, a model with many features. However, I would like to comment on the prediction in this article about the future of instruments for horn players.
From my point of view, the development of the horn seems to be going in several directions, the key words being diversity and versatility. The natural horn (from various periods) is now clearly back in business in Europe. I, for one, have been increasingly busy through last decades, performing orchestral or chamber music by Bach, Händel, Telemann, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn and other great composers, on instruments similar to what they had at the time. This includes Brahms Op. 40, with a piano from 1853 and an old violin with gut strings. Indeed, Brahms did have some very special sounds in mind!
Today the natural horn can be studied as the main instrument, for example in the distinguished old Leipzig Music Conservatory in Germany. There are many groups around performing and recording on period instruments or copies of such. More and more frequently conductors ask for natural horns in classical works. Smart students study natural horn on the side, in order to be better prepared for possible opportunities and challenges in their professional future. The single horns (in F and Bb) are also coming back in use, based on the desire of some groups and conductors to create a sound picture closer to what was there at the time of the composers.
The use of the high F-horn (in various combinations) in Europe did go through several stages after it was first introduced in the sixties. In the beginning, it was welcomed by many players as the solution to all their problems; even some low horn players took to the high F-horn in order to feel more secure in the high range. Only after some years of experience one realised that players could miss notes on the high F-horn as well, those clams being far less discreet than those on longer horns. In addition, the sound often became thinner and less rich in overtones than on longer tubes.
Hermann Baumann was a great pioneer of descants at the early stages of his career; however, later he came more and more back tot he double horn and to various natural horns. In Germany today the use of the regular double horn is considered the norm. In addition, most principal players are equipped with some sort of descant horn as a backup for the extreme range, in some cases as triple.
An interesting side effect of working more on the original lengths of tubes is the psychological one. For some players,the option of using shorter tubes may function temporarily as a "drug." But where is the next option when the novelty of the F alto horn rubs off? A flugelhorn in Bb? After having worked on D- and C-basso and such crooks for a while, the regular Bb horn comes back in its right perspective, in my experience, simply as a sufficiently secure alternative to the longer F-horn.
Of course I do understand the excitement of getting more fingering options and another "string" on the otherwise "two-stringed" double horn. I also see the need for these instruments for the specialists of today, the ones who have conquered the full range, including a fourth or so above the c'''. However, I do not believe that all the rest of us will be taking to the triple - and the triple only - because it supposedly can cover everything. The double horn is already an acoustical compromise, and the triple horn much more so. Single Bb horns, when made very well, are generally better than the Bb side of a double horn. Only a triple, this only gets worse, forcing the triple players to use the F (or Eb) alto side of their horn more frequently than would have been necessary if the Bb horn side had been really good. From my observations, players with three horns at hand tend to choose the shorter option more and more often, even if the sound is not always the most suitable for the music in question. The quick fix is just all too tempting. The players themselves will try to ignore possible sound discrepancies, but the audiences may notice.