Is a Beautiful Horn Sound Really of Any Importance?

Lecture for the 9th International Horn Workshop
Hartford, 1977

by lb Lanky - Otto

ib3The 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? Does he end a phrase heavily? Or does he push every note like a "wah-wah?" 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" horn sound. A Iess gifted horn player wouldn't have had such 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"(1) 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:

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Ab Koster

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Feierliche Verabschiedung von Professor Ab Koster nach 39 Jahren Lehrtätigkeit an der Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg.

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von Petra Röpenack-Schäfer

Musik verbindet – hier speziell das Horn. Über fast vier Jahrzehnte hinweg war es das verbindende Element zwischen Lehrer und Studenten. Der Empfang zur Verabschiedung am 20. Mai 2019 verdeutlichte eindrucksvoll, dass es Prof. Ab Koster mit Bravour gelungen ist, sein hornistisches Können und Wissen an die kommenden Generationen weiter zu vermitteln. Zusätzlich war und ist Prof. Ab Koster aufgrund seiner Persönlichkeit für viele Studenten menschliches Vorbild. Diese Tatsache wurde im Verlauf verschiedener Reden immer wieder hervorgehoben. Eine äußerst fruchtbare Kombination die dazu geführt hat, dass 94 % seiner Studierenden eine Stelle inne haben und den Beruf des Musikers ausüben. 

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Homage à Jean Devémy

By Emily Britton

brittonIn the nineteenth century, with increased wealth from industrialization, the American public began to establish orchestras.  Many of the musicians in these orchestras were immigrants, mostly from Germany and Bohemia.  To this day, many of the instrumental traditions or schools in the United States are in the German tradition; the horn is no exception.  Today, most American horn players play on German-style horns and focus primarily on Austro-German repertoire.  Concertos by W. A. Mozart, Richard Strauss and his father, Franz, and Franz Joseph Haydn are standard works, along with sonatas by Paul Hindemith and Joseph Rheinberger and the Johannes Brahms’ Horn Trio.  The average undergraduate horn player will play three standard French works:  the Dukas Villanelle, Bozza’s En Forêt, and the Saint-Saëns Morceau de Concert.  A few will play the Poulenc Élégie or the Françaix Divertimento.  Sadly, this leaves a wealth of French repertoire neglected by most American collegiate horn players. While it is important to learn standard repertoire, there are many hidden gems in the existing French repertoire.

In exploring twentieth-century French repertoire, it is common to see inscriptions “à Jean Devémy.”  As horn professor at the renowned Paris Conservatory for over thirty years, from 1937 to 1969, Devémy had a powerful influence on the development of horn playing and repertoire in France in the twentieth-century.  Thirty-one pieces from twenty-six composers, all French, were commissioned as examination pieces during Devémy’s tenure at the Paris Conservatory.  Only two have become standard pieces in the American repertoire:  Bozza’s En Forêt and the Françaix Divertimento.  The remaining twenty-nine pieces are of mixed quality, but hidden in this collection are works that deserve more recognition and exposure and that reflect the rich heritage left by M. Devémy. 

Jean Devémy was born in 1898 in Valenciennes, a French city located near the Belgian border.  Initially, he was attracted to the oboe, but the horn teacher at the Conservatoire de Valenciennes, Arthur Cantin, had a “friendly and noble air,” so Devémy chose to study with him instead.  In 1921, he won the Premier prix by unanimous vote at the Paris Conservatory in the class of François Bremond and began his career, playing principal horn with the Colonne Orchestra and the band of the Republican Guard.  As a member of the Quintet of Soloists of the Republican Guard, he traveled throughout France and much of Europe, giving over one hundred fifty concerts.  For many young French musicians, the idea of becoming a uniformed member of the Musique de la Garde represented the ultimate prestige, as many of the professors from the Paris Conservatory played in its ranks, creating a veritable showcase of the excellence of French wind playing.  Devémy remained with the group throughout his career and welcomed several of his students as his colleagues in the horn section. 

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Ab Koster - A fond farewell after 39 years at the Hamburg University for Music and Theater

by Petra Röpenack-Schäfer

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Music brings us together - especially, in this case, the horn. For nearly 4 decades, the horn was the binding element between teacher and student. The farewell party on May 20, 2019, made it abundantly clear that Prof. Ab Koster has succeeded in passing on his horn knowledge and talent to generations of players. On top of this, Prof. Koster’s personality has made him a role model for his many students. This was a common theme in the many speeches during the event. It’s an extremely fruitful combination - a whopping 94% of his students hold positions as professional performers. 

People traveled to Hamburg from all over Europe and from as far away as Asia and Australia, just to celebrate with their former professor. Now that is true appreciation! Joy, respect, and a deep regard for one another gave the reception its character. This extraordinary atmosphere was enhanced by the beautiful weather, allowing the event to move outdoors. This was a good thing indeed, as it gave ample room to the ensemble of 40 players. They started off with “A Winter Fanfare,” a composition for 8 horns and percussion by former student Thomas Campbell (all the parts quintupled). Of course, it would not have been complete without the “Evening Blessing” (“Abendsegen”) from Hänsel and Gretel, a piece dear to the heart of every horn player, and which conveyed the solemnity of the occasion. The horn-filled, official part was followed by a beautiful party, ending on a lively note.

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Study on facial muscle activity and facial-skin movement while playing the French horn

by Takshi Hirano

hiranoWhile playing a French horn, many facial muscles form a playing-related configuration adjusting to the mouth piece, the so-called “embouchure”. Many French horn players said embouchure is very important to play appropriately. Additionally there are many textbooks related to playing brass instruments written by famous players, and these books noted that how important embouchure is. Therefore all brass players should train and develop their embouchure every day in order to control sounds. However, there are few studies on embouchure with scientific approach. Thus our team investigated the activity of the embouchure-related five facial muscles and facial-skin movement around the mouth during sound production by 10 trained French-horn players.  

The research questions are:

  • Does facial muscle activity change by pitch and loudness?
  • Does embouchure configuration change by pitch and loudness?

We used small surface electromyograms (EMGs) to get facial muscle activity, and small reflecting markers to get the data of changing skin movement. EMGs were attached on the right-side of the face and small markers were attached on the left-side of the face (see Figure). Using his/her own French horn with their mouthpiece, each participant performed four sets of three successive 6 sec sustained tone productions at different levels of sound intensity. We calculated the mean EMGs at two phases; during sound production and just before sound production, and we measured distances of markers attached their face. Consequently, there were no difference in EMGs and distances of markers between the two phases. It suggest an appropriate formation of pre-attack embouchure was important to play the French horn successfully. We assume that an “off-pitch” tone attack on a real stage may be caused by an inappropriate embouchure setting.

EMGs in all muscles while playing the French horn increased linearly with an increase in pitch; they also increased with tone intensity without interacting with the pitch effect. Orofacial skin movement remained constant across all pitches and intensities except for lateral retraction of the lips during high-pitch tone production. Expert opinions on the embouchure muscle contraction vary from keeping relaxed to moderately tensed when engaged in all level of tone, or gradually tensed in relation to the level of pitch and intensity. Our findings clearly support the latter opinion. All facial muscles examined were activated continuously from the pre-attack phase to the end of tone production, and their activation levels were pitch- and intensity-dependent.

If you want to see more information, please check our article.

Hirano T., Kudo K., Ohtsuki T., and Kinoshita H. (2013). Orofacial muscular activity and related skin movement during the preparatory and sustained phases of tone production on the French horn. Motor Control, 17(3), 256-272.


Figure. EMG electrodes were attached on the right side of the face, and kinematic markers were attached on the left side of the face.

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