Lately I’ve been looking quite a bit at excerpts from the orchestral repertoire which feature stopped horn, either in solos or tutti passages. Over the next two posts I’ll be discussing a few of them in some detail, and sharing a list of several other works which call for either stopped or muted horn. The reason for this research is because I’m putting together a presentation for the Midwest Clinic in December. I recently found out that my clinic proposal was accepted, and I’m really looking forward to attending this international band and orchestra conference. I feel well prepared for the conference – I’ve given this presentation before and published an article based on it in The Instrumentalist – but for a venue as large as the Midwest Clinic I want to really make sure my clinic provides as much useful information as possible. For a brief summary of the topic and my presentation, you can read the following clinic synopsis, which should be appearing on the Midwest Clinic website soon.
Stopped and Muted Horn: A Guide for Directors
Stopped horn is an extremely effective but sometimes misunderstood technique required for the horn. Passages for stopped horn occur in nearly every genre of music for the instrument, from solos to chamber music to large ensembles such as orchestra and wind band. This clinic will present some practical methods for helping your horn players learn this technique. Mutes and mute technique can also be problematic for young and intermediate horn players. Sometimes even choosing the correct kind of mute for a given passage can be confusing, and there are usually several workable options when it comes to mutes and mute technique. Recommendations on types and brands of mutes for purchase as well as some helpful tricks when working with muted horn sections are also included.
I’ll post more on my presentation as the date for the conference approaches, but one point I do want to make is that we all need to practice stopped horn! It is a standard technique that pops up all the time, but there is still a good bit of confusion amongst many students (and some teachers). Ideally you want to have a good set of stopped horn fingerings memorized – if you are still fingering everything down a 1/2 step on the F horn I encourage you to explore more B-flat horn fingerings. Whatever you use, the goal is to be able to produce an accurate, in tune stopped horn sound with roughly the same level of confidence as when playing open horn. Earlier this year I was reminded of these points during preparation and rehearsals for the Monroe Symphony Orchestra‘s season finale concert. Two of the works on the concert – Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 by Rimsky-Korsakov, and The Rock, Op. 7 by Rachmaninov – included some extended stopped playing. The Rimsky-Korsakov excerpt is well known, and not just among horn players.
Notice that there are no pauses between the open and stopped passages – an excellent reason to work on a smooth and quick transition between open and stopped hand positions. Here is a recording of that excerpt, recorded live from the Monroe Symphony’s concert on Saturday, May 7, 2011. Dr. Clay Couturiaux is the conductor.
Overall I am happy with the performance, although the hall is very dry as you can tell from the recording, and the stopped horn passages don’t cut through as well as I would have liked.
The next two excerpts come at the end of the Rachmaninov, which has some very nice horn parts throughout. Both are soft, exposed solos, and when combined with the stopped horn marking make for a fun time! The examples below are taken from the full score as found on the IMSLP.
There is a short tutti interlude between the two solos, which is included on the recording. As in the Rimsky-Korsakov, this is a live recording of the Monroe Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Clay Couturiaux
I practiced this passage a lot, and not just because it was an unfamiliar work to me. I played it open and stopped back to back to work on intonation, and I did write in a number of fingering reminders. Oh, and did I mention that it’s for Horn in E? Playing this passage using the old fingering rules (F horn, down 1/2 step) would only make it more challenging, and in fact I played everything except the written “g-sharp” and “a” in the staff on the B-flat side. These are just two examples; there are many more out there. We’ll continue on Friday with some more stopped horn excerpts.