Yamaha Performing Artist Info: “Why I Play Yamaha”

I recently found out that my application to become a Yamaha Performing Artist was accepted, and I am very excited to be joining their roster of brass players. Many major instrument manufacturers, as well as a few smaller ones, have “Artist Endorsements” or similar programs which provide mutual benefits to both parties. I can’t speak to the details of the various companies, but they generally include:

  • Being listed as an “_______ Artist” in both print and electronic media
  • Preferred pricing and other discounts on instruments and accessories
  • Updates about new instrument models and initiatives within the company
  • Funding for bringing in other endorsing artists, and sometimes funding to give clinics
  • Various other perks

In the case of Yamaha, their Artist program provides all of the above, as well as some other benefits unique to the company. Obviously, I feel very strongly about the high quality and reliability of Yamaha’s products, or I wouldn’t perform on them myself or recommend them to students. I have performed on Yamaha horns for much of my professional career, playing solo, chamber, and orchestral music. My relationship with Yamaha horns goes back twenty years, with the first instrument I owned as a student, a YHR 667V. I played on that horn all the way through my master’s degree, and continued through doctoral school and the first five years of full-time college teaching on a YHR 667VL.

Even before that I remember being captivated by the sound of my teacher on her 800 series custom model. In many ways, Yamaha instruments helped shape my concept of the ideal horn sound. As I wrote in this post, one of the main reasons I chose a YHR 671 over my Engelbert Schmid was for the sound. Over a year  later, I’m still very happy with the instrument. I later came to find out that the initial sluggishness with the valves – which is very uncharacteristic of Yamahas – was probably due to buffing compound somehow getting down into the valve casings after the lacquer was removed. This problem was taken care of by Houghton Horns at no charge, and the valves have been worry-free since then. In addition to their quality and consistency, here are a few other reasons I choose to play and endorse Yamaha horns.

  • The company is committed to music education through a variety of programs, including funding for clinicians, and the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition.
  • Their line of horns covers everything from beginner through professional level, while maintaining a high level of consistency. Another way of putting this is that they make horns that my students and area music programs can actually afford.

I hope that this hasn’t read as some type of overblown advertisement, but I really do feel strongly about Yamaha Horns. There are obviously  lots of great horns out there by both large and small-scale makers, but if you are in the market for a new horn I encourage you to give Yamaha a try. For the money I don’t think you can find a better instrument.

A Visit to Gebr. Alexander with Andrew Downing, Part 2

This is the 2nd of a two-part interview with Andrew Downing about his recent visit to the Alexander showroom in Mainz, Germany to hand pick a new Alexander horn. You can read Part 1 here.

JB: What did you play for your trial on each horn?

AD: I brought a folder of my favorite music that I thought would give me the best representation of my playing. I didn’t bring music that was intentionally flashy but brought things that would demonstrate a high quality of tone, intonation, and articulation. I used the Gliere Concerto as my core demonstration piece as I feel each of the movements are really excellent for demonstration purposes and cover the whole range of the horn. I also brought a few low Kling etudes and a few melodic excerpts from the Brahms and Mahler symphonies.

JB: Besides the consultant, who else was in the showroom with you? Did you feel comfortable playing in the room and for the consultant?

AD: The appointment times for their showroom were strict – each player (or players if travelling together) are seen one at a time for a four hour window. If they exceeded their time, they would be asked to leave and wait until the next client had made their selection. The staff at Alexander works regularly with some of the finest players on earth and they seem intent on giving you privacy unless feedback is requested. My appointment began promptly at 1pm and Reimund began my visit with a walk through their facility. Prior to my appointment time a pair of professional hornists from Italy had not yet made their selections and were forced to leave and wait until I finished! They found a local coffee shop to pass the time and patiently waited for me to finish selecting my instrument. When I began my trials my wife and brother were invited to join me in the showroom. They were given coffee and chocolates to enjoy while I tried the horns – I was jealous! Both are professional horn players and their input was very helpful. My trial experience there was incredibly enjoyable and relaxing overall.

JB: What kinds of feedback did the Alexander consultant provide? Did you find it helpful in making your final decision?

AD: Periodically Reimund would enter the demo space and ask if I wanted feedback. He would turn his back to me and listen to what I would play. When I would finish a passage he would ask me first what I liked or didn’t like and then share his opinion. I ultimately found that we both have different sound preferences – I was seeking a balanced sound that had a certain weight to it and he preferred a brighter sound with pronounced overtones. Ultimately the 1103 has a slightly larger bell and more open wrap that gives the horn the heft that I was looking for. It’s interesting that very few of these models make it to North America as I found it has a nice blend of the Alexander “zing” but is much more closely in line with current trends in American horn design and sound.

JB: Were you surprised by any particular model of horn? In other words, did you have any preconceptions that were disproven?

AD: I had one very common preconception justified through this experience: that many Alexanders of the same model will play very differently. This is common in many other manufacturers of brass instruments so it should come as little surprise. I was really taken by how each horn I tried had a special trait or two but might be limited in another. Ultimately the horn I chose had the best balance of all the characteristics I was seeking. If you are in the market for a new Alexander I would strongly recommend travelling to their workshop or a horn convention to select one. The feel of each was quite different! Alexanders are often generalized as having poor response in the low register but I was really impressed with the brilliance many could make down there. Alexander horns now seem to make a very exciting low sound and many hornists who watch the Berlin Philharmonic on the digital concert hall should find this as no surprise. I have since used my horn for a heavy low horn job and found it no trouble at all.

JB: What horn did you end up choosing? Were you able to take it home right away?

AD: I settled on an un-lacquered yellow brass 1103 with a spun bell. All the horns I tried came with a detachable bell so if someone was seeking a fixed bell option they should communicate that well ahead of time. Alexander does not provide a case but there were a wide assortment of horn cases to select from. Once I made my selection I was given a tour of the manufacturing side and was able to see where the horn was built. I found the freezing process of their bell tails particularly interesting: they fill their unbent spun bell tails with water and freeze them below zero. When bending it give the metal a very consistent shape and it also very eco-friendly. There is an excellent video of this bending process as part of a documentary on making a 103 on YouTube I would highly recommend. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD3_c05JqNo&t] Here it would stay for two weeks to be finished while I spent time while with my family.

JB: Any other thoughts you would like to share about this experience?

AD: Mouthpiece, mouthpiece, mouthpiece. I should have thought ahead but realized once I began the trials that the leadpipe would not fit my American shank mouthpiece. If you have an American shank and are in the market for a german horn I would highly recommend reading John Ericson’s article regarding the impact of different leadpipe tapers. [http://hornmatters.com/2010/05/european-shank-mouthpieces/] I tried all the horns on a Yamaha 32C4 (my standard mouthpiece for years) but after some trial and error have since settled on a Tilz McWilliam 1 that was specifically designed for an Alexander. In retrospect I would have enjoyed going over with a European shank mouthpiece I was comfortable on. Alexander has a cabinet with hundreds of mouthpieces on site but time is valuable and trying to pair a new mouthpiece with a completely new horn is almost too much for one day.

My final thought is that anyone that plans carefully, creates a realistic savings plan and understands the value of a great instrument can find a way to get a beautiful handmade horn in their hands. Yes, the high end market is expensive these days but there is some magic to having something built, prepared, or even customized for you. In the realm of high end instrument pricing horn players are quite lucky. Woodwind and string players may have to buy instruments that cost as much as a house to play at the highest level: our top of the market is basically equivalent to a used car. The experience of finding your ultimate horn might just be worth that memory of a lifetime!

Andrew Downing lives in suburban Dallas, Texas. He is an active freelance artist and is a member of the Mockingbird Brass, a quintet based in North Texas. More information about him can be found at: http://www.mockingbirdbrass.com/about.html

A Visit to Gebr. Alexander with Andrew Downing, Part 1

My longtime friend and colleague Andrew Downing recently visited the Gebr. Alexander showroom in Mainz, Germany to hand pick a new horn.  Andy was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences there. His 2-part interview offers some fascinating insights into Gebr. Alexander’s manufacturing and sales process.

James Boldin: You recently had a rare opportunity for American horn players: visiting the Gebr. Alexander showroom in Mainz, Germany and hand-picking a new horn. Could you give some brief background on how this visit came about?

Andrew Downing: I have a younger brother, Tom Downing, that studied horn throughout high school and chose to enlist in the US Army Band services at the age of 18. Upon leaving the military music school in Norfolk, VA he was given a chance to choose his post and elected to join a band that was stationed at the time in Wiesbaden, Germany. Wiesbaden is a beautiful hillside town across the Rhine from Mainz which is known to most horn players as the home to Gebr. Alexander. Tom served in the Army for many years before his departure to join the American military support work force in Wiesbaden. Tom and his family graciously invited my wife Ashley and I to visit them this spring and I was suddenly facing the chance to visit the legendary Alexander workshop and potentially purchase a new horn. I knew I might have few chances like this in my life and decided to begin creating a savings plan. The VAT tax savings and current exchange rate made the travel worth the effort. The scheduling process took close to a year and began with an email to one of their primary sales managers. Once he confirmed it was possible the planning began.

JB: Why Alexander Horns? Have you always had a special affinity for them?

AD: I spent a few years of my collegiate studies playing on a 1960’s era Alexander model 103 I acquired from a European professional that had moved to the states. I immediately fell in love with the special character of Alexander horns – dark and velvety in softer dynamics and brassy and bright when played loudly. There is an unmatched color they make that seems to encourage many European horn sections to use them down the line to generate a uniform sound. I have always felt that the best Alexanders I’ve played seemed to vibrate in the core of the horn rather than at the embouchure much like the way a great bowed instrument resonates from within. I played many memorable concerts on my old horn and only gave it up in the early 2000’s to get on the Geyer-style horn bandwagon for American auditions and jobs I was taking. It also needed quite a bit of work and I ended up selling it to someone that wanted to invest in the restoration. I have missed it ever since.

JB: Was it difficult to schedule a time and day for the visit? What was the overall customer service experience like?

AD: The sales experience began in the early fall of 2016 with an email to Reimund Pankratz, one of the sales managers for Alexander. He was extremely welcoming to my request and was pleased that I was planning so far out. Reimund took time to discuss my options and talk through the buying process. Once we settled on my instrument preferences we agreed on a set time and date to visit during my trip early on to select a horn. I would then wait about a week and a half for finishing. No deposit was required for the trial and the payment takes place at the time of final selection. All horn trials in their shop are done with their horns in “raw condition” – their term for unfinished brass with much touch up work to do to the finish at solder points. Once my choice was made and I had completed my purchase they would move it to their shop for touch up and customization per my requests. Based upon my experience it seems that the best chance for someone to secure an appointment for a horn trial would be to contact Alexander nine to twelve months prior and attempt to secure a date. They focus on a very private trial experience and their time and space are limited for demos.

JB: What horns did you try?

AD: Reimund and I discussed the models I wanted to try and settled on the 1103, the Geyer-style or “K Model” as they name it. I chose this because I play quite a few gigs in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and most players here are on Hills/Rauch/Schmids, etc. I wanted to have an instrument that fit more closely with those types of horns than the omnipresent 103. The reason we settled on one model, not many models, is so they could prepare the model of my choice with various options. The 1103 comes in yellow or gold brass, hand-hammered or spun bells, and even cryogenically frozen bells. Alexander makes over a dozen horn models and it’s virtually impossible for them to prep all of their horns in all their options for one visitor. Ultimately they prepared five 1103s for me to try with a variety of features. Anyone that wants to visit should be careful to pick their base model to try prior to beginning the planning process to allow for the widest assortment of options. That being said I also had the chance to play a few 103s, a forthcoming prototype not yet ready for the market and even a Vienna horn! A particularly impressive part of their trial space is their Wagner tuba display. Alexander consulted with Richard Wagner to design the original tubas for the Ring cycle and as a gift he gave the company a handwritten manuscript of Das Rheingold, the first opera in the cycle. A facsimile of the score covers a wall of their showroom.

Andrew Downing lives in suburban Dallas, Texas. He is an active freelance artist and is a member of the Mockingbird Brass, a quintet based in North Texas. More information about him can be found at: http://www.mockingbirdbrass.com/about.html

Coming up in Part 2 of this interview: testing out horns, selecting a horn, and final thoughts.



Mouthpiece Comparison Chart and HornReviews.com

*This post has been updated as of January 29, 2017

Related to my two previous posts about choosing a new horn (here) and mouthpiece (here), I recently learned of some new websites aimed at helping players compare a number of horn and mouthpiece brands and models.

First is Colin Dorman’s “Mouthpiece Comparison Chart,” an interactive resource which can be found on his website,  colindorman.com. Mr. Dorman is an active freelancer and teacher in the Louisville, Kentucky area, and holds degrees from the University of Alabama and the University of Louisville. As of this writing, the database contains 658 separate entries for mouthpieces, which can easily be searched and compared with one another across a variety of categories, including: Maker, Model, 1 or 2-piece, Thread Type,  Rim Inner Diameter, Rim Shape, Rim Width, Cup Depth, Cup Shape, and Bore Size.  A PDF version of the entire list can also be downloaded for free. In one of the comments related to the list, Mr. Dorman states that he sourced most of the information for each make and model from the manufacturers’ websites, so one can presume that the measurements are accurate. Comparing mouthpieces can be tricky; while there are some standards regarding how various dimensions are measured, the numbers themselves can be difficult to decipher. Mr. Dorman has helped remove some of that mystery by converting all the bore measurements to millimeters, so that differences can be seen at a glance. One word of caution I would offer when comparing inner diameter (ID) measurements was related to me by a well-known maker of custom mouthpieces. Because of differences in where  ID is actually measured by different makers, the same measurement on one brand might not be the same on another. For example, an ID of 17.5mm on one brand might not actually be the same size as 17.5mm on another brand.

Virtually every major brand is represented here, and horn players should be grateful to Mr. Dorman for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to create such a detailed database. He also provides a very handy guide to choosing a new mouthpiece, as well as a great explanation of what the various parts of a mouthpiece do and how they are measured. I would also add that the rest of Mr. Dorman’s website contains some other useful resources, including a blog, technical and fundamental exercises, recordings of the Kentucky All-State Etudes, and more. Be sure to check it out!

The next resource is called Horn Reviews: The Horn Research Helper. This unassuming site actually contains quite a bit of information, including fairly extensive reviews of models by Alexander, Conn, Engelbert Schmid, Hans Hoyer, Holton, Jupiter, Paxman, and Yamaha. Like mega-retailers such as Amazon, Horn Reviews allows visitors to submit their own reviews and see what others have written about a particular make/model of instrument. Each model of horn is also rated on a five-point scale for Tone Quality, Playability, Construction, and Value for Money. After reading several of the reviews, I can say that they are for the most part well-informed, and give a good overview of the pros and cons for each type of horn (preferences of individual players and quirks of specific instruments notwithstanding). However, there are a few observations I would make about this site and others like them. They aren’t red flags, per se, just things that visitors should be aware of before putting too much stock in the reviews and other information found here.

  • I could not find any information on who wrote the reviews. I contacted the website creators using the online form, and am awaiting more information. The first rule of all online information is that you should be able to easily verify the author(s) and their qualifications.
  • There is no rubric given for how the five-point rating system works. The idea has some merit, and the graphics for each model look pretty slick, but for the ratings to provide anything other than personal opinion they really ought to have a detailed rubric for each category.
  • A statement on the website mentions an “Affiliate Program,” with the following information:

The owner of this site is an affiliate of e-commerce websites that sell French horns and related products. If you are interested in promoting your business on hornreviews.com via an affiliate relationship, please contact us. Recommendations, ratings and reviews are not influenced by participation in our affiliate agreements.

There isn’t anything unusual about websites like this one earning ad revenue, but the vagueness of the statement itself (What e-commerce websites?, How can you promote your business on hornreviews.com?) struck me as a little odd. Perhaps I’m being overly suspicious, but combined with the anonymity and unverifiable credentials of the authors, this was a sticking point for me. Despite these issues, Horn Reviews is worth more than just a casual visit. Perhaps the site will be developed more in the future, and will become even more useful. *I heard back from Carson Smith, the owner of hornreviews.com, and he provided some additional information about his site. Mr. Smith also kindly gave me permission to share his comments. See below.

Hi James,

Apologies for this delayed response to your submission via hornreviews.com last month. Going back through the user submissions I discovered your message. Happy to answer any questions you have about the website.
I’m author of the reviews, having personally played the models reviewed at horn events, owned them or taken them out on trial. Some years ago I bought and sold quite a few horns online and realized by notes could be beneficial.
Every player does have personal bias and horns vary in quality, so I do aim to write the review with a consensus tone, corroborating my take with second, third opinions – and inviting other players to contribute. A more rigorous and scientific testing process (think what DPReview.com does with cameras) is where I hope to go with the site eventually. Hope to find some partners who are interested in building this out with me.
Having just launched 20 months ago, the website’s grown organically without any promotion on my part, reaching several thousand horn players monthly. It earns a small income via Amazon.com and eBay affiliate links that pay when a user buys something.
My day job is running a consumer advice & rankings website for a media company. Horn playing is a hobby/obsession.


A New Toy

naturalhorn1Near the end of last semester I purchased a new toy — a natural horn. It’s a great little instrument, and perfect for my needs, which mainly involve demonstrations for students and general noodling around. The horn was created by removing the valve section from an old York single F horn, and the work was beautifully done by Susan Anderson of Jackelope Brassworks in Eugene, OR.  In addition to the “valvectomy,” the bell has been nicely painted (see image below). The horn also came with three crooks, F (shown here), E-flat, and a coupler to create a D crook.  Although it isn’t historically accurate in terms of bell size or tapers, it is a lot of fun to play and durable enough to bring along for high school demonstrations. Back before the semester break I used it to demonstrate a portion of the Rondo from Mozart’s K. 495 concerto while on tour with our faculty brass trio. Most of the students had never seen a natural horn before, so it was quite fun explaining a bit about the history of the instrument and its technique. After the short demo we followed up with my arrangement of the same Rondo movement for brass trio (using modern instruments). I plan to do some more playing on this horn in the future, working especially out of John Ericson’s new E-book Natural Horn Playing TodayThe instrument was very reasonably priced, and if you are in the market for an entry-level natural horn I encourage you to check out Jackelope Brassworks.


Schmid Bell Spots

After almost a year of ownership, I still love my Engelbert Schmid double horn.  For me, it was the right choice in terms of sound, craftsmanship, and efficiency.  However, despite everything these horns have going for them, they – like any other mechanical device – aren’t perfect. Reading this article by Bruce Hembd reminded me of a few of the drawbacks of these horns.  In his article, Bruce notes that the extreme lightness of the horns – something I’ve always considered a strength – could in fact be a disadvantage.

Of all the horns I played at the conference, the Schmid doubles felt the easiest and most secure to play. Playing on it in fact, almost felt too easy. Its sound glows like sunshine in all ranges, but somehow, I remained suspicious.

A few passersby noted that Schmid double horns sound very good up close, but do not carry well in a large hall.

Though I haven’t put this to the test in a large hall with a decibel meter, I suspect that a larger bell with a garland might improve any loss of projection with these horns.  There is also the option of trying heavier weight mouthpieces and/or other devices which increase the mass of the instrument. While I am generally very happy with the bell I ordered with the horn (medium flare, spun brass) I’ll be looking into other options just so that I can have some more versatility. Schmid manufactures a variety of sizes and alloys for their bell flares, which are cross-compatible on all of their horns.

One other issue I’ve come across is “bell spots;” discoloration of the brass underneath the lacquer.  These began to develop a few weeks after the horn arrived, and seem to be concentrated around the bell rim and ring.  Here is a photo.

Though they’re a little unsightly on an otherwise beautiful instrument, the spots are purely cosmetic and don’t seem to affect the playing characteristics of the horn in any way.  Schmid offers the following explanation and a treatment method for these spots on his website.

In some cases, despite the most careful degreasing and drying before the lacquering process, black spots can develop under the lacquer, mainly around the bell rim.
The reason for this is that remains of the solvents used in cleaning are trapped under the lacquer and are prevented from evaporating. Piercing the lacquer with a needle where a black spot begins will keep it from getting any larger.

Unfortunately, in my case pin-pricking the lacquer didn’t seem to help stop the spread of the spots.  Perhaps the high humidity here exacerbated the problem? I was also worried about damaging the lacquer and making it susceptible to peeling or flaking.  After a few months the spots stopped spreading, and I basically forgot about them until a colleague of mine in an orchestra noticed (he also plays a Schmid)  and said “you paid too much for that horn for it to look like that!”  This was the metaphorical kick in the rear I needed,  so I contacted Dennis Houghton recently to find out if there was anything that could be done.  Dennis originally sold me the horn, and got back to me very quickly.  He generously offered to strip the lacquer over the discolored areas, and “spot lacquer” those places to protect them.  I haven’t had a chance to get over to Dennis’s shop, but I’ll be making a trip there later this semester.  Once the work is completed I’ll post a follow-up with pictures.

Are there any Schmid – or any other kind of horn – owners out there who’ve encountered this same issue? Was the pin-prick method successful, or did you end up taking it to a repair person?

Equipment News

I wouldn’t call myself an equipment junky, but I do like keeping up with the news and trends in the horn and brass playing world. This post is basically a run down on some recent equipment news, as well a few interesting links to equipment-related reading on the web.  Enjoy!

Marcus Bonna Soft Top Case: MB has done it again with the latest in his line of horn cases.  Pope Repair is selling this new case, which Ken describes on his website as having “a hard bottom and side shell, but the top is simply cordura with padding – thus allowing for a VERY small profile and light weight.” I’ve not seen these anywhere else but Pope Repair, but I’m sure that as they gain in popularity other shops will begin carrying them.  The above image is linked from Pope Repair, and shows the extremely compact profile of the new case. Although not as protective as a completely hard case, this new design seems to strike a good balance between protection and compactness. It’s also one of the more reasonably priced MB cases.

Custom E. Schmid Slides from Cantesanu Horns: Cantesanu Horns is now making custom F and B-flat tuning slides for Schmid double and triple horns. According to the product description,  “using the custom slides the sound becomes richer and warmer. Top professional musicians found them to have an even bigger impact on the sound than using a different bell.” I must admit that I haven’t heard of using custom tuning slides as a way to alter a horn’s playing characteristics, but I suppose it makes sense (the main tuning slide being as close to the lead pipe as it is).  Has anyone out there personally used these custom slides, and if so, did you notice any changes?  I’m pretty happy with my current equipment, but for those interested in tweaking their Schmid horn a bit, this seems to be the most economical route – the custom slides are cheaper than bells and lead pipes.

Iltis Dämpfer Mitt: Basically a deluxe mute bag with a removable “holster” for two mutes, the Dämpfer Mitt is a really well made accessory with lots of potential uses. I recently ordered one, and so far I’m very happy with it. There’s plenty of room for mutes and accessories, and the bag itself is small enough to take onstage without being conspicuous (image at left is linked from the Dämpfer Mitt website). I haven’t actually used the holster which attaches to a chair, but when I do I’ll report back. Even without the removable holster the bag works very nicely for protecting and transporting mutes. For more info, check out the Dämpfer Mitt website, and this review by John Ericson at Horn Matters.

Further Equipment Related Reading

Cormac Ó hAodáin on The Orchestra: A User’s Manual

In my post on bells up playing I mentioned a great website called The Orchestra: A User’s Manual.  Essentially a guide to orchestration, the site is filled with wonderful commentary and demonstrations by members of the Philharmonia Orchestra, including Cormac Ó hAodáin on horn. The site is a little dated in terms of its design but overall is still very usable and fun to spend some time on. Looking at the section on the horn, the information is divided into the following categories: construction, range, articulations, effects, hand positions and mutes, extended techniques, player’s tips and tricks, and links.  In most cases the descriptions and demonstrations are geared towards composers who want to learn how to write for the horn, but the information can be applied just as well to players.  Each of the categories above has copious audio and video examples to illustrate various possibilities on the instrument. For example, the articulations page includes notation and demos for eight different kinds of articulation, from legato to flutter tonguing.  Of particular use to composers are the demonstrations of legato/staccato/staccatissimo in the low, middle, and high ranges.  Sometimes composers will write a rapid, staccato passage in the low range for the horn, not really knowing what the actual effect will be when it’s played.  Another very nice demonstration page is the one on range, which allows you to click on a specific pitch and hear the horn play it.  By now you have probably gathered that a lot of work went into putting this site together, and one could easily spend several hours going through all the video and audio clips.  One last thing I wanted to point out is Cormac’s message on “good writing” for the horn.  He notes that the composers who wrote best for the horn understood the instrument and how it functioned (i.e. the harmonic series).  I think the same can be said for horn players too!  I’d love to see this site updated with flash video and embedded audio examples – having all that great information in one place makes it a fantastic resource for players, teachers, and composers – however  much of this kind of information can now be found on sites like YouTube.  One that comes to mind immediately (and also one of the best, in my opinion), is this video from Dani Reynolds on extended techniques.

Beethoven’s Horn Sonata – On Cello?

Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 17  for horn and piano is among the most well known works in our repertoire.  Though not one of his greatest works, it is the only solo piece we horn players have by him.  Verne Reynolds gives an excellent description of the work and its importance in The Horn Handbook.

The Sonata Op. 17 was performed first on 18 April 1800 by Beethoven and Giovanni Punto. Its dimensions are modest compared with the mighty Kreutzer Sonata of 1802,its harmonic content limited compared with the Op. 14, and its dramatic effect nearly absent compared with the ominous Sonata Pathétique.  These are false comparisons if we consider the limitations of the hand horn technique. That Beethoven wrote a structurally balanced and musically engaging work within those limitations is another manifestation of his extraordinary genius. [p. 119-120]

It’s true that the Op. 17 sonata doesn’t really measure up to Beethoven’s greatest works, but nonetheless it is still a very fine composition, and has been recorded numerous times on both modern and period instruments.  Among my favorite hand horn recordings is this one by Lowell Greer, and one of my favorite recordings on the valved horn is this one by John Cerminaro.  Mr. Reynolds is absolutely right when he notes that the shortcomings in the Op. 17 are due more to the limitations of the natural horn than the composer.  Without a fully chromatic instrument at his disposal Beethoven must have felt somewhat limited, and this notion can be supported by the existence of an alternate version of the work for cello and piano. To my knowledge, Beethoven himself created this arrangement, and in this version (see the YouTube video below), he has essentially filled in all the gaps.  The performers are Maria Kliegel on cello and Nina Tichman on piano.

The underlying structure of the piece is the same as the original, but many of the phrases are more ornate and fleshed out musically, with the cello doubling some of the piano’s sixteenth note passages. The first time I heard this version it was performed on the tuba, and I was very impressed!  However, I think it’s definitely something that we could play on the modern horn, and perhaps it’s time to create an edition of the cello version for horn and piano (if it hasn’t been done already).  This new version needn’t replace the traditional hand horn part, but it would definitely be interesting to work on and present in a recital.  Any graduate students out there looking for a lecture recital topic?  How about performing the original on hand horn, and then the cello (adapted for modern horn) version, then comparing the two?

Engelbert Schmid Lead Pipes

In an earlier post on my new Schmid double horn, I mentioned that these horns have a couple of other interesting features worth mentioning.  When I first got the horn, I sent an email to Dennis Houghton (who sold me the instrument) with a few questions – nothing major, just curiosity mainly.  Dennis replied promptly, and his answers were so great that I asked him if I could quote a portion of his message in this blog, and he kindly agreed.  See below for the details.

[One of my questions] I was under the impression that Schmid horns required a European shank mouthpiece, but my American shank Laskey 75 G seems to fit just fine. It fits into the lead pipe almost exactly the same depth as it fits into my Yamaha 667v.  Did I miss something, or are the Schmids being sold in the U.S. now fitted to take an American shank mouthpiece?

[Response from Dennis] A few years ago Engelbert changed his receivers to what he calls a “combination taper” – meant to work with either German or Amer mpcs… also, the Laskey mpcs do tend to work well with Schmid pipes anyway.

Not being a horn maker, I don’t entirely understand how this works, but I would imagine that the new combination taper is something of a compromise between the American and European.  Since I didn’t know about this new development when I ordered the horn, I went ahead and bought a European shank version of my Laskey 75G, a  Laskey 75Ge.  In the first picture  you can see both mouthpieces side-by-side. The 75Ge is on the left, and the 75G is on the right.  One thing to notice right away is the different shank designs between the two models.  Interestingly, though, the newer Laskey mouthpieces (both American and European) tend to have a similar design, but with slightly different dimensions.  The 75G on the right is about 4 years old, and they don’t seem to be making them with that particular kind of shank type anymore. It’s probably just a cosmetic thing.  In this next series of pictures you can see close up views of how both mouthpieces fit into the lead pipe of a Schmid horn.  First is the 75G (American shank), and next is the 75Ge (European shank)

If you look very closely (click on the images for a larger size), you can see that the 75G appears to go into the lead pipe a tiny bit further than the 75Ge.  I don’t have a micrometer to make exact measurements, but my guess (?) would be that the difference is only a few millimeters.  The different shank designs also make the comparison more difficult to make.  At any rate, I’ve been playing with the 75G for the last several days, but I’m going to switch to the 75Ge for awhile to see if I notice any significant changes in response, intonation, etc.   I’ll post back later with any results, but in the meantime I would love to hear from my readers if you have had any experience with the newer Schmid “combination taper.” I’ve also contacted Engelbert Schmid for more details, and will report back when I hear something. And finally, if you want more information on European vs. American shank mouthpieces, check out this article by John Ericson on HornMatters.

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