First Solos for the Horn Player: Andante from Horn Quintet, K. 407, by Mozart

Up next in the First Solos for the Horn Player series is the second movement from Mozart’s Quintet for Horn and Strings, K. 407. It’s a fantastic piece, easily the equal of any of Mozart’s horn concertos . For more information on this work, check out John Ericson’s article at Horn Matters.

The slow movement is the most difficult selection in First Solos for the Horn Player. At first I thought the book was organized chronologically, which would explain the Mozart’s inclusion near the beginning. However, that’s not quite the case, so perhaps it’s included early so that anyone casually thumbing through would see something they recognize in the first few pages.

This one took me a while to work up, and though it’s not perfect by any means, I’m satisfied with this recording with SmartMusic accompaniment. On the technology front, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be better at this point not to stress over the video/audio syncing issues, and instead to focus on making good recordings and including some public domain images to accompany the audio. The syncing issue was never a problem before I started using a Blue Yeti USB microphone, so I presume it will resolve itself when I go back to using my normal audio interface and XLR microphones. For now, though, my current setup will suffice. For the especially curious, here are the technical fixes I’ve tried (unsuccessfully):

  • Set Logic Pro X sample rate to 48 kHz (default is 44.1), and the Blue Yeti specs list its sample rate at 48 kHz.
  • Set Q2n-4K audio sample rate to 48 kHz

Neither of the above resolved the problem, although I have noticed upon further inspection that the camera records at 25 frames per second, and Final Cut Pro adjusts it to 23.9 fps. This may be the problem, but it will take me some time to work out a solution. If anyone has other possible fixes, I would be grateful!

First Solos for the Horn Player: Song of April, by Georges Bizet

For the fifth selection in this series from First Solos for the Horn Player by Mason Jones, I chose Bizet’s “Song of April.” I wasn’t familiar with the work prior to this project, but it’s a lovely tune that lays well on the horn. Technology update: I’m still working on the sampling rate issues I mentioned in my previous post, but have so far not found a resolution. I have a couple more ideas to try…hopefully I’ll have it fixed for the next video.

In the meantime, I have posted two videos for this selection: an audio-only version with some reverb and equalization added, and a version with video that has not been edited. It’s interesting to compare the two, and in the video I get to support one of my alma maters, the University of Wisconsin. Enjoy!

First Solos for the Horn Player: Romance, by Alexander Scriabin

Here’s the fourth selection in the First Solos for the Horn Player video series, Alexander Scriabin’s Romance for Horn and Piano. Here are links to the other recordings up to this point.

Along with the second movement of Mozart’s Quintet for Horn and Strings, K. 407, this miniature for horn and piano is probably the most recognized work in the collection. The score and solo part are also available on IMSLP, and  there appears to be little difference between the Mason Jones and IMSLP editions.

A few interesting technical notes about this recording, and thoughts on this project thus far:

  • I experimented with the recording process on this one, using a Blue Yeti USB microphone in stereo pattern to record the audio into Logic Pro X. My hope was to sync this audio with the video from my Zoom Q2n-4k camera, and apply some equalization and reverb to improve the overall sound quality.
  • The latter effort was successful, and the overall sound quality belies the modest recording environment, a bedroom! The sound of the digital accompaniment is pretty good too, although it would have been nice to be more flexible with the tempo and dynamic subtleties. With a collaborative pianist, this would have been easy and natural.
  • Syncing the audio from Logic Pro with the video file should have been a routine task, and one which I have done several times in the past, though not with an identical set up. But as you can tell from the absence of video footage, I could not get it to work! Despite spending several minutes playing around in Final Cut Pro and consulting help pages, it still wasn’t working. I have very limited technical knowledge, but my guess would be that the sample rate between the Logic Pro recording and the camera recording was not the same.
  • Because the sound quality of the audio-only recording was superior to the camera audio, I decided to use it without any video footage, and insert a public domain image of Scriabin and his mistress, Tatiana Schloezer. For the next video I hope to work out the syncing issues.
  • A final note: I decided early on to NOT record every solo in this book. There’s a couple of reasons for this, not least of which is that recording the entire book would probably run afoul of “Fair Use.I haven’t settled on which solos to record for the remainder of the project, but I anticipate five or six more. Enough to to be representative, but certainly not a majority of the book (or even half). After that, I have some ideas for future projects, more to come.

 

First Solos for the Horn Player: Air from Rosamunde

Next in this video project series is an arrangement of Franz Schubert’s Air from Rosamunde. Like the previous selections in First Solos for the Horn Player, this brief solo emphasizes lyrical playing. The range and technical requirements are suitable for beginning to intermediate players.

A few technical notes: if you have the book First Solos for the Horn Player, you probably know that the second movement from Mozart’s Horn Quintet, K. 407  is actually listed third in the book. I will be recording that one as well, but could use some more time to practice it! I also think a more suitable place for that one is near the end of the collection, along with the rest of the more extended and difficult solos. It’s certainly the most recognizable work in the whole book, which probably explains its early inclusion.

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ll be recording these from home for the foreseeable future. I haven’t edited the audio in any way, other than to trim the beginning and ending. The sound is consistent with a small room, but overall acceptable, I think, as is the sound of the SmartMusic accompaniment. Although nothing has been decided yet, it may turn out that our students play juries this way: recorded or live streamed from home with pre-recorded accompaniment. As such, another goal of this project is to demonstrate the possibilities and limitations of  this recording set up.

First Solos for the Horn Player: “No More, I Have Heard Everything,” by W.A. Mozart, arr. Jones

The next video in the First Solos for the Horn Player project is “No More, I Have Heard Everything” (Non Più, Tutto Ascoltai), by W.A. Mozart. Paraphrasing some of the information provided by SmartMusic, this short work was originally for soprano and tenor with chamber orchestra, and was later included in Act II of the opera seria Idomeneo. It’s a lovely tune, and offers ample opportunities for the horn player to work on expressive playing.

For those who might be interested, here’s the equipment I’m using on this project.

  • Horn: Yamaha 667V
  • Mouthpiece: Houser, San Francisco 14-0-2 with 17.5mm Houser E Rim
  • Camera/Microphones: Zoom Q2n-4K
  • Video Editing: Apple Final Cut Pro

I might add that this was the last video recorded in my teaching studio at the University of Louisiana Monroe. Shortly following this session, we were advised that further precautions were being enacted to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The rest of the videos will be recorded from my home, and I might need to adjust camera placement, microphones, etc. to fit the new space. Stay tuned!

New Video Project: First Solos for the Horn Player, by Mason Jones

Like many colleagues around the world, I am now working exclusively online, and all upcoming performances have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. In lieu of live chamber and solo performances, I thought it would be useful and fun to start another video project, similar to my Kopprasch Project from several years ago.

My repertoire choice this time is a book of horn and piano arrangements by Mason Jones, First Solos for the Horn Player. It’s a great collection, but not nearly as well known as his “yellow book,” Solos for the Horn Player, the contents of which can be found on a really great recording  by Gregory Miller. The works in First Solos for the Horn Player are generally shorter and less complex, but are very tuneful and lay quite well on the horn. Any of them would make a fine addition to a recital program in need of lighter, accessible pieces.

I plan to post a few of these each week, recorded with SmartMusic accompaniment. It is my hope that teachers and students find these videos useful during this difficult time. If you like these pieces, be sure to order the book!

If You Like Solo Training Duets, Check Out Solo Training for One Horn!

In looking over some year-end tax information from Mountain Peak Music, the publisher of my two books, I noticed a couple of things:

  1. Horn players like Duet Books! Solo Training Duets  did pretty well in 2019, probably because of the recently released 2nd edition, and also because duets are an enjoyable way to package useful content (fundamentals, long tones, solo repertoire, etc.) Thinking about this generated some interesting ideas for future publications…more on that in the future!
  2. People might not know about my other book, Solo Training for Horn: This book is actually more recent than the first edition of the duet collection, although it has been far less popular. There are probably a couple of causes for this, number one being that it was published in 2016 and horn players might have forgotten about it, and also because it isn’t something you can necessarily pull out and sight-read with a student or colleague. However, I would still encourage anyone who enjoys Solo Training Duets  to check out the solo book. There are several pieces covered in the one-horn book that don’t appear in the duet book, and I think there are some very useful exercises and derivative etudes. One could even put together a comprehensive warm-up/fundamentals routine by picking and choosing certain excerpts. This is a topic I plan to explore further in a future post.

Meanwhile, feel free to visit the Mountain Peak Music website and view the samples from Solo Training for Horn. I also recorded a brief promo/demo video for the book back in 2016. Take a look and listen, and let me know what you think. I would be happy to answer any questions you have about it!

Upcoming Recital Program

Lots of exciting things happening this fall as we begin a new semester and academic year. Instead of my usual “Semester Preview,” this time I’ll post separately about individual events as they happen. First up is my annual faculty recital on Monday, September 9, followed by a mini recital tour with performances and master classes at the University of Arkansas (Dr. Timothy Thompson) and Mississippi State University (Dr. Matthew Haislip).  I’ll be joined by a great collaborative pianist, Justin Havard, for a fun and engaging program. It includes a bit of old, but mostly new, music for horn and piano. If you are in the vicinity of any of these performances we would love to see you there!

Here are my program notes.

As a musician, I look to recordings and live performances for inspiration. My first experiences with all of the works on this program were through recordings and/or performances by great artists. It is also worth noting that with the exception of Jan Koetsier’s Romanza, these pieces were all composed by horn players.

Nocturno, Op. 73, Bernhard Eduard Müller (1842-after 1920)

Bernhard Eduard Müller served as second horn in the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig from 1876-1920, and is most well-known today for his two-volume Studies for Horn, Op. 64. Biographical information is scant, though several of his compositions for horn and piano survive. The best of these were recorded by John Ericson of Arizona State University on his album Rescued! (Summit Records). The Nocturno, Op. 73 is a compact but well-crafted piece in a thoroughly Romantic style. The range and technical difficulties are modest, making it accessible to younger players.

Sonata for Horn and Piano, Gina Gillie (b. 1981)

Gina Gillie is an Associate Professor of Music at Pacific Lutheran University, where she teaches applied horn, aural skills, and composition. She performs with two faculty ensembles at PLU, the Camas Wind Quintet and the Lyric Brass Quintet, and is active as an orchestral and freelance performer in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to her distinguished teaching and performing career, she is an accomplished composer, and has received numerous commissions for solo and chamber works. Her music is published by RM Williams, Brass Arts Unlimited, and Veritas Musica. The Sonata for Horn and Piano was commissioned in 2017 by Steven Cohen, and is featured along with several other new works on his album Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers (Siegfried’s Call). Gillie balances tradition and innovation throughout this significant three-movement sonata, simultaneously paying respect to the great horn works of the 19th and 20th centuries, while displaying her own unique voice. The first movement, with its contrasting themes and sonata-form construction, masterfully assimilates the German Romantic style. An ascending sixth motive figures prominently, and is transformed in various ways in the following movements. Gounod provides the inspiration for the second movement, a Mélodie in the French style. Gillie is especially gifted at writing beautiful melodies, and crafts long-breathed phrases worthy of the French master. The ascending sixth motive from the first movement is transformed again for the rollicking finale, a Rondo in Afro-Cuban style. This challenging but idiomatic work is great fun!

Romanza, Op. 59/2, Jan Koetsier (1911-2006)

Though relatively little known in the United States – except among brass players – Dutch-born composer, conductor, and professor Jan Koetsier is well-regarded throughout Europe, and especially in Munich, Germany, where he served as professor of conducting at the Hochschule für Musik for many years. As a composer he devoted much of his efforts to brass and wind instruments, and seemed especially interested in developing the repertoire for unusual or under-utilized combinations of instruments. As the title suggests, the Romanza, Op. 59, No. 2 (1972) showcases the lyrical qualities of the horn. In this brief yet effective work, a contrasting scherzo-like central section is framed by a beautiful melody in the outer sections. The Romanza has been recorded numerous times, and an especially beautiful interpretation can be found on the album Deep Remembering by Gail Williams (Summit Records).

Reflections for Horn and Piano, Paul Basler (b. 1963)

Paul Basler, Professor of Music at the University of Florida, is one of the most well-known contemporary composers for the horn. His works have been recorded and performed around the world to critical acclaim. Reflections for Horn and Piano was composed in 2006, and is dedicated to Manuel de Jesús Germán. In the composer’s words, Reflections is “an intensely emotional (and personal) composition and can be considered the ‘sequel’ to Basler’s Canciones for horn and piano and Lacrymosa for two horns and piano.” The five movements each have descriptive titles indicative of style and emotional content, which span a wide range. Basler explores the full range of human emotion, including joy, sorrow, anger, and, ultimately, acceptance. It is one of Basler’s most popular works, and was recently recorded by Patrick Smith for the album Reflections: Horn Music of Paul Basler (Siegfried’s Call). Another particularly inspiring performance of this work was given by Gina Gillie and Richard Seiler in October, 2015 at the University of Louisiana Monroe.

Performance Video: Neuling Bagatelle

The Bagatelle for Low Horn and Piano by Hermann Neuling (1897 – 1967) has long been on my bucket list of solo works, and luckily I’ve had the opportunity to perform it a couple of times in the last few months. Most recently, I performed it for a “Horn Fest” concert organized by my colleague and friend Thomas Hundemer, Principal Horn of the Shreveport Symphony. If you’d like to listen to that performance, the YouTube video can be found at the end of this post. *The video quality is grainy because I stationed the camera at the back of a large church sanctuary and zoomed in.

If you aren’t familiar with Hermann Neuling or his works, check out this great thumbnail sketch by Dr. Jason Michael Johnston of the University of Idaho. It’s also worth noting that three of Neuling’s etude books, including the famous 30 Special Studies for Low Horn, are now available as PDF downloads through qPress. If you’ve listened to or played the Bagatelle, you know that it presents some challenges in both technique and flexibility. It is fun to play, and makes a great addition to a recital program. One interesting point is the horn’s pitch on the dotted eighth-note in the fourth beat of measure 23 (10 measures after rehearsal 1). See below for an image from the score,  © 1956, Pro musica Verlag Leipzig.

© 1956, Pro musica Verlag Leipzig

If you look closely, there is a pitch discrepancy between the horn’s written E natural (concert A) and the piano’s A-flat, both on the fourth beat of measure 23. The E natural in the horn sounds ok by itself, but will definitely clash with the piano’s A-flat! Harmonically, the horn’s note needs to be an E-flat, and is performed as such in the recordings I’ve heard.

If you’ve not taken a look at the Bagatelle, consider programming it in the future as it is a challenging and rewarding work!

Recital Day Routine

You’ve spent weeks and months preparing for that solo recital, and everything is prepared to the best of your ability. Your dress rehearsal went well, and you feel confident about the big day…now what? The recital day routine, like many other aspects of musical performance, should be contemplated and worked out well in advance. Over the years, I’ve arrived at a plan that helps me feel relaxed and ready to perform. After experimenting with different things, I’ve found something that works for me.

In a perfect world, we would have the freedom to clear our schedules on the day of a big performance or audition, and spend our time in quiet reflection until the appointed time. The reality though is that work and school schedules will proceed as usual, regardless of our own personal performance calendars. Feel free to use any (or none) of the following as you work out your own pre-recital routine!

  • Day Before: Get a “normal” amount of sleep the night before, usually defined as 7 to 9 hours for adults. If my schedule allows, I might sleep in for 10-15 minutes extra, but no more. I generally practice as I normally would, perhaps running the program one final time or spot checking places as necessary. Dinner the night before isn’t restrictive, but I am careful not to overindulge on anything too spicy or salty.
  • Morning: Follow my normal warm-up routine, but with some modifications (see below). Continue with my usual  teaching and/or meeting schedule. I also make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day (which I normally do). Here’s my typical recital day warm-up routine.
    • Breathing/Relaxation exercises (5 minutes)
    • One or two slow studies from Nancy Sullivan’s Flow Studies for Horn, or other similar materials.
    • 15-20 minutes of my normal maintenance routine (currently Douglas Hill’s Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player), then STOP. No more practice for the day. I might play briefly in some lessons if necessary, but in general I avoid too much extra playing throughout the day.
  • Lunch/Afternoon: Lunch as normal, but again avoiding anything too spicy or salty. Keep drinking water! For a 7:30 p.m. recital, I try to leave school by 4:00 p.m. if my schedule permits so that I can relax at home for an hour or so before dinner. Once at home, I “unplug” from work emails, social media, and pretty much anything that might be stress inducing! As an aside, this is my normal practice even on a non-recital day, and I have found it very helpful in sustaining a career without getting burned out. I might read, spend time with family, or simply sit quietly and visualize the upcoming performance. Time doesn’t usually permit going through the entire program in my mind’s ear, but starting each piece or movement internally can be helpful. *If you can’t make it back home from the office or school before recital time, find a quiet place free from distractions and do the same thing. Perhaps a brief phone call to family or a close friend to help settle your mind.
  • Dinner/Evening:  Eat a light dinner or even just a substantial snack, making sure that I eat enough to have energy but not so much that I feel overly full. This might take some experimenting to figure out. A typical recital day dinner for me might be a sandwich or a small helping of whatever is on our dinner menu at home. My go to snacks are fruits, almonds, and peanut butter. Anything that provides energy and doesn’t dry you out is good. I avoid too much caffeine, maybe having a cup of green tea after the meal/snack. Brush my teeth, change into recital clothes, and head to the hall by 6:00 or 6:15 p.m. (I have about a 20 minute commute).
  • At the Hall: I like to get to the hall in plenty of time to do some more relaxation/breathing exercises, and go through the same flow studies with which I began the day. I might add in some light flexibility or longish tones to loosen back up if necessary. By this time it’s close to 7:00 p.m., at which point I put the horn down and read or just sit back and relax. I try to touch base with any collaborators and/or stage hands on the recital, just to make sure they have everything they need from me. The house at my university generally opens at 7:15 p.m., and everything I need for the first half is on stage by this time. A few minutes before going out, I play a few flexibility exercises in the middle register, empty all the water out of my horn, and take several deep, relaxed breaths. Go out and have fun!

All of the above is subject to modification, and I would love to hear from other performers about their pre-recital routines. It’s a fascinating subject, with plenty of room for further study.

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