Friday Review: Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn

rescuedFor today’s review we have a new recording by John Ericson, Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn. Ericson is Associate Professor of Horn at Arizona State University, and is a recognized expert on horn history and the 19th-century horn in particular. I’ve been looking forward to this recording for quite some time, and have avidly followed Ericson’s series of articles related to this project on Horn Matters. The entire series is well worth reading, but to summarize, Rescued! is the culmination of Ericson’s research into the repertoire and technique of the 19th-century single F horn, which is often overlooked by modern horn players. The written description of the CD is as follows:

Rescued! celebrates the forgotten works of a group of 19th-century hornists and composers. The music included in this recording was composed between roughly 1860 and 1910 and are quality works aimed primarily at low horn players of the late 19th century who still used single F horns. The works included in this recording are:

  • Nocturno, Op. 73 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonate, Op. 347 – Fritz Spindler
  • Melancholie, Op. 68 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Am Abend, Op. 71 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Gondellied, Op. 15 – Karl Matys
  • Lied ohne Worte, Op. 2 – Oscar Franz
  • Serenade, Op. 20 – Louis Bödecker
  • Lied ohne Worte – Josef Richter
  • Resignation, Op. 16 – Charles Eisner
  • Wiegenlied, Op. 69, No. 1 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonata, Op. 7 – Hermann Eichborn

Most of the compositions on this recording will be new or at the least unfamiliar to a majority of horn players. And while the works presented here may not have been written by the “A-list” composers of the time, they are still high quality and worthy of study. The scores are all available on IMSLP for free, and I think that Ericson’s fine recording will help revive an interest in them. Any would be perfect additions to a recital.

I’ve heard Ericson perform numerous times, and both he and pianist Yi-Wan Liao are in top form on this recording. The technical difficulties involved in performing on the single F horn are daunting: mouthpieces, crooks, accuracy, intonation, etc. Yet Ericson plays with exceptional musicality, not to mention spot-on accuracy and intonation throughout the entire disc. As one might expect, the sound of the single F horn is reminiscent of the natural horn – warm and velvety in softer dynamics, with a bit of sizzle at forte volume. The piano sound is also quite warm, accentuating (without dominating) the horn sound. Most of the works emphasize the lyrical capabilities of the instrument, although the Eichborn Sonata and a few others contain some nice technical passages as well. Listening to this disc, one might assume that playing a 19th-century single F horn is an easy task – if you’ve ever tried it you know that isn’t the case! “Wolf” notes are more frequent and difficult to control than on the modern double horn, and achieving any level of accuracy requires great skill and an exceptional ear. Bravo to Ericson and Liao for releasing this fine disc!

Friday Review: New E-Books for Horn

As noted earlier this year, I have a backlog of new publications, recordings, and other items that I’m slowly working through in my review series. This week we’ll look at three electronic publications related to teaching the horn, I Like to Practice Scalesby Ricardo Matosinhos, Introducing the Horn, 2nd ed., by John Ericson, and A Mello Catechism2nd ed., also by John Ericson. All three are geared towards younger students and their teachers, but can also be quite useful for other levels as well.

Portuguese hornist Ricardo Matosinhos is extremely active as a performer, educator, composer, and author, and is probably best known for his series of jazz-inspired etudes published through Phoenix Music Editions. In I Like to Practice Scaleshe presents a logical, systematic way for students to progress through all the major and minor scales, with arpeggios. There are many other methods which seek to achieve the same goal, but what sets this one apart is the manner in which those scales are presented. Rather than assigning individual scales in their entirety – which can be quite a lot of material to digest for the younger student – he begins with exercises based on only the first note of each scale, moving through a circle of fourths progression. Two note exercises follow, then three notes, and so on, with each series following the same tonal language. Detailed theoretical discussions are omitted by design – the subtitle of the book is “First comes the practice, then the theory…” – with the emphasis placed on developing fluency first. I really like this approach, as I think it mimics the way we learn our native language(s) as children. Imagine explaining the intricacies of grammar to a child  (or adult) who only spoke a few words of a language – the conversation would break down once the limits of their vocabulary had been reached. Yet how often do we try to explain key signatures, major and minor keys, and other theoretical concepts to beginning musicians, who have the same limited vocabulary? As in spoken languages, theory is of course important, but makes much more sense once the student reaches a certain degree of fluency. The first several exercises make great material for newer students, and the later ones will provide a nice challenge for the advancing player, particularly in the low register. I Like to Practice Scales is available from the International Horn Society’s Online Music Sales page.

First published in 2007, John Ericson‘s Introducing the Horn provides a concise, effective way to give beginning horn players a great start on the instrument. The newly revised edition, available in both hardcopy and E-Book formats, takes into account the increasingly fast pace of college level brass methods courses. The reality today is that there simply will not be enough time to cover all of the potential difficulties and pitfalls of each brass instrument in a one or two semester course, and the best that many instructors can hope to do is provide an overview and a list of resources for future study. There are lots of comprehensive methods covering all of the brass instruments, but it is also recommended that brass methods instructors supplement their main text with handouts and specialist publications like Introducing the Horn. The layout and progression of topics is very practical, and all of the important points are covered. The “Suggestions and Tips for Music Educators” and “Horn Maintenance Tips” included in the appendix are by themselves worth the very reasonable price of the E-Book version. Every band director, veteran or rookie, should own a copy of this book! Download it today from the Horn Notes Edition website.

A Mello Catechism (1st ed. 2007, 2nd ed. 2013) is another book which should be on the shelves of every horn teacher and band director. Though the instrument is often met with resistance and even downright hatred from horn players and their teachers, many high school and even college players spend a significant amount of time performing on it. To my knowledge, Ericson is one of only a few high level horn teachers to devote any time to the instrument, and his book holds an important place in the pedagogical literature. It covers a little bit of everything, from history and nomenclature to tips for band directors and arrangers. On a personal note, I found the book an invaluable resource during my first few years of full time college teaching. Early in the fall semester I spent (and still spend) time working with local band students, who are feverishly preparing their marching shows for the upcoming football season. While I certainly knew about the mellophone, it had been several years since I actually played one myself, and I turned to A Mello Catechism for guidance, advice, and exercises to use when working with the students. I have also taught a number of private lessons on the mellophone, which can be quite a different animal entirely from the horn. Regardless of your personal opinions about the mellophone, if you teach the horn at an level chances are you will encounter it at some point along the way. I think it is much more productive to be prepared and helpful to your students, rather than dismissing the instrument entirely. A Mello Catechism is available from the Horn Notes Edition website.



Friday Review: Playing Natural Horn Today and Playing Descant and Triple Horns, by John Ericson

John Ericson, Associate Professor of Horn at Arizona State University and co-creator of Horn Matters, has recently published two new books, Playing Natural Horn Today and Playing Descant and Triple Horns. I had the opportunity to preview early versions of these publications, and was very excited to see them hit the market. As with other publications from Horn Notes Edition, both books are well written in a practical and straightforward manner. Quoting from the sales page for Playing Natural Horn Today, this book “…is focused toward introducing the natural horn effectively to players who already play the valved horn and wish to learn the older instrument.” To that end, a variety of information is included, ranging from historical background to selecting an appropriate mouthpiece (cover image linked from Numerous exercises by hand horn virtuosi from the past have been newly edited and included to aid in the development of musicality and technique.  In the  Preface, Ericson points out several benefits that modern horn players can gain from natural horn study: development of accuracy and of the ear, improved stopped horn technique on modern horn, and a better understanding of musical style. I wholeheartedly agree, and would also add that playing natural horn can be really fun! Playing on the much lighter instrument actually makes some things easier than they are on the modern horn, and for me at least there’s something attractive about playing music from the past on the instrument (or a replica) for which it was intended. Ericson has also produced a very nice promotional video with demonstrations of several musical examples from the text.

Playing Descant and Triple Horns is a revised edition of Ericson’s previous publication, Playing High Horn.  Much of the original content is still here, although some of it has been reworked (cover image linked from Whether you are new to descant and triple horns or have performed on them for years, this book has something for you. Descant and triple horns don’t come with an owner’s manual, and it can be difficult even for an experienced player to figure out some of the idiosyncrasies of these instruments.  If you’ve just purchased or are thinking about purchasing a descant or triple, this book is a must-have. Two of my favorite features of this book are the fingering charts in the appendix and the numerous practical tips based on professional experience. These suggestions are found in shaded boxes, which sets them apart from the rest of text. As with the natural horn book, Playing Descant and Triple Horns includes a promotional video. It’s quite clear from the playing demonstrations that Ericson knows what he’s doing!

My final comments on these two very fine books concerns their format. Both are offered in electronic format, and can be purchased and downloaded in a matter of minutes.  The PDF files are very clear, and display well on both tablet devices and standard computer monitors. Individual pages or the entire text can be printed for use in lessons and practicing. The prices are very reasonable for books of this type, which should make them appealing to students as well as teachers.

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