A Solo Voice: Douglas Hill

As an undergraduate I wasn’t a huge fan of modern music for the horn, but studying with Douglas Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my masters and doctoral degrees definitely opened my mind and ears to the range of sound possibilities on our instrument.  Professor Hill has been a lifelong champion of new music, and I think one of the best of his several solo recordings is A Solo Voice, released in 1987 by GM Recordings. This album is devoted to 20th-century works for unaccompanied horn, and contains several interesting pieces.  Unfortunately, A Solo Voice is not available on CD, but you can find it on LP in university libraries and perhaps purchase a used copy online.  I got mine directly from Professor Hill, who had a cache of them in his studio.  The highlight of this album is Hill’s Jazz Set, a four movement extravaganza of extended techniques in jazz style.  To hear the composer perform his own work is a fabulous resource, and proves that everything written in the Jazz Set is in fact possible and more importantly musically convincing.  Verne Reynolds’ Elegy for Solo Horn is another work to which the soloist has a direct connection, as the piece was written for and premiered by him.  There are now several recordings of this work available, but this one is a must-hear for anyone working on the Elegy.  The other side of the album contains two studies from Gunther Schuller’s Studies for Unaccompanied Horn, the Sonata for Horn Solo, Op. 101 by Avram David, and the Sonatine for Horn Solo, Op. 39b by Hans Erich Apostel, all of which are expertly rendered.  Avram David’s Sonata has also been recorded by Eric Ruske on his album Just Me and My Horn, another highly recommended album of solo horn music.

Solo Horn in Opening Titles

Bruce Hembd’s great series on Horn-tastic TV Themes at Horn Matters got me thinking about all the amazing horn solos in movie soundtracks.  There are too many to list in this post, but I thought what might be fun is to consider only those horn solos that appear in the opening few minutes of a film, either in the opening titles or the first scene.  Here are a few that came to mind.

Braveheart “Main Title,” composed by James Horner, London Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Jones?, solo horn [Solo begins at 1:55.]

Saving Private Ryan “Revisiting Normandy,” composed by John Williams, Gus Sebring, solo horn [This is not the first track on the motion picture soundtrack, but it is the first scene in the movie.]

Wyatt Earp “Main Theme,” composed by James Newton Howard, ?, solo horn

Can you think of any more film scores with solo horn (not sections) featured in the opening titles or main theme?  Further information on the soloists for Braveheart and Wyatt Earp would be great too.

If horn playing in film scores interests you, some great resources are Cindy Liu’s dissertation from the University of Cincinnati, The Examination of the Appearance and Use of French Horn in Film Scores from 1977 to 2004, and the website Moviebrass.

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