Notice: Andrew has moved to Vancouver Island in West Canada, where he is still playing horns and making them.
This website will be updated accordingly in due course.
to Naturally Horns, the website of Andrew Clark.
Click on one of the buttons above to look
at images of different natural horns and valve
horns. You can also test your knowledge with a
quiz, find out about Andrew and listen to some
of his recordings.
Andrew has recently returned from making horns in Canada. You can follow his progress via his blog, which you can view here
What is Natural
about that Horn?
|Nowadays there is plenty
of concern over whether a product is natural or not.
When an item has been modified by man it is often
considered dangerous, and the horn was no exception
to this when it underwent chromatic modifications
in the nineteenth century. Notes outside the key
of the music are called "chromatic" - not
only were the trumpets and horns of the Baroque period
limited to the key of the music, but they were also
limited in other ways. It is strange to think that
the loud instruments associated with pomp, nobility
and the military, the horns and trumpets were handicapped
by having large gaps in their range where no reasonable
notes could be produced. The only way that composers
could write music that sounded good on these instruments
was to write music for them in the register and key
where they had notes to play. These available notes
are known as the natural harmonics, and they are
more numerous (and have greater excitement and risk)
in the upper register of the instruments. The instruments
were pitched in keys low enough for these notes to
be obtainable by human lips, so most of them are
about twice as long as their modern counterparts
which achieve the same pitches using lower harmonics.
|There is not much that is natural
about the alloy of brass: it is a mixture of copper
and zinc, usually held together on the joints by
lead solder (nowadays lead substitute). These metals
are a man-made mixture, but the alloy has been with
us a long time, and in the case of brass instruments
they are designed to emulate and improve the acoustic
qualities found in nature in the form of animal horns,
hollowed out logs and certain sea-shells.
||The horn and trumpet were first
considered real members of the orchestra in the Baroque
period, predominantly towards the end of the seventeenth
century. At this time some skilled players were able
to achieve a few chromatic notes by bending the existing
natural harmonics with the lips. It was a rare technique
that could do this well, and the search was on to
provide the instruments with a greater range of notes.
Although today we would describe those instruments
as being natural horns or natural trumpets, in those
days they were without the qualifying term "natural"
because as yet there was no need to distinguish them
from any other type.
|In Bach's music we occasionally
find the term Corno da tirarsi or Tromba da tirarsi.
This means Slide Horn or Slide Trumpet. Few examples
of slide trumpets from this period exist, and no
examples of slide horns survive, but it shows the
attempt to add to the range of notes of these instruments.
||The first chromatic notes regularly
achieved on the horn were not down to the inventiveness
of manufacturers, but players. In the mid-eighteenth
century it became known that chromatic notes were
obtainable by putting the hand inside the bell of
the horn. The notes played with the bell uncovered
by the hand were called the "natural notes",
and the covered ones "hand-stopped". Trumpet
players also adopted this technique for a while,
and instruments were developed to accommodate this.
Although there was
some opposition to the adoption of this technique,
it was largely considered a good thing, particularly
for horns, and there was a great deal of concern
when the possibility of losing those characteristic
stopped sounds became real with the invention of
valves in the early nineteenth century. So great
was this opposition in France that the valve horn
class was abandoned after its introduction at the
Paris Conservatoire in 1833, and horn classes were
confined to the Hand Horn from 1864 to 1897. At
this time the terms used for the valveless horn
included Cor Simple, Natural Horn, Wald Horn, Inventions
Horn and Hand Horn, whilst those with valves were
known as Piston Horn, Ventil Horn and Cor a cylindres.
The worries that with the invention of valves the
horn would be played without hand-stopping slowly
diminished over time, but for those who like to
hear the works of the masters with their stopped
notes and high harmonics, period instrument orchestras
have revived this possibility.