Specifics on the four typical horn parts

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07 Oct 2012 08:52 #631 by Karl Bonner
Specifics on the four typical horn parts was created by Karl Bonner
First of all I want to introduce myself: I'm from Oregon and play horn in a local community concert band. Currently I only own a cheap single F horn since my old Getzen double was stolen a while back. Because of the single F, I generally stick to 2nd parts.

Now the topic: It's common knowledge that in the orchestra, and often in band, the 1st and 3rd horn parts are high while 2nd and 4th are low. However, I imagine the general differences among the parts are more than a simple high/low dichotomy. Of course the 1st part has the majority (or at least plurality) of solo passages and tends to play a lot of really high notes. But what about the other three parts? If 2nd and 4th are the low parts, what's the most common difference between them? And the difference between 1st and 3rd in terms of register, etc.? Years ago I played the 3rd part a lot in a community orchestra, back when I had my Getzen.

I'm also curious as to which skills are most useful for each of the four parts.

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08 Oct 2012 06:12 #632 by Ricardo Matosinhos
Replied by Ricardo Matosinhos on topic Specifics on the four typical horn parts
Well it really depends on the composer and on the year (music history)
On Classical and Baroque scores horn are used in duet.
The first horn part has a lot of hight notes (clarino register) using natural harmonics. Second horn part requires usually a better right hand control (with a lot of stopped notes) and flexibility for the range shifts.
On the romantic period horns are scored mostly 1-3 for the high parts and 2-4 for the low parts. They are used sometimes in pairs 1-2 and 3-4 and typically in some composers the 3rd horn part get's higher solos that ash (due to transposition).
As we continue through the XX and XXI century, all starts to change... There are still High/low parts but a lot of composers write in unison, requiring 4th horn to play a high C and 1st horn to play a pedal F.
On todays writing not every composer respects the 1-3, 2-4 scoring plan and some simple use the 1-2-3-4 specially in wind band.

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09 Oct 2012 08:59 #633 by Karl Bonner
Replied by Karl Bonner on topic Specifics on the four typical horn parts

Ricardo Matosinhos wrote: Well it really depends on the composer and on the year (music history)
On Classical and Baroque scores horn are used in duet.
The first horn part has a lot of hight notes (clarino register) using natural harmonics. Second horn part requires usually a better right hand control (with a lot of stopped notes) and flexibility for the range shifts.
On the romantic period horns are scored mostly 1-3 for the high parts and 2-4 for the low parts. They are used sometimes in pairs 1-2 and 3-4 and typically in some composers the 3rd horn part get's higher solos that ash (due to transposition).
As we continue through the XX and XXI century, all starts to change... There are still High/low parts but a lot of composers write in unison, requiring 4th horn to play a high C and 1st horn to play a pedal F.
On todays writing not every composer respects the 1-3, 2-4 scoring plan and some simple use the 1-2-3-4 specially in wind band.


Actually I do recall that the reason classical-era composers called for 4 horns in the first place was to have two pairs of horns in two different keys. For example, 1st and 2nd might be in G while 3rd and 4th are in C, or something similar. That would take care of the different movements of a symphony, or key modulations within a given movement. And depending on the two horn keys called for, it implies that 3rd could sometimes end up playing higher than 1st, and 2nd lower than 4th.

In the era of the natural horn, your remark about 2nd (and by extension 4th) horns having more stopped notes makes perfect sense, in order to get more notes in the middle register. So high horn players had to focus on carefully aiming so that they wouldn't miss a note. Low horns' most important skill would have been hand technique.

But I guess that what I'm really curious about is what happened AFTER the mid-19th century, when composers started getting used to valve horns. There was no longer any need to think of the horns as coming in two pairs, and composers could write an actual four-part section. It also would have changed the relationship between the two high horns and between the two low horns. Before the valve era, the difference between 1st and 3rd would have been simply been different horn keys. But with that distinction gone, composers could start writing 1st and 3rd parts independently of each other, so that they played somewhat different roles.

So the real question is: what slightly different roles did the 1st and 3rd end up taking, and what different roles for the 2nd and 4th?

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