french horns

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
bobbyp said:
Didn't the original british brass band have bugles and ophicleides?! Bands have evolved over time with the added colours of percussion and the replacement of keyed instruments with saxhorns, so why can't the british brass band still evolve? How can percussion be welcome in a brass band but not a brass french horn? If they can blend and they can stick out when necessary then what's the problem? Okay the quality of players are hit and miss, but the increased usage of them would only mean more people meeting the standard necessary to fit in.

Yes, the earliest bands used keyed instruments. And often reed instruments too. We are talking mid-19th century and before here. By about 1860-1870, the state of the art in brass instrument making in the UK had improved to a point where valved brass instruments were not a liability to play. There were still substantial variations in instrumentation, but contesting bands gradually standardised on the particular format we have today between about 150 and 100 years ago. This happened because a standardised instrumentation allowed everybody to use the same arrangements - imagine having to rearrange every contest piece specifically for the instrumentation of your band! Prior to this standardisation, that was the norm. The reason we do not add parts to the standard is that we have a substantial body of music now existing written for that standard - adding a section of French horns would entail rearranging anything that you played with them, a huge effort overhead at a time when most bands already struggle to put in the effort required to maintain their existence as is. And, to point to an irritating but relevant idea, I'm sure the copyright police would have something to say about all that reworking of parts too... Doing it legally would cost a lot of money for every programme.

Yes, percussion was adopted into the contesting standard about 40 years ago. But that wasn't the addition of an instrument that had no ongoing history with brass bands - every band had and had always had a drummer. They just didn't play for contests prior to that. No new instruments have been adopted into the standard band layout since it became standardised - because the benefits of standardisation are huge.

Essentially - we would stand to lose a lot more than we would gain by adding a French horn section to the contesting standard - or even to a band's regular concert line-up.

A point worth touching on that challenges the addition of French horns is the characteristic use of vibrato in banding. Part of the saxhorn blend is that wibbly-wobbly thing. However, wibbly-wobbliness of the band type is a bit tricky on the French horn - the relatively narrow harmonics can turn a big lip vib into a lip trill, for one thing. For another, the effect is not unlike that of doing the same on a trombone, despite the different bore profiles - distinctly unfashionable even in brass bands these days due to the obviousness of the effect.

Sorry but that is not true - horn playing traditions in France, Russia and Eastern Europe mean that the horn is played WITH vibrato and a very beautiful sound it can be as well.
The German/English/American school of playing is vibrato free but it doesn't mean that a player can't use it - any more than a brass band player (should) be able to switch vibrato on and off as appropriate.

How many Russian brass players do you hear these days wobbling away with their lower lips? I don't hear anything now like we used to hear on the old Soviet recordings. But to return to what I was specifically referring to, I don't think I've ever heard anything like a brass band vib (either Yorkshire or Welsh style) applied to a horn? But maybe I just haven't been listening closely enough. But do you disagree about the narrowness of the harmonics being a problem? Trying to tonally match a wobbly cornet section while playing above the 8th partial or so seems definitely like living on the edge...

With apologies to Andrew, who is an erudite and reasonable poster at all times, but this is a microcosm of why this debate always goes to bad places whenever it is raised - because no matter how carefully you qualify your points and belabour the specificness of the issues raised, somebody will come along and respond to you as if you had said something more general than what you actually did say. I don't know why this topic produces this effect, but it reliably does...

yes... a well played tenor horn (in my humble opinion) sounds far better than a well played f.horn. Tenor horns are perfect for the middle of a brass band and more effective than f.horns in a wind orchestra (in my experience) :)

"Better" - don't like that word in this context. They are different sounds. One well-played does not sound like the other well-played. Personal preference is one thing, but you don't actually mean that the sound is a "better" one - because that doesn't really make sense as a concept - you mean that the sound of one pleases you personally at the moment more than the sound of the other.
 
"Better" - don't like that word in this context. They are different sounds. One well-played does not sound like the other well-played. Personal preference is one thing, but you don't actually mean that the sound is a "better" one - because that doesn't really make sense as a concept - you mean that the sound of one pleases you personally at the moment more than the sound of the other.

quite so! just a poor choice of word on my part! I therefore rephrase my point that the tenor horn 'sound' is 'more pleasing' to me than that of a f.horn in brass bands and wind bands ;)
 

subtlevib

Member
yes... a well played tenor horn (in my humble opinion) sounds far better than a well played f.horn. Tenor horns are perfect for the middle of a brass band and more effective than f.horns in a wind orchestra (in my experience) :)

In the context of a brass band, tenor horns are bound to sound more appropriate - tenor horns are made, designed, exist, to be played in brass bands. The skill necessary to play a French Horn to any decent standard far exceeds that of a tenor horn. Good writing for French Horn surely is the key - I wouldn't have thought you can assume that the two would play a similar part?
 
In the context of a brass band, tenor horns are bound to sound more appropriate - tenor horns are made, designed, exist, to be played in brass bands. The skill necessary to play a French Horn to any decent standard far exceeds that of a tenor horn. Good writing for French Horn surely is the key - I wouldn't have thought you can assume that the two would play a similar part?

That is based on my experience of f.horns playing tenor horn parts in a brass band.. happened once or twice in my old band. Perhaps good writing is the key.. but where would they fit in the standard brass band model if they weren't replacing the tenor horn section?
 

subtlevib

Member
Different instrument completely. Different tone colour, range, diverse capabilities in every way - I like French horns btw - can you tell!!!?
My thinking is they could never fit in the current model, there's have to be another part - a French Horn part!
 
Different instrument completely. Different tone colour, range, diverse capabilities in every way - I like French horns btw - can you tell!!!?
My thinking is they could never fit in the current model, there's have to be another part - a French Horn part!

Yes I can tell :tongue: but the brass band model works perfectly as it is... if its not broke, don't try and fix it! ;)
 

Matthew

Active Member
Different instrument completely. Different tone colour, range, diverse capabilities in every way - I like French horns btw - can you tell!!!?
My thinking is they could never fit in the current model, there's have to be another part - a French Horn part!

Agreed with that totally! ^

It would change the sound/make-up considerably (not badly I have to say) - which isn't really required/needed! :)
 

Dave Payn

Active Member
How many Russian brass players do you hear these days wobbling away with their lower lips? I don't hear anything now like we used to hear on the old Soviet recordings. But to return to what I was specifically referring to, I don't think I've ever heard anything like a brass band vib (either Yorkshire or Welsh style) applied to a horn? But maybe I just haven't been listening closely enough. But do you disagree about the narrowness of the harmonics being a problem? Trying to tonally match a wobbly cornet section while playing above the 8th partial or so seems definitely like living on the edge...

However, in my view, a smidge of vibrato on a French horn sounds rather nice! Go to Spotify, type in 'Moscow RTV Orchestra Vladimir Fedoseyev Nutcracker Valse des Fleurs' and see if you agree! ;-)
 
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brassneck

Active Member
However, in my view, a smidge of vibrato on a French horn sounds rather nice! Go to Spotify, type in 'Moscow RTV Orchestra Vladimir Fedoseyev Nutcracker Valse des Fleurs' and see if you agree! ;-)

... and don't forget Herr Baumann :cool:

[youtube]wAl3DdNA9ns&feature=related[/youtube]
 

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
Different instrument completely. Different tone colour, range, diverse capabilities in every way - I like French horns btw - can you tell!!!?
My thinking is they could never fit in the current model, there's have to be another part - a French Horn part!

Don't get me wrong. I like french horns too. I mean, I like Chorizo. I also like custard. That doesn't mean I want them both on the same plate though.....

The long and the short of it is that yes, the french horn is a very fine instrument, and fits into the various ensembles it is included in (orchestras, wind bands, military bands, brass choirs, brass quintets etc) very well. A large part of the reason it fits in so well is because these ensemble include the french horn rather than the saxhorn that covers roughly the same pitch.

I think we're possibly missing a point here by pitching the french horn against the tenor and baritone saxhorn, when in reality the range and dexterity demanded by the player are very similar to the role in which a euphonium sits.....

....except we've already got euphoniums....

A few posters have already outlined why replacing existing EB and Bb saxhorns with F horns doesn't make sense, and the more I look at it, for everything that a french horn could bring to a brass band we already have and instument within a brass band that fills that gap. And I'm not sure an 'Add horns and stir' method would work for classics of the repertoire such as resurgam or epic symphony......

The cons against inclusion outweigh the pros in my opinion.

As for rolling out the Bb D, Eb, A and C trumpets, just no.... really... no. Cornets are perfectly good at the job they do and I've never known a trumpet work in brass band context. It has the same effect as including a front-action tuba in a bass section by completely destroying the homogeneous sound a section is designed to create.

I've nothing at all against anyone out there experimenting with instrumentation and including whatever instruments you like. They all have their merits and detriments.....

...Just don't expect me to call it a brass band when you do, because it isn't.
 
I don't really understand the comparison of French and tenor horns, they are completely different instruments. In pretty much every way with the exception of having the word 'horn' on them. But so does a Flugel, or Car!!

I agree that there is a very specific sound setup within a brass band, one that is geared to having basically just different sizes of the same instrument.
However we also forget that the Trombone doesn't fit into this setup either. Both the Trombone and French Horn are much more flexible instruments to the other instruments within brass bands and this is why they can be found in a multitude of different musical types (with the exception of the Eb/Tuba, which is used to add depth within other types of music - bass sounds and the spectrum they fill are a subject of a different debate) In general, the standard brass band instrument doesn't fit in other types of music specifically because they have been designed to be part of this specific sound ensemble.

So yes, as for the normal setup, sound and repertoire of the brass band French Horns don't fit as standard. However for specific pieces a bank of French Horns could produce a stunning sound within a band, and potentially allow it to branch out into a world of music which really isn't available to it now - Just like say..3 trombones adds a completely different sound spectrum to what the band would be without them.

The biggest block to this really is just how astonishingly difficult the French Horn is, and it would need adept musicians to be able to make this work without it sounding horrible. The French Horn is arguable the greatest brass instrument there is, but only in the right hands. And Vibrato? well we are already learning in banding that Vibrato is a technique to be used when apporpriate, to warm a sound when required, and not just to be there ad nauseum. Good French Horn players can also add this warmth of sound, but also still produce a beautiful clean straight sound that sends shivers down your back. Have a listen to some Bruckner sometime, it can be hauntingly beautiful.
 

stevesnowy

New Member
im glad my original post has started an interesting debate, but one of my main thoughts was that there are probably a lot of school kids around that are playing french horn badly and that when they leave school probably never play an instrument again and maybe getting them to their local brass band maybe [unlikely i know] will take up another brass instrument and continue playing. i do think combining other instruments occasionaly in concerts would increase interest and entertainment, i saw black dyke yesterday in birmingham, and while the standard of playing was first class, apart from one piece where they used a choir, which went on for to long, they were no more entertaining than watching a fourth section band in the rain on a park bandstand ! i think we have to experiment and diversify a bit more. by the way i played french horn badly in a section of five, and we ruled the band !
 

Rapier

Supporting Member
Well if you think Dyke are no more entertaining than a 4th section band, then perhaps you'd be better suited to playing a French horn somewhere else.
 

Richard N.

New Member
...... contesting bands gradually standardised on the particular format we have today between about 150 and 100 years ago.....

Just to add to the debate....

Quoting from " The Brass Band And How To Write For It" by Charles Vincent, published 1908:

"The French Horn. ...writers of brass band music treat the horn as a valve instrument playing a chromatic scale, and employ it chiefly for sustaining harmonies and playing the most imprtant notes of an accompaniment... ...The horns take the place of the saxhorns in large bands, or they could be used in addition."

This would seem to indicate that the inclusion of French Horns within a brass band is not a particularly new or radical idea!
 

BikeBadger

Member
i saw black dyke yesterday in birmingham, and while the standard of playing was first class, apart from one piece where they used a choir, which went on for to long, they were no more entertaining than watching a fourth section band in the rain on a park bandstand !

Substitute Cardiff for Birmingham and actor for choir and you've described Dyke's concert down our way last year. I was bored and disappointed (but not quite desperate enough to want the inclusion of French Horns).
 

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