Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Pip Eastop Hornplayer Photographer Trumpetplayer

Posts tagged “Mozart

Performance note from Hyperion CD booklet.

It has been more than two centuries since Mozart composed the music performed on this recording and during that time the horn, an instrument he loved and knew well, has evolved substantially. During the nineteenth century it grew valves and extra loops of tubing; it ceased to be a ‘hand horn’, or a ‘natural horn’, and emerged from experimentation and confusion as a fully chromatic instrument. The response by later composers to these changes was to write music that increasingly exploited the horn’s new ability to play not only any note with a full and sonorous resonance but also any note with a closed, ‘stopped’ sound. The evolution of the horn continued with a widening of its bore and an increase in dynamic range to suit the music of Wagner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and many others. Today, the horn’s modern character can best be experienced by hearing the way it is used in orchestral film scores to depict the archetypal ‘hero’, conveying such attributes as strength, courage, seriousness, stability and control. Before the horn ‘grew up’ its character was altogether rougher, wilder, more unpredictable, playful and idiosyncratic—perhaps more Robin Hood than James Bond.

It is in getting from one note to the next that the mechanics of the instrument and the technique of its playing are so different between the old and the new. This difference is much larger than with instruments that did not have such a marked metamorphosis in their historical development—that is, the addition of valves. Stringed instruments are still essentially the same as they were in Mozart’s day. Woodwind instruments have gained more projection and refinement but are essentially still pipes with vent holes. The piano, Mozart’s favourite instrument of all, has been developed and refined in countless ways but still involves the mechanism of fingers pushing keys to make hammers hit strings. Changes to other instruments have been in timbre and power. But from hand horn to modern horn the change has been more profound.

Without doubt Mozart would have loved the modern valved horn with its fully chromatic ability, and if his friend, the horn player Joseph Leutgeb, had possessed one then Mozart would have written entirely different music for him. Mozart’s horn concertos sound wonderful played on the modern horn, of course, but inevitably, along with the broader, warmer voice and gains in both smoothness and uniformity of timbre across the entire range, some of the colour and drama that Mozart would have expected is lost.

To play the hand horn is to wrestle with nature. While the modern valved horn will cruise comfortably through most things in the classical repertoire the hand horn simply doesn’t want to cooperate with at least half of the notes Mozart threw at it. Its natural array of pitches, the harmonic series, does not align with any kind of equal or non-equal temperament or any sort of scale, whether major, minor, chromatic or whatever. Melodies have to be physically wrenched into shape from both ends of the instrument; at the narrow end by strenuous techniques of breath and lip, and at the other end, within the throat of the bell flare, by rapid manipulations of the right hand for correcting and continuously adjusting the intonation of every one of the instrument’s naturally occurring tones. This right-hand technique unavoidably alters both loudness and timbre from one note to the next, often quite drastically, and it is this phenomenon that accounts for most of the differences in musical effect between the classical hand horn and the modern horn.

After the development of valves, the ancestral hand horn did not disappear. It remained, as it was in the eighteenth century, arguably one of the most perfect of all instruments in its simple emulation of natural forms such as cow horns or large sea shells. It is nothing more than a long, narrow, conical brass tube with a small hole in which to blow at one end and a bigger hole where the sound emerges at the other end. It starts at a diameter of about 8mm (about one third of an inch) and continuously widens along its length until it ends with a dramatic widening into a flared bell of about one foot in diameter. For convenience and comfort hand horns are coiled into loops and are traditionally played with the bell held to the right, pointing backwards and to the side at about waist level. These days we call it the ‘natural horn’ or ‘hand horn’, to differentiate it from its modern descendant, the ‘French horn’—a poorly named grandchild since there is nothing particularly French about it.

Despite the visual complexity of its convoluted plumbing, the modern valved horn can be understood simply as a combination of twelve differently lengthed hand horns into one super-instrument (perhaps ‘Dodecahorn’ would be a better name for it). The modern horn player switches instantly from one length to another by means of finger-operated valves. It is actually possible to play an entire Mozart horn concerto on just one of the twelve component instruments of a modern horn using hand-horn techniques rather than by employing the valve mechanisms. However, this is not generally done because the merging of twelve instruments invariably causes a compromise in quality to each one. Also, it has to be said that there is something very pure and satisfying about playing great works by Mozart on such a wonderfully simple instrument.

The complexity of the modern horn conceals any resemblance to its ancient, naturally occuring ancestors whereas the simplicity of the hand horn makes such a visual connection obvious. Although a spirally curved cone is a complex shape and difficult to make it is an easy structure to understand, being essentially a tube which gradually widens. Molluscs and cows grow their curved cones naturally and unconsciously, but humans have needed many centuries to learn first how to copy and then to extend the concept, fabricating delicate coils of accurately tapered metal tubing far greater in length than animal horns. Historically, advances in musical instrument metal-working technology have been driven by this need to make horns longer than those provided by nature. The extra length is desired because short, naturally occurring horns allow only the lowest note of the harmonic series to be played (the so-called ‘fundamental’), all the other ones being too high to play comfortably. Many ancient cultures understood this. Trumpets of bronze, silver and gold were discovered in Tutenkhamun’s tomb and the Romans used brass and copper horns and trumpets for military purposes. In the bronze age the Celts had their ‘carnyx’, the Scandinavians had their ‘lur’ and in Ireland they made fabulous bronze horns shaped like those of the now extinct giant bison.

During Mozart’s time hand horns were available in a range of fifteen different lengths, from the shortest in the key of C (alto) at eight feet four inches (2.54 meters), to the longest in B flat (basso) at an impressive nineteen feet (5.79 meters). The length, or key, favoured by Mozart was somewhere in the middle, the E flat horn, at about fourteen feet long. The instrument used in this recording is a modern copy of an 1830 Ignaz Lorenz of Linz, made in Bavaria by Engelbert Schmid.

The standard classical pitch used these days for (so-called) ‘historically informed performance’ is somewhat lower than modern pitch, where A is set to vibrate at 440 cycles per second. Orchestras such as The Hanover Band usually tune A to 430Hz for music of the classical period, and this is the pitch used in this recording for the four concertos. For the quintet recording, due to the absence of woodwind instruments which are specifically built to be played at 430 and have far less flexibility to adjust pitch than stringed or brass instruments, it was possible to take the pitch down approximately one third of a semitone further, to 421 cycles per second. This is exactly the frequency of the tuning fork that belonged to Mozart.

At several points during the horn concertos Mozart indicates that the soloist should play a short unaccompanied passage, a ‘cadenza’, of his or her own invention. This is a difficult task for the modern horn player: adding anything of value to historical works of great musical genius is challenging, to say the least. Because of the instrument’s natural simplicity the task of cadenza-writing for the hand horn in Mozart is somewhat easier than it is for the modern instrument. When playing the fully chromatic modern horn it is hard to be constantly mindful of avoiding anything which would have been technically unfeasible during the classical period. The use of valves, however carefully and tastefully applied, creates an effect impossible for the hand horn, so by playing on the type of horn Mozart knew one avoids such anachronisms. Removing that complication allows one to focus more on questions of musical material and style. In preparing the cadenzas for these performances I investigated those that Mozart took the trouble to write down (although he never composed any for horn). Searching through his published keyboard cadenzas I found that here, more than anywhere else, he explored chromatic harmonies with the greatest intensity and passion. In his later works the urge to delve deeper into chromaticism becomes increasingly obvious and this shows clearly in his horn-writing, where he pushes hard against the instrument’s inherent limitations.

In attempting to escape from the instrument’s constant pull towards E flat major, I have tried to stretch its scant chromatic capabilities as far as practically possible (in particular by using diminished harmonies) while attempting to keep within the spirit of Mozart’s horn-writing and what is known of his cadenza style. I can only apologize to the ghost of Mozart for any musical crimes I may have committed. In my defence (and in that of horn players everywhere), if a cadenza is indicated by Mozart we are obliged to do at least something.

Pip Eastop © 2015


Clip from Rondo of K495 (the cadenza)

This is a little cadenza I composed for the Rondo of Concerto K495.

 

Thanks to Armin Terzer for editing and YouTube-ing this clip for me.

The whole recording is available on:

http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/al….
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/moz…
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mozart-Concer…
http://www.amazon.com/Mozart-Horn-Con…
http://www.amazon.fr/Mozart-Concertos…

From the CD’s booklet notes:
“In attempting to escape from the instrument’s constant pull towards E flat major, I have tried to stretch its scant chromatic capabilities as far as practically possible (in particular by using diminished harmonies) while attempting to keep within the spirit of Mozart’s horn-writing and what is known of his cadenza style. I can only apologize to the ghost of Mozart for any musical crimes I may have committed. In my defence (and in that of horn players everywhere), if a cadenza is indicated by Mozart we are obliged to do at least something.”

For more information visit:
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc….
https://www.facebook.com/PipEastopHyp…
http://eastop.net/category/my-mozart/
https://twitter.com/hyperionrecords
https://www.facebook.com/hyperionrecords


Reviews page

Click to visit Hyperion Records

CD front cover by Nick Flower @hyperionrecords

I’m going to try to keep all the reviews of my Mozart Horn Concertos on Hyperion Records here on this one page (but not “customer reviews on iTunes and Amazon etc):

1. Andrew McGregor on “CD Review”, BBC Radio 3 January 10th 2015:

“A new recording of Mozart’s horn concertos arrived this week and while we’re hardly short of library contenders I think there’s something a little special about this newcomer. It’s from Pip Eastop on the natural horn – the valveless length of tube with a mouthpiece at one end, the player’s hand inserted at the other, between them manipulating the instrument’s natural harmonics to get all the chromatic notes. Eastop calls playing the handhorn, “wrestling with nature”, observing that while the modern valve horn will cruise comfortably through the music the handhorn simply won’t cooperate with at least half the notes Mozart threw at it, and it’s that struggle to find them that results in the colour, drama and changes of timbre that Mozart expected.”

[plays the whole Rondo from K495]

“Eastop tells us that before the horn sprouted valves its character was altogether rougher, wilder, more unpredictable, playful and idiosyncratic – more Robin Hood, he thinks, than James Bond – and he certainly captures that swashbuckling sense of adventure rather than the suave sophistication of the modern instrument.

Exciting performances, the hand-stopping negotiated with fabulous facility.

Peter Hanson leads the orchestra and it’s his period-instrument string quartet, The Eroica Quartet, that joins Eastop for a spirited and colourful performance of Mozart’s Horn Quintet. That’s well worth hearing in its own right so I might try and make sure you get the chance in the next few weeks …but it’s a major bonus after the four concertos – and they’re new from Hyperion.”

2. Review by Geoffrey Norris for Gramophone magazine, January 2015:

“In the Norris household, and doubtless in many others, Mozart’s horn concertos = Dennis Brain with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Herbert von Karajan, a 1953 EMI recording that is still in the catalogue to this very day. This new version, however, is so different that any comparisons would serve no particular purpose. Pip Eastop plays a natural horn akin to the type available to the virtuoso for whom Mozart wrote the four concertos, Joseph Leutgeb. Mozart clearly did not feel in any way hidebound by the horn’s limited range of easily attainable notes. As Eastop says in a booklet-note, ‘to play the hand horn is to wrestle with nature…[it] simply doesn’t want to cooperate with a least half of the notes Mozart threw at it.”

That said, these performances have eloquent fluency. If, as Eastop says, ‘melodies have to be physically wrenched into shape from both ends of the instrument’, the only signs of effort here are in the sudden shifts of colour on those notes that are produced by manipulating the right hand in the instrument’s bell – a process that was obviated when the horn acquired valves in the 19th century. Those who prefer more consistency of timbre might not be won over, though you would have to go a long way to hear such a refined legato line as Eastop achieves. With lucid input from The Hanover Band and from the Eroica Quartet in the Quintet, these performances have a musical integrity over and above historical interest.”

3. Review by Mark Pullinger – for International Record Review – January 2015:

(Placed in the magazine’s “Outstanding” category)

“Modestly, the booklet biography of Anthony Halstead for this release makes reference only to his conducting or directing from the harpsichord. There’s not a word about his pioneering work as an outstanding horn soloist with any number of period instrument ensembles from the 1980s – a time of rapid expansion in the range of repertoire being explored by the original instrument brigade and in developing techniques for playing them. Halstead recorded the four Mozart concertos twice; with the Hanover Band in 1987 and the Academy of Ancient Music in 1993. Even across that six-year span, it is possible to detect a more secure technique in the playing on the later AAM recording. Now, he passes on the baton (or horn) to Pip Eastop for this terrific new disc, Halstead assuming the role of conductor and assistant recording producer.

The greatest challenges playing these concertos on the natural horn is in ‘filling in the gaps’ between the natural notes by hand-stopping, i.e. placing the right hand in the ball to varying degrees to reduce the pitch. Where Halstead smoothed the contours of the many stopped notes in these works, Eastop appears to relish the jagged edges. This results in performances that are highly individual, delighting in the instrument’s ebullience. In the booklet, he likens the character of the natural horn against its modern valved orchestral cousin as “rougher, wilder, more unpredictable, playful and idiosyncratic – perhaps more Robin Hood than James Bond”! The cheeky roguishness of Eastop’s playing is certainly more Errol Flynn than 007, but some listeners may be shaken rather than stirred by these performances.

The whoops, snarls and gurgles of the hand-stopped notes induced reactions from this listener ranging from snorts of laughter to fist pumps. Eastop has a wicked way with cadenzas, pushing the horn to its extreme limits, colouring the notes dramatically, sometimes veiling them mysteriously. They won’t be to everyone’s taste, so I’d counsel sampling before purchase, but I thoroughly enjoyed Eastop’s exuberance.

All of Mozart’s horn concertos were composed for Joseph Ignaz Leutgeb (or Leitgeb) who was a family friend of Mozart’s father, Leopold. The excellent booklet notes by Richard Payne scotch the tale that Leutgeb ran his father-in-law’s meat and cheese shop in Vienna. Apparently, the shop was sold on in 1764, so the anecdotes about cheesemonger Leutgeb are riper than oozing Camembert. What’s not is doubt is that Leutgeb was frequently the butt of Mozart’s jests, with the score to Concerto No.4 (K495) littered with outrageous jokes at his soloists expense in different coloured inks. The dedication for the first concerto, from 1783, describes Leutgeb as “ass, ox and fool”.

Despite the composer’s good-natured jibes, Leutgeb must have been a very fine player. He had been a soloist at the Burgtheater and there’s every chance that Haydn’s D major Concerto was written for him.

The concertos are presented by Hyperion in chronological rather than numerical order. The first three are all in the key of E flat major, but the concerto usually numbered 1 (K412) was actually the last to be written and this was in the key of D major. This key lay lower and was less taxing for Leutgeb, who was then in his fifties. The second movement Rondo Allegro is reconstructed for this recording by Stephen Roberts. Eastop suggested reinstating Mozart’s original intentions, before he succumbed to Leutgeb’s requests for alterations to the solo part, reflecting his waning powers.

Eastop sails through the challenges with aplomb. His playing possesses plenty of agility and he can phrase slow movements gracefully. Halstead’s tone on his two recordings may have been broader and fuller in tone, but Eastop’s horn sound is more pungent and characterful. He is matched by a very stylish Hanover Band, afforded a far less reverberant acoustic than many Nimbus recordings had to suffer back in the 1980s. The string playing is lean, with clean articulation and punch to the accents. I wonder what Halstead thinks of the harpsichord-heavy Hanover Band from his 1987 recording… for the harpsichord is banished from this new disc.

After the concertos comes a lovely reading of the Horn Quintet K407, the earliest work Mozart composed for Leutgeb. In this, the composer employs two violas instead of two violins, giving a slightly darker string palette, admirably conveyed here by the Eroica Quartet. After the raucous, rambunctious concertos, the quintet offers an amiable postlude, performed with much charm. This is a clear winner of a disc, destined to bring many a smile through the winter gloom.”

4. Classical Source review by Colin Anderson – January 2015:

“This is an inspiring and illuminating way to start 2015, seized upon with sterling musicianship and technical brilliance by Pip Eastop. This Hyperion issue presents all the music that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote for the horn-player Joseph Leutgeb, at the time Vienna’s finest, the scores peppered with various written insults from the composer!

Eastop has the gift of numerous timbres and effects, a wide range of dynamics, shares the fun of wacky cadenzas, is unfazed by high notes, can be audacious and – put simply – is a master of the natural horn, everything heard having to be made without the aid of added-later valves and sophisticated plumbing. This is flawless, poised and always musical playing. Each Concerto is genially attractive – especially the lovely slow movements and the ‘hunting’ finales – and indeed has attracted a legion of soloists and many recordings; one has only to think of such yesteryear legends as Dennis Brain, Alan Civil and Barry Tuckwell, a different sort of horn-history to the one now being purveyed by Pip Eastop.

What comes across vividly here is not only excellent, lively and melodious renditions but a real sense of (sometimes cheeky) enjoyment from all the performers, a feeling of being ‘authentic’ without pedantry and also of significant achievement, not least on Eastop’s part. The Concertos are placed in the order of 2, 4, 3 (my overall favourite) and 1, which is in fact chronologically correct, covering from 1783 to 1791. The last of these works is a two-movement job – the others all have three – with the finale “reconstructed by Stephen Roberts”, Eastop reverting to Mozart’s solo line and its greater challenges (Roberts took on board Leutgeb’s request to Süssmayr, who completed the orchestration and even departed from Mozart’s design, for a simpler revision). You sometimes think that Eastop has a ‘bumper’ to help him out, for his dexterity and assortment is amazing.

If the finale of Concerto No.4 is the most familiar single movement here – brought off with exhilarating dash and a twinkle in the eye – then that is due in part to the music having transcended its origins by being immortalised in another setting, as a comic song by Michael Flanders & Donald Swann with the punning title of Ill Wind. The following words, written by Flanders, perfectly fit Mozart’s note-values. (Do sing along, but it’s a bit of a tongue-twister at Eastop’s swift tempo!)

I once had a whim and I had to obey it
To buy a French horn in a second-hand shop
I polished it up and I started to play it
In spite of the neighbours who begged me to stop”

I doubt anyone will want Eastop to cease his range of qualities, or his shapely phrasing, and he could not be better supported than by The Hanover Band and Anthony Halstead (himself a horn virtuoso). Similarly the Eroica Quartet, of necessity with Mozart’s two violists for a creamy-rich texture, have all the mellifluousness required for the Horn Quintet (1782), music that soothes, Eastop integrating effortlessly into the chamber dimension, his virtuosity no less pristine if smoother sounding. The finale is based on one of those maddening tunes that refuses to leave the memory!

All in all, this is a very distinguished and totally recommendable release that enjoys excellent recording quality and presentation, including a three-page “performance note” by Pip Eastop himself.”

5. ClassicFM radio station website – January 2015

“An extraordinary performance on the natural horn … Pip Eastop gives these pieces an extraordinary immediacy and authenticity. His superb technical ability and inventiveness are put to brilliant use in these very enjoyable renditions. He is ably accompanied by The Hanover Band conducted by Tony Halstead.”

6. MusicWeb International – by Brian Wilson – Jan 2015

Anthony Halstead has made two stylish recordings of the Mozart Horn Concertos as soloist, with the Academy of Ancient Music and Christopher Hogwood (Decca Rosette Collection 4767088, mid-price) and with the Hanover Band and Roy Goodman (Nimbus NI5104). Now he steps back from the solo spot to direct these performances. The Nimbus recording offers the fragment K494a but the new Hyperion includes a more substantial bonus in the form of the Horn Quintet, K407.

There are already enough recordings of these concertos to sink the proverbial ship — over fifty at the current count — but even if you have the classic Dennis Brain recordings with Herbert von Karajan (Warner/EMI Masters 6783282, mid-price, with Quintet for Piano and Wind), as surely almost all Mozarteans do, there’s a place for an alternative set on the natural horn and with the advantage of modern recording.

Mozart deliberately made these concertos difficult to play on the natural horn and even included rude remarks in the score about how hard it would be for their dedicatee, Ignaz Leutgeb or Leitgeb, to negotiate them. Despite the references to him as an ‘ass, ox and simpleton’ Leutgeb seems to have been a first-class performer. If, as has been suggested, the joke direction to the soloist at one point to play adagio against the orchestra’s allegro refers to his tendency to enter slightly behind the accompaniment it didn’t prevent him from being in great demand. Nor was he ever, as popular legend has it, a cheese-monger.

Whatever the truth of that suggestion, Pip Eastop never drags any of his entries, though some of the tempi which he and Anthony Halstead adopt are a little more measured than you may be used to. If you have in the back of your mind Flanders and Swann’s rendition of the French Horn song, the finale of K495 (track 6) you’ll find the pace noticeably a little less hectic than theirs, supposedly modelled on the Brain/Karajan recording.

What you will find, however, is that Eastop and Halstead make it sound just as much fun, not least in the cadenza, and that’s true of the whole recording. Though this is, as far as I’m aware, Eastop’s first recording, it’s hardly surprising that Hyperion have made this their top release for January 2015, even ahead of the fourth volume of The Cardinall’s Musick’s recordings of Tallis, excellent as that is.

The blurb describes the programme of this CD as containing all the music that Mozart wrote with Leutgeb in mind. In the case of the Horn Quintet, K407, that’s probable rather than certain according to Grove but I’m pleased that it was included. The most recent alternative recording featuring the natural horn and period instruments received a warm welcome from Colin Clarke — review: Simon Thompson was slightly less enthusiastic — review — but most will think K407 preferable to the various fragments included on that live Signum recording from Roger Montgomery and the OAE directed by Margaret Faultless. If the Signum takes your fancy, however, that’s also available for downloading in mp3, 16- or 24-bit lossless sound from Hyperion.

Süssmayr’s completion of K412 is rejected on the reasonable grounds that he did not have access to the autograph score. A new and credible completion by Anthony Halstead takes its place. The process is explained in the booklet which is, as usual with Hyperion, a model of its kind, including the refutation of the usual myth that Leutgeb was a cheese-monger. That’s another musical anecdote refuted along with the story about the rats putting the organ out of action and necessitating the guitar accompaniment for Stille Nacht.

I listened to this recording as a 24-bit download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk, in which form it sounds very well indeed. I also sampled the mp3 and that, too, is very good of its kind, so the 16-bit CD which falls between the two should also sound very well.

Dennis Brain’s recording will always form part of my Mozart listening schedule and I shan’t throw out the super-budget-price Warner Apex with David Pyatt, the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Neville Marriner, which I thought the equal of anything available (2564681619 — review) but I very much enjoyed this new recording, too. Any good performance of great music brings out aspects that one hadn’t heard before; this recording made me hear more new aspects of the concertos and especially of the quintet than any other. It’s emphatically not just for the period-instrument brigade.

7. Online review by John J. Puccio at Classical Candor – January 2015

Who can resist the verve of Mozart’s four horn concertos? And how many old English teachers can overlook the name Pip? Thus, it was with great expectations that I approached this Mozart recording with Pip Eastop on natural horn and Anthony Halstead leading the period-instrument Hanover Band.

A little background: Pip Eastop studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1974 to 1976, subsequently becoming Principal Horn with the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, the Wallace Collection, and the Gabrieli Consort; since 2005 he has been the Principal Horn with the London Chamber Orchestra. In addition, he has served as a professor of horn at the Royal Academy of Music since 1993 and at the Royal College of Music since 1995. He is no stranger to the instrument.

Anthony Halstead was first horn with the English Chamber Orchestra from 1972 to 1986 as well as with other noted orchestras such as the London Symphony and served as a professor at the Guildhall School of Music. During the 1980s and 90s, Halstead was a member of the horn section and a horn soloist with several period-instrument groups, including the English Concert, notably recording the Mozart horn concertos for Nimbus Records with Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band. For the past two decades or so he has lead the English Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Hanover Band, and other esteemed ensembles. He is no stranger to period and modern orchestras.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) composed his four horn concertos between 1783 and 1791, never finishing the final one (numbered first), the second movement reconstructed here by Stephen Roberts. Mozart wrote the concertos for his lifelong friend, the horn player Joseph Leutgeb, as virtuoso showpieces for soloists to display their skills on the valveless horns of the day.

On the present recording we find Mr. Eastop playing a valveless natural horn, accompanied by The Hanover Band playing on period instruments. Heretofore, my favorite such period recordings have been with Lowell Greer, horn, Nicholas McGegan, and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi; and with Ab Koster, horn, Bruno Weil, and Tafelmusik on Sony or Newton Classics. In my book, Eastop and company now join this select group.

The Hyperion producers have organized the concertos on this disc according to their order of composition, starting with No. 2, which Mozart wrote first (1783). This opening concerto well exemplifies the work of the soloist and orchestra. The performers follow modestly vigorous tempos throughout, with little undue rushing about. The phrasing is likewise excellent, almost always at the service of the music. Maestro Halstead and Mr. Eastop partially reconstructed the opening Allegro, which sounds to me a little too weighty in tone but I suppose works to the advantage of the score in any case.

Next we hear Concerto No. 4 from 1786, always a delightful piece, which Eastop and company carry off successfully, especially in the flow of the Romance. The closing Allegro is lively, but some listeners might find it a tad too quick for their liking. To me, it sounded just right and invigorated the proceedings.

And so it goes through Nos. 3 and the unfinished No. 1, with playing of utmost refinement and spontaneity from Eastop and the Hanover Band. The opening of No. 1 appears particularly smooth and lyrical.

The program ends with Mozart’s Horn Quintet in E flat major, K407, from 1782, Mr. Eastop accompanied by the estimable Eroica Quartet. It was the first work the composer wrote for his friend Leutgeb. In the arrangement, Mozart used two violas, which lends the piece a deeper, more mellow sound to complement the horn. Interestingly, the music seems to put more of a virtuosic demand on the horn player than the concertos, and Eastop comes through splendidly, every note the epitome of grace, color, and beauty.

8. Online review by Graham Rickson at TheArtsDesk – January 17th, 2015

Strange that the biographical notes in Hyperion’s booklet don’t mention polymath conductor Anthony Halstead’s reputation as a natural horn specialist. He’s recorded the Mozart concertos twice, and his Nimbus disc of Weber’s impossible Concertino is one of the greatest horn discs ever made. So this Hyperion release has good credentials; Pip Eastop’s versatility is a given and the period-instrument Hanover Band have been performing since 1980. As with recent recordings by Roger Montgomery and Anneke Scott, Eastop’s playing has the effect of making the modern horn sound a little, er, boring. He doesn’t attempt to smooth over the differences between open and stopped notes, effortlessly switching between legato lines and rollicking hunting calls. It’s an instantly appealing, very vocal sound. Eastop describes his instrument as “rougher, wilder, more playful and idiosyncratic – more Robin Hood than James Bond.” Play Mozart on a valve horn and you miss the colour, the drama. Everyone needs a copy of Dennis Brain’s silken mono recording, but these pieces do take on a different character heard on a length of unadorned brass tubing.

This is a feel-good disc in every way; Eastop’s cheeky virtuosity eliciting gasps as well as giggles. The cadenzas are a case in point. They’re always intensely musical and Mozartian, though it’s hard to imagine Mozart’s favoured hornist Ignaz Leutgeb being quite so flamboyant, or hitting stratospheric high notes with such ease. The concertos are ordered in their probable date of composition – the more difficult nos 2 and 4 actually the first to be written. Anoraks will note that the prosaic ending of K417’s first movement, never completed by Mozart himself, has been tweaked by Halstead to allow space for a cadenza. No. 4’s ubiquitous finale is fun, and No. 3 emerges as the subtlest, most mature work. Leutgeb’s technique was waning by the time that Mozart completed the D major concerto, and the manuscript of the “Rondo” is peppered with insults directed at him. He must have been made of stoic stuff; lesser mortals would storm off in a huff if they were to read comments like “at least get one note in tune, Dickhead!”. Leutgeb’s abilities must have been phenomenal if he could perform the sublime Horn Quintet. Eastop sails through its difficulties, resisting the temptation to rush through the witty finale. It sounds all the better for it. Intelligent notes, sensitive accompaniments and excellent sound – what’s not to like?

9. Online review by May Keene for The Epoch Times – January 2015:

A marvellous venture of technical virtuosity from Pip Eastop, the newest shining star in brass, and a brave choice considering the wide array of recordings on offer. An elegant performance through use of the natural horn enhances each of the pieces astonishingly. Fascinatingly, Eastop’s experience in jazz adds a new dimension, accenting the microtones, muting and ‘lipping’ used with this instrument and creating a very modern sounding performance. Beautiful, lush and mellow backing from the renowned Hanover Band works seamlessly to make this recording a triumph. In the long term we may even see this as the recording that toppled Dennis Brain’s.  5 stars out of 5

10. Norman Lebrecht at Sinfini Music – “Album of the Week”

Word has been trickling in from record stores of a secret bestseller that has taken off among the regulars – the customers who have absolutely everything on record and need special persuasion to part with another £ or $. The release that is swallowing their spare cash is a production of Mozart’s four horn concertos played on original instruments. The soloist plays a so-called natural horn, a big round bit of tin that is about as organic as cow dung on a turnip. Whether it’s musical is another matter.

Past attempts to perform Mozart on natural horn have kept digital editors on their toes, weeding out toilet noises. No one ever expected it to match the recorded glories of a Dennis Brain or a Barry Tuckwell on full brass blare.

The miracle here is how close Pip Eastop comes to making you forget he’s on a no-valve horn. There is scarcely a quavery note in the four concertos, accompanied in lively tempo by the Hanover Band and Anthony Halstead, himself a virtuoso on the natural horn. And the quintet, performed with members of the Eroica Quartet, is even more convincing – playing of uncompromising perfection and a fair degree of fantasy. You could easily listen to this quintet without knowing it’s organic.

So why just four stars? Because the natural horn is taken to its absolute limits in this music, with nothing in reserve. A modern horn has more power than it needs for Mozart, and that power takes us beyond the score, suggesting what Mozart might have done had he lived a little longer. Mozart on a natural horn is like a dog walking backwards – amazing that it can be done at all, let alone with such grace and ease.  But it still looks better the other way.

11. Financial Times – Richard Fairman – January 23, 2015

If you thought period performances were getting more conventional, think again.

Pip Eastop plays Mozart’s four horn concertos on a modern copy of an 1830 natural horn with an astonishing variety of noises at his command — bleats, whoops, roars and croaks, sometimes all in a single phrase, like a farmyard chorus.

Cadenzas, especially, are wild and wacky.

The Hanover Band conducted by Anthony Halstead make comparatively well-behaved colleagues and the Eroica Quartet join Eastop for a performance of Mozart’s Horn Quintet to complete an entertaining programme.

12. From BBC Music Magazine, March 2015 – by Bryan Northcott:

Even those who know these concertos quite well will find much to surprise here. For a start, they are programmed not in Köchel’s misleading numbering, but in the order Mozart composed them, with No 2 earliest of all, No 4 preceding No 3 and No 1 dating form Mozarts’ last year. Moreover, Mozart’s manuscript of the opening movement of Concerto No 2 is missing its later pages. Here Anthony Halstead and the young composer Zachary Eastop have replaced the perfunctory editorial ending in the old published versions with their own more convincing reworking of Mozart’s materials. Again, in the finale of Concerto No 1, where Mozart wrote out the horn part but failed to finish the scoring, this new recording replaces Süssmary’s posthumous patch-up with a restoration of Mozart’s original intentions based on a reconstruction by Stephen Roberts.

Not least, where most players of the natural horn seek to minimise the difference in tone of those pitches that can only be got out of the instrument by hand-stopping and tricks of breathing, Pip Eastop positively flaunts them, suggesting how Mozart may have actually relied upon the effect of a muffled note here or a chromatic snarl there to help shape and colour his phrasing. These effects are additionally exploited in the inventive cadenzas Eastop has devised (no Mozart cadenzas for these works survive), and help to characterise the Horn Quintet K407, which can sometimes sound bland, as a volatile and passionate discourse. Crisp playing by the Hanover Band under Halstead, recorded in a dryish but immediate ambiance.

13. ALLMUSIC.com – review by James Manheim – February 2015

The case for performing Mozart’s horn music authentically on its original natural (valveless) horn is a bit tougher than for music in other genres; it’s hard to imagine that Mozart or his audiences wouldn’t have preferred the smooth scale of the modern horn to the reedy, clarinet-like tone that emerges on chromatic notes even on a fine recording like this one. Yet the four concertos, two of them incomplete or incompletely transmitted, and the Horn Quintet in E flat major, K. 407, have been recorded often enough on natural horns. The orchestra on this recording, the Hanover Band, has even been heard once before in the cycle, curiously with the conductor here, Anthony Halstead, playing the horn. This version is preferable; the earlier one had an odd continuo-like realization of the bass line, with harpsichord. But the real attraction here is the limpid playing of the soloist, Pip Eastop. He makes listeners believe that Mozart took increasing note of the strengths and weakness of the natural instrument as his body of horn music grew, and his cantabile in the fine slow movements is unexcelled. The balance, and better still, the sense of dialogue with the other instruments in the Horn Quintet, underplayed probably because this is so often not true, is spot-on. In general Eastop’s modest dynamic levels are in sync with the small Hanover Band, and the result is a performance that’s beautifully controlled yet does not lose sight of Mozartian lyricism. A strong pick for those interested in hearing Mozart’s horn music played in this way.

14. New Zealand Herald – February 28th, 2015 – William Dart

[Sandrine Piau] points out she likes the realm of pretence in opera, together with its confusion of genres and genders. Two new Mozart recordings have me recalling the words of Samuel Johnson, quipping that anyone tired of London must be tired of life itself. As with the British capital, so it must be for the Austrian composer, especially with such persuasively delightful CDs as these.
Two new Mozart recordings have me recalling the words of Samuel Johnson, quipping that anyone tired of London must be tired of life itself. As with the British capital, so it must be for the Austrian composer, especially with such persuasively delightful CDs as these.A new Hyperion release has Pip Eastop playing Mozart’s Horn Concertos on a natural instrument — a modern version of a period hunting horn.
Behind him, the stylish Hanover Band is conducted by Anthony Halstead, himself a noted horn player. And, as well as the four concertos, we have a Quintet K 407 which, although hardly top-drawer Mozart, is elegantly delivered by Eastop and the Eroica Quartet.
There are no quality complaints on the concerto front, with their rollicking Finales, offering all the fun of the chase without the blemish of animal cruelty. Then there are those unabashedly tuneful slow movements — Joseph Leutgeb, for whom they were written, was celebrated for his warm, rich tone.
Eastop combines the incisive and the lyrical in perfect proportion; his archaic instrument sometimes gives the impression of Rousseau’s wild child caught in an 18th century drawing room.
Here and there, a note seems to come from somewhere just beyond the microphone, due to the technical limitations of the instrument, and free-ranging cadenzas can sound startlingly of our times.
Many associate Sandrine Piau with Baroque music, even if the French soprano has recorded Offenbach and Richard Strauss, with a fruity Climb ev’ry mountain on the side.
In Desperate Heroines she gives us nine of Mozart’s women, from a concerned Barbarina in Figaro to a distraught Giunia from Lucio Silla
She points out, in a fascinating booklet essay, that she likes the realm of pretence in opera, together with its confusion of genres and genders. Not surprisingly, she is particularly affecting as the shepherd Aminta in an aria from Il Re Pastore, with the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg at its very best under Ivor Bolton.
As for Piau’s Donna Anna turn, a heart-stopping, exquisitely sung Non mi dir makes one realise how short-changed we were in NZ Opera’s 2014 production of Don Giovanni.
Two superb recordings guarantee the pleasures only Mozart can deliver.

15. Rick Anderson on CD Hotlist, February 2015

On the other hand, it does have to be acknowledged that 18th-century instruments had certain limitations. Most notoriously, the valveless (or “natural”) horn is an unbelievably difficult instrument to play in tune, let alone with an attractive tone, and even the most accomplished players are sometimes bested by its constraints. Pip Eastop is a brilliant natural horn player, and he acquits himself beautifully on this program of four concertos and one chamber work; despite his exceptional skill, however, there will still be some listeners who come away from this album preferring the richer and more burnished sound of the modern horn. There’s no need to choose between them, though — any classical collection would be well served by examples of both, and this is the finest period-instrument performance of these works I’ve heard yet.

16.  I.G.C. in Clasicismo: “Discos Recomendados”

Translation from Spanish:
It’s no surprise that in little over a month since its release, this new addition to the Mozart catalogue of Hyperion, that stylish and essential British label, has become one of the most sought after albums amongst its fans. Several interesting strands all come together in this work. On the one hand it signals a return to the scene of Anthony Halstead, a conductor with a long career in gramophone recordings and a key figure for anyone with an understanding that there is rather more to classical music than photogenic talent conjured up in the dressing room. Englishman Halstead is a perfect match for the Hanover Band, an orchestra that has never aroused huge interest but has had a solid career within the field of informed historical interpretation. This is a light and sometimes rustic Mozart, even frenetic at times, but it never ventures into the excesses that other baroque ensembles bring to this repertoire. Lastly, there is the soloist Pip Eastop who tackles this extremely demanding music in a recording that will remain unrivalled for some time to come. Eastop masters the limitations of his instrument with the result that the dynamics are fluent and the execution inventive, going far beyond simple competence in this repertoire. The attention to detail and impressive audio quality result in a recording that is a must for all music lovers.

17. French reviewer Jean-Luc Macia

Translation from French:
The generous recording time means that the five scores that Mozart wrote for Leutgeb, his friend and the butt of his jokes, can be brought together here. Happily, the order in which Halstead has recorded the concertos remains faithful to the their actual chronological order (No 1 is in fact the fourth). Also to be enjoyed are the tones of the natural horn; without the aid of valves, the player is called on to perform some perilous accentuations but produces contrasting colours, ranging from high and flute-like to deep and sonorous.
Some small changes have been made to the scores. The end of the initial movement of  KV 417 has been reworked by Halstead and Zachary Eastop to add the missing cadenza and intensify the embellishments of the horn-player’s last passage. Pip Eastop has himself reworked the Rondo concluding KV 412 left unfinished by Mozart. It would take more than this to perturb the music-lover, captivated by the playing and timbre of the soloist. With the natural horn there is some loss in terms of comfort, flexibility of articulation and dynamic projection, but Eastop  handles this admirably: he compensates for the relative stiffness of certain phrasing by the brio of the grand gesture and a lovely ease of the stopped sounds (with the player’s hand in the bell). In this respect, it stands comparison with the legendary Hermann Baumann, but he was accompanied by a Harnoncourt at the top of his game. Halstead remains more restrained, with some smoothed out tempos and a monochrome orchestra.
The well-constructed Quintet KV407 with the first violinists of the Hanover Band demonstrates the ability of the British horn player to draw the very best from his instrument.

18. American Record Guide:

Hanover Band sounds terrific; the sonics are vivid and detailed, yet resonant. And Pip Eastop, principal horn of the London Chamber Orchestra, is a remarkable player with great skill an amazing high register, and a penchant for pushing the boundaries in cadenzas.

19. The WholeNote (Toronto, Canada) by reviewer Alison Melville

What a fabulous CD this is! In the decade before his death Mozart wrote five pieces for his close friend, the celebrated Viennese horn player Joseph Leutgeb. This disc presents the gorgeous Quintet,  with its chocolatey two-viola richness, and the four horn concertos, in their chronological order to reflect how Mozart’s writing for the instrument shifter to mirror his colleague’s playing. The expert and beautifully balanced Hanover Band and Eroica Quartet both play with a rich diversity of colour and expressive device, but the brightest start of this show is Pip Eastop. Leutgeb was described as being able to “sing an adagio as perfectly as the most mellow, interesting and accurate voice,” and Eastop’s playing can be extolled just as highly. He plays brilliantly, whether in the exquisite slow movements or in the allegros where the instrument’s rambunctious cor de chasse origins – “more Robin Hood than James Bond” – are never very far away; and his extraordinary cadenzas exploit the full range of the natural horn’s personality and technical capabilities without ever disappearing beyond the classical horizon.
These are joyful, engaged and engaging performances, as varied in mood and vocabulary as the music itself, and alchemically removing the distance between Mozart’s time and our own. The excellent booklet notes by Robert Payne, Stephen Roberts and Eastop are an added bonus. Even if you’ve already got a recording or two of Mozart’s horn music, you must listen to this one.

Does anyone know why British horn players have cornered the market in recordings of the Mozart concertos? I know of seven who have recorded the four concertos—Dennis Brain, Timothy Brown, Jeffrey Bryant, Alan Civil, Frank Lloyd, David Pyatt, and Barry Tuckwell, and that’s not counting those who have done the same using the so-called “natural” (valveless) horn—Anthony Halstead (twice), Roger Montgomery, and now Pip Eastop. There may well be a few more I have overlooked.

20. Fanfare Magazine (United States) by reviewer Robert Markow

Does anyone know why British horn players have cornered the market in recordings of the Mozart concertos? I know of seven who have recorded the four concertos—Dennis Brain, Timothy Brown, Jeffrey Bryant, Alan Civil, Frank Lloyd, David Pyatt, and Barry Tuckwell, and that’s not counting those who have done the same using the so-called “natural” (valveless) horn—Anthony Halstead (twice), Roger Montgomery, and now Pip Eastop. There may well be a few more I have overlooked.

The natural horn was a unique creature. Its pure, open tones were limited to those of the over-tone series of the key in which it was pitched by the use of crooks (additional lengths of tubing), but unlike the trumpet (also valveless until the mid-19th century), the player could “stop” the open notes by partially or completely choking the air stream with his right hand, which rested in the bell of the instrument, thus making available a much greater number of notes. The price paid for this manipulation was a highly uneven tone quality, ranging from pure, beautiful open tones to buzzy, almost unmusical sounds, and a gray area in between. In the context of the time, one gasps in astonishment at the agility of the virtuoso for whom Mozart wrote these concertos (Joseph Leutgeb), but to modern ears, the effect is something of a freak show. The invention of valves in the early 19th century effectively ended the need to “stop” notes.

That said, Pip Eastop’s performances are probably the best to date played on the natural horn. Anthony Halstead’s two accounts are the runners up. Here Halstead takes up the baton to lead his colleague in these performances. Eastop knocks off the concertos with all the flair, self-confidence, and sensitivity one expects from a soloist. But what sets Eastop in a class by himself is the sheer musicality of his playing. In this he surpasses most of the competition on the valve horn as well. There are moments of rhythmic insecurity, and there is no denying that some passages sound labored, but that is the nature of the natural horn, no matter how accomplished the player. Eastop is certain to seduce the listener with his gorgeous tone (at least on the open notes), and some of those cadenzas he dreamed up will knock your socks off. (One covers an amazing four octaves plus!)

Eastop’s vivid playing is complemented by the tasteful, stylish contribution from The Hanover Band and from the Eroica Quartet, which joins Eastop for Mozart’s Horn Quintet. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only CD to include this essential work of the horn repertory with the four concertos.


Number 1 in the chart!

No. 1 in the chart!!

Anthony Halstead, a living legend.

How amazingly fortunate was I to have Anthony Halstead as conductor and producer of these recordings? Can you imagine? For me, working in collaboration with him on this whole project has been the greatest privilege of my life. Tony is a living legend and he is my friend and he is my teacher.

As horn player, harpsichordist and conductor Anthony Halstead has been an international leading figure throughout the modern “historically informed performance” (HIP) movement. He has made over over 50 recordings directing from the keyboard or conducting. These include Beethoven and Dvorak Violin Concertos, symphonies of JM Kraus, concertos by JH Roman, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, concertos by Vivaldi, the complete orchestral works of Johann Christian Bach, JH Roman’s ‘Drottningholm Music’ and Boccherini’s Cello Concertos.
In the UK he has conducted the English Chamber Orchestra, The Academy of Ancient Music, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, English Haydn Festival Orchestra, Highland Chamber Orchestra and East Anglia Chamber Orchestra.
Outside his work in the UK he makes regular return visits to conduct or direct in Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand as well as making guest appearances worldwide for concerts or recordings.

Anthony Halstead made his first solo horn CD in 1986, recording Weber’s Concertino on the natural horn, with The Hanover Band, for the Nimbus Record Company. If you haven’t heard this legendary recording, you MUST seek it out! From a purely technical point of view it is off-the-scale of what is generally considered to be humanly possible …but it’s also beautiful, lyrical, musical playing of the highest order. To cap it all, the whole thing was done in just two complete takes of the whole work!

His other solo recordings include the Concertos by Joseph and Michael Haydn, and two separate sets, six years apart, of all the Mozart Concertos; one with The Hanover Band and one with The Academy of Ancient Music. On the modern horn he has recorded the Britten Serenade with the American tenor, Jerry Hadley.
He has been principal horn with the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, The Academy of Ancient Music, The English Concert, The Hanover Band and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

During the couple of years preceding the recording sessions I organised a lot of study time with Tony. We worked together in depth on such things as intonation and temperament, tempi, articulation, handstopping techniques, concepts of phrasing, cadenza style, and much more. One day I asked him why the end of the first movement of K417 seemed so disappointing, musically speaking. He told me it was simply because Mozart had never finished the movement himself and that if he had there would undoubtedly be much more of a satisfyingly virtuosic flourish and space for a cadenza. It took Tony just a few minutes to sketch out an improved, much more Mozart-like, version (entirely replacing the final section of in Barenreiter edition we were using) and we were so pleased with it that we decided to keep it in for the recording.

Any hand-horn player attempting to perform or record Mozart’s solo horn works needs one essential but sometimes fragile and elusive ingredient: CONFIDENCE. Without it one has no chance at all. I was aware at all times that Tony was taking great care to support and encourage me. For this, and for lending his musical genius and experience to the whole recording project and for his constant kindness and generosity of spirit, I owe him a profound debt of gratitude.


Sound clip from third movement of Mozart’s Quintet

 

 

 


Listen to a bit?

 

 

 


Hyperion Records CD cover picture.

CD front cover.

A lovely bit of artwork from Nick Flower, Head of Production at Hyperion Records Ltd.
Hyperion Records Ltd

 

 

 

 

 


Article in Classical Music Magazine:

Here’s something I wrote about playing the horn for the September 2008 issue of Classical Music Magazine:

(You can simply read the text here, below, or click here to download the .pdf file of the article as it appeared in the magazine.)

“Playing the horn (of the type often called the French Horn, for no
sensible reason) is stupendously and staggeringly difficult. You’ve
probably heard this claim before and I’m telling you that it’s TRUE.
I’ve been struggling with it, full on, for more than 40 years and I’ve
still got a long way to go. I’ve got some aspects of it under control,
I suppose, but I can tell you that my chosen companion for life is an
obstinate, unreliable and unpredictable coiled monster.

I comfort myself by the thought that I’m not alone in the endless
endeavor of learning to play the horn. In London alone there are 465
professional hornplayers and another 2856 non-professional ones.
Hundreds of thousands more live in other parts of the world, and our
vast numbers also stretch back through time. New horn players learn
from old ones, who learned from other even older ones who learned from
our horncestors long dead. The chain of tradition certainly goes back
hundreds of years but I prefer to think it goes back much further even
that that – for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, all the way to
the first humanoids who entertained their cavemates with stunningly
beautiful tones from conch shells, or perhaps stunned their enemies by
blowing primitive riffs on the amputated horns of large mammals. Yes,
I do believe that hornplaying is as old as humanity – perhaps not as
old as singing, but certainly much older than reading, or tap-dancing.

I believe those proto-hornists soon (geologically speaking) found that
a range of just one note doesn’t really create much of an impression
in a lengthy recital and so they would have been looking for ways to
find more. Actually, this would have been an obvious discovery and is
rather easy to do once you get the hang of it. With both the conch and
the mammalhorn you can simply cup your hand over the big end, covering
the emerging sound to varying degrees. The conch even advertises this
with a huge pink mouthy-looking orifice which simply begs of its
player, “come on – slide your hand in here!”. Doing this with my own
conch gives me not only the semitone below its one and only note, but
another below that, and if I push most of my hand in, curling my
fingers around its internal spiraled cavity, I can go seven steps down
a chromatic scale. Quarter tones? – no problem. Advanced stuff, you
may think. Not at all – it’s totally prehistoric. I can’t prove any of
this, of course, but I’d be willing to slip into a loin cloth and play
a few choruses of “Flight of the Bumble Tyrannosaurus” to show it’s at
least a plausible hypothesis.

After some thousands of years humans moved on from organic horns –
those left by mother nature on the beach or next to the barbecue – and
thanks to the invention of metal tubing it was but a short few
technological steps to the type of horns that Bach and Mozart knew and
for which wrote tortuously difficult music. With tubes bent and
hammered into all kinds of baroque and classical horns, trumpets and
trombones, it was inevitable that sooner or later a clever instrument
designer would invent The Valve. While this was a tremendous leap
forward for central heating technology it was a terrible blow to
hornplayers. We must have thought it would make life easier for us,
but how wrong we were!

The range of a horn’s notes before valves was quite gappy, in fact
there were only about sixteen and they weren’t evenly spaced. Most of
them were quite high notes of the sort which are hard to reach, hurt
your mouth and ultimately give you hemorrhoids. About five were in
the middle register and only about three were low notes that sounded
any good.

So, with the appearance of valves, suddenly we had instruments which
could play every note across a range of more than three octaves. What
did composers do then? They persecuted hornplayers by writing
valve-horn parts just slightly more difficult than would ever be
humanly possible to play. We’ve been suffering this ever since. I
believe it explains why almost no major breakthroughs in horn design
have been made since valve horns became established. Composers are to
hornplayers what aerospace designers are to test-pilots – sadists, who
would simply crank up the difficulty to yet higher, faster and more
complex pinnacles of impossibility. Consequently, any promising
inventions to make horns better over the last 170 years may well have
been suppressed by the fabled League of Underground Hornists. How
frustrated composers must be by all the recent improvements in horn
cases and valve oil!

Why is the horn so difficult to play? In contrast to, for example, the
piano where production of its individual notes is taken care of by the
keyboard and hammer mechanism, the horn demands that each note must be
formed using the lips and the breath in a way which does not come
naturally at all. In fact, the instrument itself is of little help to
the player. Anyone who can coax music from a horn can generally get a
similar result from a few meters of garden hosepipe or even a teapot.
The horn, being topologically equivalent to a length of drainpipe,
acts only as specialised resonator. The same is true for all of the
brass family of wind instruments.

Essentially, playing a brass instrument is like singing but using the
lips instead of the vocal chords. Lips aren’t naturally good at this
and it takes many years of painstaking practice to train them. The
lips of a hornplayer are framed by the ring of the mouthpiece in a
crude approximation of the way a singer’s vocal chords are framed by
the larynx. Pushing air between the lips, or vocal chords, is what
gets the air vibrating. Once the air inside the instrument is
vibrating it spreads to the air outside and anyone nearby will
perceive this as sound.

Whereas a singer’s mouth will resonate and thus amplify any frequency
at which the vocal cords vibrate, a horn will only do this for the
lips at a few precise frequencies, which are known as harmonics. It is
only possible to make the horn ring out beautifully if the pitch at
which the lips choose to “sing” exactly matches that of one of the
harmonics the horn allows. If there is even the slightest mismatch you
get farm noises. If you get it right, it’s simply the best sound there
is. Getting it right is next to impossible because it requires a very
high level of accuracy. Because of this there are always going to be
random errors in hornplaying – something which annoys record
producers, provokes angry glares from conductors and pity from players
of other instruments. The addictive quest for a reliably good horn
sound drives thousands of the world’s hornplayers to the brink of
obsessive madness on a daily basis.

The level of skill needed to produce good sounding notes, loudly or
quietly, over a range of more than three octaves, and move between
them to make acceptable phrases leaves brain surgery and
figure-skating way behind. It takes a life-time and even then you’ll
never get it exactly right – it’s just too difficult.  However,
mastering these essential skills is just the beginning. Despite the
extreme technical demands, players of all brass instruments must
always try to remember that the purpose of playing their instrument is
to make music, not merely to demonstrate technical skills. This is why
it is an art form rather than a sport.

Ideally, the beautiful and arresting sound that floats from a horn and
fills our halls should give away nothing of the monumental difficulty
of its production. It should speak the language of music,
communicating directly and mysteriously with the unfathomable musical
human heart.”

(Reproduced here with kind permission of Rhinegold Publishing )


The Tongue Cut Off!

The Tongue Cut Off!

( This article was published in “The Horn Magazine”, Vol. 5 No. 2, Summer 1997)

Those readers whose quality of repetitive tonguing stays consistently tidy and clear from the quiet and slow through to the loud and fast, will probably find little of use in this article. Please jump directly to the very interesting section on historic brass-rubbings, later in this journal.

For the rest, perhaps you have wondered why it is that, below a certain speed, you can articulate a string of repeated notes with good clean attacks, whereas, at a faster tempo, each tends to begin roughly and muddies your overall clarity of playing. For years this puzzled me, but I think I Have now found an explanation and, even better, a solution. Better still, it’s free.

First, to clarify the problem, let me start with an illustration which everyone knows the first whole bar in the rondo from W A.M.’s fourth horn concerto(see below). Whether it is played on the Bb valve-horn, the F valve horn or the Eb hand horn, the problem is there: you might find that when you play it up to speed, forte, you get six rather rough attacks so you try it slowly and the articulation comes out nice and clean. You do the obvious thing and practise it slowly, a lot, maybe for days, but when you play it up to speed again it has hardly improved it still sounds rough and ragged. Help! What is going on here?

I aim to show that if your symptoms match those I have just described, then a potential solution lies just around the corner. But first we need to home in on the problem and highlight it, so lease follow these instructions carefully:

At a metronome speed of dotted crotchet = 126, take the first whole bar of the rondo; put repeat brackets around it and keep on cycling through the bar at about mezzoforte. Make sure you are playing sufficiently staccato so that there is a detectable silence between each note.

This next bit is difficult, so be very careful and persevere until you can do it and get someone else to listen to you if you are not sure you are doing it right. Begin to lengthen the silences so that the notes get pushed apart and the tempo becomes increasingly retarded until it is down to about dotted crotchet =45. Make sure the notes themselves do not become elongated as they move further apart.Meanwhile, keep an eye on every thing else you are doing, particularly with your abdominal muscles and your throat, to make sure that the only thing that changes from note to note is the speed of events not the way you do them.<

Next, maintaining the silences at the duration you have just reached, start to deliberately lengthen the notes. Again, take care not to change anything but the note lengths. Keep slowing until you arrive at around quaver= 76.

Now, by this point you should find yourself playing a string of very ugly, loud, square-sounding notes, each of which starts with the tongue and is cut off by the tongue to make silences roughly equal in length to the notes you are playing. If not, please try again and persevere until you can do it. Remember; some find this very difficult for reasons I hope will become apparent.

What I hope I have proved to you by putting this little excerpt under what is, in effect, an aural microscope, is that during fast staccato tonguing you stop each note with your tongue, Actually, there is no other way, at high speed, to get the little silences between the notes which produce the staccato effect, so rest assured you are doing the right thing by tonguing off at high speed. Incase you had not noticed this before, you have been breaking one of the fundamental laws of modern horn technique, “NEVER END A NOTE WITH THE TONGUE!”. Good for you, I say it was a pretty daft rule anyway. If, by this point, you are still with me and haven’t skipped in disgust to the brass-rubbings, there are, in the light of this revelation, several things to do. The first is to work out why such a rule exists and is so pervasive in horn playing. Then, having admitted to yourself that you really do, at least sometimes, end notes with the tongue, work out what can be gained from such a discovery .

So, why does this rule exist? Primarily to get novice horn players out of the habit of ending each and every note abruptly, which is the easy thing to do, and to encourage them instead to”tail-off” musically the ends of notes or phrases which is very difficult.

It may be interesting to consider the possible origins of this “classical” shaping of the ends (and to some extent the attacks) of notes and phrases. Tradition has it that a typically horn sounding single note should start more or less abruptly, reach its fullest sonority almost immediately and then taper away to silence. There are probably many reasons why this particular teardrop, or pear shaped “envelope”has become, in our musical culture, the one we default to when none other is specified, but the most compelling one I can think of is that when contrived on; brass instrument it imitates the envelope of a note played in a church-like acoustic. Inside a large resonant building even a staccato hand clap is transformed by reverberation, the proliferation of contained sound reflections, into a longer sound which will be perceived as having the teardrop envelope, i.e. it has a smooth tail off added to it.

Contriving such envelopes in non-resonant environments comes easily to the human voice but is much more difficult for the lips and breath of a horn player. It requires the kind of complex technical facility which is central to horn technique but very difficult to develop to a high degree. Inexperienced players who have not yet acquired the rounded attack and the taper to silence will tend to reveal their lack of both by playing square sounding heads and tails of notes which at least helps to avoid the embarrassment of accidentally slipping up or down a harmonic or two. So the rule: “Never End A Note With A Tongue Stop” can be thought of as a preventative teaching aid, at least in its origin. But time moves on and sometimes rules need breaking, or at least bending, to keep them flexible and to allow advanced players a little more freedom.

Now, to explore what can be gained from having found the bath-plug tongue-stop, alive and well, hiding between the notes of your fast staccato articulation: As I have suggested, cleaning up articulation by practising things slowly may not necessarily work. You play the thing up to speed again and nothing has changed, however wonderful it may have sounded at a slow tempo. My hypothesis, then, is that when we slow something down with the intention of working on the articulation we might inadvertently change not just the tempo but also the method of our articulation. We slow it down and then, without realising it, waste time practising some thing quite different, i.e. because we now have time to fit them in we give each note a nice tail off.

Traditionally, the requirement in horn playing to end all notes and phrases with a taper to silence has been so universal that the abrupt tongue-stop way of ending a note has become redundant, and is widely frowned upon. In contemporary music, however, the effect is often specifically required. 1 must say that I really enjoy playing these backward sounding notes. I like the way they end with a thump similar to the effect of letting the bath plug slam back in the plughole as the water is runningú out. In fact, broadly speaking, the bath plug analogy is not a bad one for explaining the simple mechanics of tonguing in horn playing: you pull out the plug and the water/air starts moving again (this is of course a simplification of what really happens) .

Go back to the WAM example. Does it sound even more ragged played on longer lengths of tube? Try it on the Bb horn, then on the F horn. If you are like the rest of us you will probably find it worse on the longer tubing, which is an interesting clue if we continue comparing the tongue to a bath plug.

When playing our example on the Bb horn a relatively small volume of air is flowing along a relatively short length of tube. This mass of moving air is abruptly halted at the precise moment the tongue plugs the passage of air through the mouth. When doing the same thing on the F horn there is a considerably larger, and therefore heavier, volume of air (travelling at the same speed) which has to be stopped dead. The result is a much heavier yank on the tongue caused by the inertia of all that suddenly arrested air flow which then immediately needs the powerful kick of a tongue-release to get it moving again for the next note. Simply put, this means that a stronger tongue is needed to stop and then release the flow of air in longer tube lengths or, alternatively, the shorter the length of tube, the less ragged and burbly the tonguing will sound. Please note my use of the words “stop and release”. I have chosen these carefully to avoid supporting the common misunderstanding that the tongue in some way catapults air out between the lips and down the instrument as if it were some kind of powerful piston. A similar common misconception is that the tongue accts in a way similar to a piano hammer miraculously striking the roof of the mouth to produce sound. The truth is that the tongue stops the flow of air by blocking its path, or allows it to flow by simply getting out of the way.

Having proposed that a strong tongue might be better than a weaker one at producing clean sounding staccato tonguing, it would be a sensible idea to test this out for yourself by setting up  an exercise to strengthen it in the right sort of way. This is simple if you follow the instructions I gave earlier and spend some time working at the slow, rather ugly, square sounding abrupt starts and stops. If you do this exactly as I have explained you will probably find, after some time that the roots of your tongue will be aching with the unaccustomed work load which is a good sign that the tongue, which is nearly all muscle, is responding and will naturally become stronger with the exercise. You should feel this ache approximately half way between the tip or your chin and your Adam’s apple, up in the soft tissue between the bones of your jaw.

In my opinion there are very good reasons why tonguing, rather than merely blowing to start a sound, is a good idea. There are some players who advocate starting notes without involving the tongue at all. Presumably, this is to defend potential listeners from the imagined unpleasantness of abrupt attacks. To my mind this is taking the idea of smoothing and rounding everything off a bit too far. It is somewhat analogous to speaking without consonants (try saying this sentence with only the vowel sounds, omitting all vocal tonguing i.e. all the consonants).Playing just about anything without the added colour brought by at least some tongued articulation will probably sound dull and laboured.

Also there is a danger, when non-tonguing, of sounding late to the beat, particularly within a horn section. Generally speaking, it is almost always necessary to synchronise starts of notes with stimuli coming outside ourselves the flick of a baton, the nod of another player, the click of a metronome or click track. With untongued notes this is precarious as there will inevitably be an element of waiting for your note to get going when it is ready, rather than being in precise control as you are when tonguing.<

However, while I definitely advocate the use of the tongue to begin notes and phrases I must make it clear that it is not my intention to encourage the use of the tongue-stop in general playing this would be awful. I only hope to illuminate its specific usefulness as a technical practice aid. As such I have found it to be very useful in my own playing as have many of my students in theirs.

©1997 Pip Eastop


Note: When first published this article was met with a deafening silence from readers of the Horn Magazine and nearly all of my professional colleagues. So far I only know one professional horn player or teacher who has enthusiastically endorsed it – Anthony Halstead.

I have a suspicion that there may be many closet tongue stoppers out there. What do you think? Please email me with any confessions.