Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player


Set The Wild Echoes Flying.

I’ve written a big piece for solo handhorn. It’s called Set The Wild Echoes Flying.

My next performance of it will be at the British Horn Society’s Gala Concert October 16th

Details of the concert can be found HERE:


A full printable score of  this work will be available SOON and FREE from here….

Program notes:

Set The Wild Echoes Flying began as a single movement lasting just a few minutes which I wrote in response to being asked to perform an “encore” at the end of an orchestral concert. I couldn’t think of anything suitable for performance immediately after Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (!) so I decided to write a little piece myself with the intention of providing something perhaps interesting or even amusing rather than anything of musical value. So I suppose it was partly for its comedy value that I chose to use the natural horn rather than the modern instrument.

At around the same time I was asked by Alison Balsom to perform something at her Brass For Africa charity concert so I wrote another single piece, again for natural horn. By way of an introduction to its performance and to make it seem as relevant as possible I described it as being full of African animal sounds; elephants, monkeys, birds etc. The human imagination is a marvellous thing and highly adaptable …and some members of the audience I spoke to afterwards reported hearing all kind of appropriate creatures.

During the weeks following these performances, encouraged by the reactions of both audiences, I continued working on the two pieces and both grew in length and complexity. Then something strange and unexpected happened; each one split into two separate movements. Two became four, as if all by themselves, and each of them continued expanding until I had to call a halt to it all fearing that a work for unaccompanied horn with eight movements could prove troublesome.

I’m not sure if it was a conscious thing but all four movements seemed to contain traces of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. Having noticed this while the movements were still growing I encouraged it to happen more and from there came the idea of using some of the same poems chosen by Britten as spoken interludes between my four horn movements. Next I decided to borrow various lines from those poems to use as titles for each movement and for that of the whole piece.

I have enjoyed writing this work specifically for the natural horn in F. At every point in the process – composing being a very new one for me – it has seemed “just right” to be doing so. By way of  justification, if any is needed, I like to think that the natural horn deserves to be considered, even in our modern times, as a perfectly good and valid instrument in its own right and not merely as a historical artefact. Despite the simplicity of the natural horn and its apparent lack of a full chromatic stock of notes it is a surprisingly capable instrument. Most things seem to be playable on it – albeit sometimes with a struggle – and it came as a surprise to me that at no point during the writing of my four movements did I find the instrument unable to do something I wanted.

By the time the classical period was coming to a close the natural horn had reached a state of perfection in its design and build. Sadly, at this point it was displaced, to the point of extinction, by the arrival of the new “modern” horn with its valves and enhanced capabilities. The brilliant concept of having seven (and, later, twelve with the “double” horn) differently pitched natural horns conveniently combined together into one mega-instrument was so exciting for composers that they ceased writing for the natural horn altogether and the whole world completely forgot about it. For a couple of hundred years the natural horn effectively disappeared from our musical culture and could be found only in encyclopedias, museums and dusty attics. The wipeout was so complete that even music which had been composed specifically for the classical, natural horn came to be played exclusively on valved instruments. I imagine that future generations will look back on this particular fact with curiosity, whereas my generation and several before ours never gave it a thought as we performed musical treasures by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven using instruments which those composers could never have imagined.

From the seventies onwards the early music movement began putting the natural horn back on our musical map. This rekindling of knowledge and interest in earlier instruments has had the result that natural horns are now back in production in many workshops around the world and are commonly used in orchestras and ensembles for performing music from the classical period. Horn makers of today are still making slight adjustments to their conical tapers searching for tiny improvements of intonation and resonance, but basically the thing is perfect and has been so for hundreds of years. Perhaps now is the right time to be bringing the natural horn out of musical museums and giving it some new music of its own.


The four movements:


The first movement is called A Monstrous Elephant (the words clipped from Charles Cotton’s poem, “The Evening Quatrains”, which was used by Britten in “Pastoral”), a name which quite nicely links it to the original version I played at the Brass For Africa concert. I found that by rhythmically repeating glissandi and using a variety of careful hand-stopping techniques I create an illusion of chordal harmonies. There are also some quite strong hints at Britten’s “Prologue” here and a couple of little cadenzas featuring whole tone scales. I suppose the idea is to show how much harmonic freedom there is available despite the limitations of having only one single harmonic series.

I know I am not the only horn player who believes that the finest movement in “our” Britten’s Serenade is the one which doesn’t feature the horn at all. During that movement, entitled “Sonnet”, the horn soloist is heading backstage to get ready for the final “Epilogue”. I wrote Turn The Key Deftly with the deliberate intention of reclaiming “Sonnet” for horn players. The melodic line wasn’t too difficult to transcribe and I have tried my hardest to hint at some of the powerful harmonic contortions invented by Britten for his string accompaniment by using a sung part to generate a chordal accompaniment to the horn line. I could only be partially successful in this but I did what I could …and in doing so I am hoisted by my own petard because I find it extremely challenging to simultaneously play and sing accurately what I have written.

Blow Bugle Blow started as a playful and somewhat childish “jazzing up” of the melody from the Serenade’s “Hymn” – Britten’s answer to Mozart’s horn concerto rondos. But then I got myself rather caught up in it and slowly it became a highly chromatic and quite serious blues.

The encore piece I began with eventually became the final movement of Set The Wild Echoes Flying and I called it The Horns of Elfland. This movement has the added dimension of a backdrop, or drone, of sound which can be provided by any combination of instruments capable of sustaining a concert C very quietly for about three minutes. So far I have performed it with: 1) a string orchestra, 2) two ‘cellos and two violins, 3) four tubas, 4) 12 horns and 5) 30 horns. Out of these combinations I’m not sure which I liked best as they all seemed to work really well.



Alison Balsom and the London Chamber Orchestra: for getting me started on the writing of it.

Martin Childs: for retrospectively “commissioning” the work and organising its transcription,  various performances and a recording (at some point in the future).

Anthony Halstead: to whom the work is dedicated, for being a friend, a colleague, an inspiration, a guide, a teacher …and the greatest handorn player in the world.

Guy Llewellyn and Ann Barnard: for their extreme levels of patience and expertise in turning my scribbles into printable pages.

The lovely audience of mostly octogenarians for the Sudbury performance in May 2016: for liking Set The Wild Echoes Flying

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:


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:

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!!

BBC Radio 3, “CD Review”

Andrew McGregor, speaking on BBC Radio 3’s “CD Review” said:


“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.”

[then he played the whole of the 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.”


To find out more please visit Hyperion Records



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.

I knew the great Kenny Wheeler.


I took this photo from the audience during a a birthday concert for Kenny in 2005 at Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was too grainy and messy to leave as a “normal” photo but with a bit of manipulation it has become nice and clear. Kenny is with John Parricelli (guitar), Dave Holland, (bass) and Lee Konitz on sax.

I am proud to say that I knew Kenny Wheeler. I used to live not far from his house. When I first heard him up close playing flugelhorn solos on a tour with Peter Erskine’s band, maybe 12 years ago, I was so knocked out with the unforgettable rosy warmth of his sound and his inventive, original playing style that I started learning jazz trumpet. I very much enjoyed getting to know him – he was a very kind, gentle and softly-spoken man. Ken kindly lent me first a flugelhorn (the gorgeous copper-coloured Kanstul he had played on the tour), then a trumpet (a brilliant Smith-Watkins with a pile of interchangeable lead pipes) and later sold both to me at extremely generously low prices – out of embarrassment I had to give him more than he asked. I pestered him for lessons but he was so self-effacing and unassuming that he wouldn’t agree to teach me. We played together quite a lot, though. Mostly in his study in his and Doreen’s tiny house in Leytonstone and once at The Vortex where we played some duos on horn and flugel – and on flugel and trumpet. Evan Parker was there, too, and we played a crazy trio about which I remember nothing due perhaps to free-jazz-induced concussion. Always, whenever I played with Kenny a loud voice in my head kept telling me “this is unreal”, or, “Wow – look at me – I’m actually playing with Kenny Wheeler!” It was a privilege and an honour.

The news of his death is very sad for me and for everyone who knew him, and his departure is a great loss for all of us who loved his playing and his music. He was both a dedicated instrumentalist and a prolific composer. I was particularly inspired by his practice regime; my impression – not that he would ever say – was that he practiced the trumpet for at least three hours every day – and this was during his eighties! As a result he had chops of steel and never lost his ability to play with a huge, rich sound and swoop up into the extremely high register at any point in that idiosyncratic way of his.
He was absolutely full of music and he was world-famous for it. Strangely, he was less well known in his home country, England, than he was in the US and Europe – so don’t be too worried if you are not all that familiar with his name. To get an idea of how creatively prolific he was take a look  here at his discography. Who else has made 61  albums?
Bye bye Kenny Wheeler. You will be missed. You were, and are, a musical legend.

Katy Woolley

Welcome to Katy!
She’s new. She’s the brilliant new principal horn in the Philharmonia Orchestra. She’s fun and funny and as bright as a brand new penny – and a great new colleague.
This is her during a session at Abbey Road Studio.



Messiaen plays Messiaen

Have a few listens to this incredibly beautiful track.
I’m completely hooked. I’ve listened to it at least 20 times.
Please can I have this at my funeral?


And this one, too, please…

Phonecamera snap by Step Parikian

This is Gavin Edwards (left) and myself at Hampton Court yesterday.
Thanks to Step Parikian (orchestral manager, London Chamber Orchestra) for sending me this photo.
He has captured my eye colour perfectly.

John Wilson Orchestra Showcase at EMI Studios, Abbey Road.

Here’s Sir John during rehearsal for a blistering display of MGM gems. Carousel, Sound of Music and others.

New Blood Orchestra – Portugal

This was an hour or so before we played our concert in Sesimbra.

Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra.



John Wilson Orchestra Showcase at EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Nick Hougham, Tim Ball and Chris Parkes (Principal) are the hornplayers seen here at Abbey Road.

This was fun – a promotional play through of some fantastic bits of MGM film scores.
This band sounds incredible. If you haven’t heard it yet, then you’re in for a massive treat.

I took the photo during the rehearsal. For the performance we all wore smart black and looked nearly as good as we sounded.

Richard Watkins in concert with Peter Gabriel’s New Blood Orchestra, Hop Farm Festival, June 2012

Richard Watkins in concert with Peter Gabriel's New Blood Orchestra, Hop Farm Festival, June 2012

Friend, colleague and icon of British hornplaying – Richard Watkins.
Here he is playing at a rock concert with Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra (in a muddy field in Kent).

You only get that golden halo if you’re really, really good!
The bassoonist in the background is Sarah Burnett – and she’s really, really good, too.

“Sea Bells” for solo horn and Loopstation.

This is a recording of the first performance of my “Sea Bells”, given at the British Horn Festival in 2011, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.
The work is for Horn and Loopstation (the Boss RC-50 Loopstation).

It has four movements but the third one is rather short and is like a little epilogue or coda….

Please have a listen – it’s about 16 minutes long.

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My bit of Mariachi trumpet craziness.

Last week, my very good friend and composer, David Mitcham, asked me to come to his studio in the small village of Stert where he lives and works as a composer.

This time he asked me to bring my trumpet along as well as my horn. The music was for a wildlife film – part of  the series currently titled “How Nature Works”. He wanted the trumpet for a scene involving a colony of ants who collect seeds and take them underground. These were South American Ants so to inject some latino flavour David wrote a great tune in the Mariachi style.

It was amazing fun to play it – I could absolutely let rip, with a crazy amount of vibrato and swagger. I don’t think I’ve ever gone quite so mental playing anything before.

David kindly sent me this clip and gave me his permission to share it online.

Turn it up as loudly as it will go….


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Schumann Konzertstuck rehearsal at Cadogan hall, London.

Schumann Konzertstuck rehearsal at Cadogan hall, London. London Chamber Orchestra with Christopher Warren-Green conducting. Hornplayers: Michael Thompson, Richard Watkins, Nigel Black and Pip Eastop

London Chamber Orchestra with Christopher Warren-Green conducting. Hornplayers: Michael Thompson, Richard Watkins, Nigel Black and Pip Eastop

Ben Foster


Ben is the conductor of Peter Gabriel’s “New Blood Orchestra” – and a very nice chap he is, too.

Arthur and Lucas

Arthur Jussen and Lucas Jussen, pianists. London Chamber Orchestra at St. John's, Smith Square, London.

Arthur Jussen and Lucas Jussen, star pianists. London Chamber Orchestra at St. John’s, Smith Square, London.

Jim Rattigan – double record review

This is a review of two new CD albums by the British hornplayer, Jim Rattigan (that’s “French horn”; not trumpet, sax or trombone). Being a British hornplayer myself I’m very conscious of the possible confusion of instruments here, particularly in the context of jazz music where “horn” means almost anything that you blow. So, to be clear, when I use the word “horn” I am referring to that curly, backwards-aiming flared spiral with four or more valves which is most commonly used in baroque, classical, romantic, commercial, pop and film music …but almost NEVER as a frontline solo jazz instrument.

Why is this? In my opinion there are several reasons: jazz is by nature cool, laid-back, spontaneous and easy. The horn is none of those things. Its traditional use is to convey a reassuring degree of control, finesse, and romantic heroism. In film music it’s horns you’ll hear whenever something heroic is going on. The horn is terrifyingly difficult to learn and virtually impossible to control. For rhythmic bounce, speed, clarity and ease of use the instruments of choice for jazz are always going to be trumpet, sax, piano, guitar, clarinet, voice; almost NEVER something so fiendishly difficult as the horn.

Like Jim, I too have had the urge to play jazz but I decided not to pursue it on the horn, it being far too difficult. Instead, I went with the trumpet – a much more practical choice. At this point I have to admit to my prejudice and own up that my underlying feelings around the concept of using a horn to play jazz are those of scepticism, disapproval and even plain dislike.  So, what business it is of mine to be reviewing jazz horn records when I am hard-wired to dislike them? It’s a good question; one which I hope I might answer for myself by writing this.

I have noticed, in me and in other hornplayers, a difficulty accepting the freedoms of jazz music. In jazz one can improvise (meaning one can play what one wants) to some extent whereas hornplayers are traditionally taught to play exactly what has been written by composers, down to the tiniest details of dynamics and nuance. Furthermore, to keep the traditional hornplayer to the composers’ written commands, a conductor is usually employed whose job it is to keep a check on the accuracy of the reading and to punish minor transgressions with, for example, public humiliation and/or sacking. It is generally believed that conductors do much more than just this but after more than 35 years of puzzlement I have yet to understand what they are really for.  Why do they like waving their arms around while musicians play music? Why do they commonly get paid more than an entire symphony orchestra? In a nutshell, playing symphonic horn parts is all about being controlled by someone with a baton, a huge income and the power to have one sacked whereas jazz is all about freedom. Alternatively put, orchestral musicians are soldiers following orders whereas jazz musicians are hunters in charge of their own destinies.

There is a great divide across which traditional hornplayers gaze at their distant cousins, the jazz musicians, with wonderment. The jazzers look back at their classically trained counterparts with admiration and respect but also incredulity and incomprehension at the strangely archaic power structure in a typical orchestra which subjugates individual musicians.

As an example of the distance between the cultures of jazz and so-called “classical” musicians, it is often the case that classically trained hornplayers have great difficulty listening to recordings of Miles Davis, the greatest giant of all jazz giants, without wincing. In our highly refined and thus limited way all we tend to hear is that he cracks notes, makes a flaky, unfocussed sound and seems to be rather short on what we call “technique”. By default we tend to judge what we hear from players like him by the criteria we employ to continuously refine and perfect our own playing for the purposes of performing Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler. But give Miles Davis the first trumpet part of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and he would be laughed off the stage. I’m absolutely serious – he would not be able to play it, or any classical repertoire, with sufficient finesse and polish to be invited back.

So, the whole thing is quite difficult for me and, I’m sure, for many other hornplayers but Jim Rattigan has somehow overcome all of that and left such problems way behind. Jim is our UK jazz horn champion. Around the world there are a few other jazz hornplayers here and there but it is a very rare breed indeed and, frankly, none are as good as our Jim. Uniquely for a jazz musician his credentials as a straight hornplayer are beyond reproach. He was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for six years and played with all the major London orchestras and chamber ensembles as well as being a busy session player. He is one of those extremely rare types who really can traverse more than one musical culture.

In discussing differences between the jazz and the “straight” world of classical music there’s one other thing I should mention about both of these new CDs; something which will make hornplayers and anyone else of an orchestral persuasion gasp and wonder: it is that there was no rehearsal for any of it. No rehearsal! How is such a thing possible? From talking to Jim I have understood the following: that the musicians arrived at the studio and arranged their seats around a sensible setup of microphones; a quick balance test was carried out while they blew a few notes to get warmed up and briefly discussed how the music should go. The “music”, in this case, was a printed melody and some hieroglyphic chord symbols. Then, the red light came on and off they went, playing together for the first time and recording it! Such is the miracle of jazz. I gather, from talking to Jim, that there were more or less two takes of each of the tracks and the editing was simply a matter of choosing the best of the two. So, this is live music – living music – the artists performing to each other, to the microphones and to the recording engineer. It’s very straightforward, very spontaneous, very special and beautifully pure.

The two albums are “Shuzzed” and “Strong Tea”. Both were recorded in 2010 at Fishmarket Studios, London.


“Shuzzed” is a quartet album in which Jim is joined by Phil Robson (guitar), Phil Donkin (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums).  Three of the tracks (Timbuckthree, Shuzzed and Mung Beans) are Jim’s own compositions while the remaining six are jazz standards. Jim wanted the personal challenge of  making a “Bebop” jazz horn CD and here it is, true to Wikipedia’s definition: “Bebop is a style of jazz characterised by fast tempo, instrumental, virtuosity and improvisation based on the combination of harmonic structure and melody.”

Jim’s compositions are quirky, colourful and intriguing. “Shuzzed” (meaning, according to Jim, embarrassed or humbled in the context of playing the music of the legendary Charlie Parker) is the title track and it struts along majestically on a walking bass with a curious interplay between the guitar and the horn – sometimes in octaves, sometimes in parallel tritones. “Mung Beans” is a very catching angular blues in the manner of Charlie Parker. It starts off moving briskly over Caldarezzo’s brushes. Jim’s sure-footed and highly chromatic horn improvisation is handed over to Robson’s guitar for some in-depth exploration of the blues changes. When the catchy melody returns there is no mistaking it, which is a sure sign of a good tune. Of his three compositions, “Timbuckthree” is my personal favourite being enjoyably brisk, virtuosic and well structured. The head (that’s the tune at the beginning for those of us with no jazz jargon) is derived from three oddly sourced fragments knitted together into a very attractive tune. Two of these are from the horn concerti of Richard Strauss, and the third quote is from Ravel’s piano concerto in G. The funny title apparently comes from a spat Jim once had with his eight year old son which resulted in Jim turning and walking away in anger. When the boy asked where he was going, Jim shouted back, “Timbuktu. Where are YOU going?”. The response, shouted back at Jim, was a triumphant, “Timbuckthree!”

The other six tracks are Giant Steps (John Coltrane), Sweet Rain (Mike Gibbs), Cherokee (Ray Noble), Donna Lee and Yardbird Suite (both by Charlie Parker) and Come Sunday (Duke Ellington). These are all brilliantly executed and thoroughly explore the many combinations of guitar and horn sounds. It’s a curious thing that these two timbres are uncannily similar in places, while the attacks, the note-shapes and articulations could not be more different. It’s a fascinating mixture of sounds.

Jim chose his three companions wisely – and they are all brilliant. Again, the lack of any rehearsal for this recording is something which will always amaze me. To prepare for the album, Jim says he spent a whole month practising “Giant Steps” for eight hours every day.  “This is a really tough one”, he says. “It’s extremely hard to learn and basically it only has three chords so it shouldn’t really be that difficult, but it is!”

“Sweet Rain”, is a tune made famous by Stan Getz and written by Jim’s colleague and friend, Mike Gibbs (bandleader and composer). Robson uses a very cool guitar sound and drapes some beautiful crystalline chords under the complex twists and turns of the melody.

“Cherokee” begins with an authentic Cherokee chant in a slow, clear pentatonic statement after which it launches directly into its improvisations and there’s no sign of the well known head until right at the end of the track. Phil Donkin nails the eighths with amazing energy throughout. Apparently there was no retake of this as Gene Calderazzo didn’t want to play it through again because his arms were “falling off”.

“Donna Lee” (Charlie Parker) begins with the tune broken up into segments with the guitar and horn in unison – a unique and lovely sound. Jim, uncompromisingly, keeps this version to the original key which forces him to jump octaves now and again to keep it in the most effective range of the horn’s voice. For a definition of “swing” just listen to Phil Donkin’s incredible bass solo.

“Come Sunday” (Duke Ellington): Jim says that he played this one with an American big band in the Rowan Jazz Festival 2009 and loved the tune. It is all about longing and persecution.  It is the only “traditional” ballad in the album and features acoustic guitar unlike all the other tracks.

“Mung Beans” (Rattigan): Jim says that this title has no meaning at all (“…apart from being some kind of a lentil”) but that he just liked the sounds of the words. It’s an excellent melody followed by improvisations which push the blues structure to its harmonic extreme, stretching it almost to breaking point.

Jim included the Charlie Parker tune, “Yardbird Suite”, because it lends itself to being played on the horn by virtue of its ideal register. He says that tunes written for alto sax are usually uncomfortably high or impractically low for a horn but that this one fits right in the centre of the horn range and is lovely and comfortable to play.


“Strong Tea”, is a big-band album with Jim playing horn along with his eleven hand-picked top-notch London-based jazz musicians: one each of alto, tenor and baritone saxes, three trumpets (one doubling on flugle horn in “Dulwich Park”), tenor trombone, bass trombone, piano, bass and drums. There are five tracks, each of which is a new and original composition by Jim Rattigan.

The first half of  “Parkwood Fair” is completely improvised. Jim wanted to feature the bass in this track and it starts with a dark and mysterious improvised bass solo with dramatic streaks of colour added by drums and cymbals. It then falls easily into a hypnotic groove over which Jim begins the soloing interspersed with decorative piano splashes. Jim uses handstopping technique to introduce echo elements in his lines. It’s a technical tour to force, using lip trills, pitch-bending and other impressive extended horn techniques. More structure is added until the whole piece becomes melodic and richly harmonic in its development. This track has a natural and satisfying shape to it and due to the rising energy of the brass and wind lines towards the end gives the impression of deeply layered musical form.

“Dulwich Park”, track two, opens in a wonderful chin-jutting strut. Jim says it is supposed to give the impression of a walk in the park, and that Dulwich Park is one of the nicest places on earth, being full of lovely, busy, happy folk running, cycling and walking their dogs. The whole track has a wonderful fresh and free feel to it. Each solo is divided by a short burst of ensemble writing to introduce the next soloist. After a truly amazing tenor solo from Andy Panayi there is an equally stunning flugle horn solo from Percy Pursglove.

Jim says that the band were very fired up for the third piece, “Strong Tea”, and urged that a “burning” track – meaning an up-tempo, high energy one – would work better at a much faster tempo than he had originally intended. It transformed the piece into something even more spontaneous and exciting. There is a lot of detail here in Jim’s arranging and there is much to reward the careful listener. The improvised sections are based on the so-called “Rhythm Changes”. The angular melody has an intriguing middle-eight based on falling triads over an E pedal. Brilliant solos by trumpet player Steve Fishwick, altoist Martin Speak, Jim and finally Hans Koller on piano, seamlessly lead us back into the head. The piece ends with three muted trumpets blending with the handstopped horn – a fantastic and highly original sound.

The horn part of “Won over the Eight” is completely improvised with no actual written notation. Its heavy limbed nine-bar phrases reek of smoke, alcohol and ruin. The gutsy, raw, sleazy sound brings to mind famous recordings of the Mingus Big Band of the late fifties and sixties.

The title of the final track is simply a date, “24/7”, which is Jim’s birthday. The significance here is that the creation of this album was Jim’s 50th birthday present to himself. Instead of a party he decided to get together a lot of the great players he’d worked with over the years and do something both creative and serious. The parts are all tailored to his friends’ own particular styles and idiosyncrasies. It’s a very busy track, full of surging brass chords and the sounds of energetically clicking sticks in a twelve-eight feel.

For both these amazing albums Jim has surrounded himself with the very finest musicians. His writing is absolutely first rate and the recorded sound is as satisfying as any I’ve ever heard. It’s dynamic and colourful, and if it wasn’t for the absence of any audience sounds it would have the feel of a live recording.  Jim’s playing throughout both CDs treads a fascinating path between refinement and spontaneity, successfully revealing and integrating two very different sides of the French Horn. Jim Rattigan is teaching us something new and brilliant here. Listen and celebrate.

Jim’s CDs can be purchased online at www.jimrattigan.com

portrait of Jim Rattigan

Portrait of Jim Rattigan - photo by The Imaginal Eye

Portrait of Jim Rattigan – Jazz hornplayer, UK.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado

What a wonderful venue for a wonderful concert!
A few hours after I took this photo, having myself ran the entire auditorium from top to bottom (it took ages – what you can see here is only about one quarter of it!) we, that is Peter Gabriel’s New Blood Orchestra, played a wonderful gig there.
We had a wonderful thunderstorm with flashes of lighting, explosions of sound from above and all around and very, very heavy rain. It was genuinely AWESOME!

Superfluous scales

The harmonic minor scale. What’s all that about?

Nothing. It’s useless. I’d ban it if I could. Anyone here from the Associated Board reading this? Well, please scrap the harmonic minors. They are a useless and irritating waste of everyone’s time. Amen.

‎…and while I’m at it I’d also scrap the of silly downward difference of the “melodic” minor. The melodic minor going up is a fine scale, but why come back down by a different route? Why? Good question. There’s no reason.

So, lest just have two scales.  Major, and the Minor (the same but with the third flattened, keeping the major seventh). Just two scales …and all their modes, of course, haha! Hey, this is what they do in jazz. It makes a whole lot more sense as a workable and useful system.