Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Posts tagged “Engelbert Schmid

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

A most complicated horn.

According to Engelbert Schmid, my horn is the most complicated horn he has ever built. Here’s part of a letter he wrote to me which arrived with the new instrument. 

It’s a wonderful horn, in every way, and a marvel of design and engineering excellence. It’s the only horn I’ve ever seen with eight valves.  

It’s a full triple horn – F, Bb and Eb. To me, that’s a full double horn with an added Eb jazz horn built in.

And the Bb part of it has a stopping valve. 

I’ve had it for about two years now and I love it. I’ll try to take some nice pictures of it so you can see what a fine monster it is.

Interviewed by Jeff Bryant for the Horn Magazine.

Pip Eastop is interviewed by Jeff Bryant 
for the Horn Magazine.

(Vol. 5 No. 1, 1994)

Bluebell Horn, by Emily


What is your age?


What instrument did you first play and at what age?

Recorder. Aged seven.

When did you start playing the horn?

On the second Friday in February, 1969.

What make and model was your first horn?

A Calison compensator: it had valve linkages in solid nylon of a milky-white translucency. I’ll never forget the moment my father appeared with it, brand new, having been on a day trip to London by rail to buy it. He stepped in through the front door with it under his arm wrapped in brown paper, having been unable to afford the case to go with it. I remember feeling almost overwhelmed by the importance of this new thing in my life and fully aware of privilege for a nine-year old of having such a thing.

Who was your teacher?

My first teacher was my father who was then an oboist in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Staff Band. He read the Farkas book and taught me from that. Later, from the age of fourteen, I studied with Ifor James at the Royal Academy of Music. My Dad was a great teacher.

What make and model is your present horn?

A gold-brass Alexander 103 which I have played on since new twenty years ago, with millions of dents and several interesting features: It has a stand attached to it so that its entire weight is taken on my right leg. This is wonderful, as my arms take none of the weight whatsoever. I use a bent (fifteen degrees or so) Paxman 4B mouthpiece in it which, by rotational adjustment, gives me a large range of different head-to-horn angles and thereby enables me to get a bit more comfortable with the instrument when sitting or standing to play. This may sound weird but is actually a very useful feature, and both Steven Stirling and John Rooke have since adopted the idea and gone bent, although they both have the mouthpiece turned so it bends upwards, whereas I have mine bending downwards. The detachable bell is hanging on by a thread which, due to my negligence, is so badly worn that it won’t be long before it gives out and I will have to use gaffer tape to stick the bell on. Strangely, I am rather proud of this and deliberately never grease it, thereby hastening the day when the thread finally strips. John Ward has promised to repair this for me when finally goes.

What is your favourite horn?

The factory-fresh Schmid gold-brass double which I tried last summer in Herr Schmid’s factory at Tiefenried, near Munich. I have ordered one the same, which I am going over to collect in April.

Do you come from a musical family?

My brother is a bass trombonist and my sister is a bassoonist (so I guess the answer is no, ha-ha).

Why did you start to play the horn?

The honest truth is that I can’t remember, and my parents never found out where I got the idea from, though I probably saw one on the telly.

Who is your favourite composer?

It varies from day to day; Schubert, Brahms, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Bach etc.

What is your favourite piece of music?

This is not a constant but, for example, today it is a chunk of the last movement of Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony. Tomorrow it might be Nat King Cole singing “When I Fall In Love”.

What is your least favourite piece of music?

Ligeti’s horn trio. It stinks. I loathe it. Or anything by Harrison Birtwistle…

Who is your favourite horn player of all time?

Jeff Bryant, of course.

Which horn players have had the greatest influence upon your career?

Ifor James, Jonathan Williams, Christopher Giles – until his tragic death in 1975, Dennis Brain, Georges Barbeteau, Frank Lloyd, Philip Farkas, Richard Watkins and, of course, Jeff Bryant.

Who are your favourite non horn-playing instrumentalists?

John Wallace, Maurice Murphy & Arturo Sandoval – trumpet; Richard Hosford – clarinet; Alfred Brendel, Martha Argerich and Lyle Mays – piano; Pat Metheny – guitar; Michael Brecker – sax; Jaco Pastorius – fretless bass guitar; The Vegh String Quartet, The Chamber Orchestra of Europe etc…

What was your first job and when was it?

Principal horn in the Antwerp Philharmonic, ’76 to ’77. My second job was with the London Sinfonietta from ’77 to ’86.

What is your present job and when did you start it?

Freelance since ’87.

What qualities, do you think, make a successful horn player?

Good looks, an engaging personality and the ability to stay upright in a chair for long periods. While this tends, unfortunately, to be true I would also add the following three important things:

1. Knowing the pitch of any note before you go for it hence better accuracy.

2. Producing a sound which, whether fat or thin, small or big, has the capability of floating in the air like a still dawn mist or ripping through it like a chainsaw.

3. Perfect intonation, always.

Who is your favourite conductor?

I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.

What, where and with whom was your most exciting musical experience? A “Weather Report” Concert in 1981, in the back row of the stalls at the Hammersmith Odeon, with Hilary, my then girlfriend. The Earth moved and my hair stood on end. Massive tingle factor.

What is the best aspect of being a professional musician?

Constantly meeting friends.

What is the worst aspect of being a professional musician?

In my case, bewildering chaos: being a freelancer I feel the lack of any daily routine and sometimes I yearn for it.

If you didn’t play the horn, what instrument would you like to play?

Piano, violin, cello or alto saxophone.

What would you like to do if you were not a horn player?

Spend loads of time larking about with my kids, and making new ones.

What could you do if you were not a horn player?

Virtually anything not requiring intelligence or physical exertion. Perhaps conducting?

What is your hot tip for budding horn-players?

Having given it some thought, my most useful and concise single piece of advice would be to simply ignore anyone who tells you about the diaphragm if they can’t give you any facts about its anatomy or its physiology.

Outside of your horn-playing, what are your hobbies?

Listening to all kinds of music, making things out of wood, writing letters to my brother who lives in Sweden, growing organic pumpkins, reading the New Scientist and, of course, trainspotting in my Millets anorak.

What would your eight desert island discs be, and why?

1-4. Jeff Bryant playing the four Mozart horn concertos.

5. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, because it was played at my wedding (though, unfortunately, not live).

6. Parsifal, because I have never heard it, and I bet it is fantastic.

7. Beethoven’s “Harp” string quartet – the first movement of which has a passage which never fails to make me convulse and froth at the mouth.

8. “Mirror of the Heart” a solo piano piece written and played by Lyle Mays, which could be the most profound and beautiful piece of music I have ever heard.

What book, apart from the bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, would you like to take with you to the desert island?

It just has to be the Farkas book of embouchure photos. And please could I swap the bible for Delia Smith’s cookery book “One Is Fun”

What luxury items would you like to take?

One of the following – It’s so hard to choose: a set of traffic cones, a karaoke machine, or a pantomime horse outfit.

This picture is pretty old now – taken in 1994.

Pip Eastop