Friday, March 2, 2012

Schumann - Konzertstück For Four Horns And Orchestra

The modern orchestral horn had as its ancestor the valveless 'natural' horn that was used in the military and in hunting to signal the troops or hunters. The valveless horn has a limited range as changes in pitch can only be produced by lip pressure and inserting or removing the hand from the bell of the instrument. Inserting the hand in the bell of the instrument to change pitch was somewhat of a compromise as the tone quality of the instrument changed.  The first uses of the horn in the orchestra took into account its limitations and the parts written for them were fairly elementary - the notes of the triad chords, mostly the tonic.  The instrument could play in other keys, but that involved inserting or removing an extra length of tubing. These extra lengths of tubing were called 'crooks' and the composers that used the horn early on would write for the horn crooked in a specific key for an entire piece or movement, depending on the notes needed. Later on, composers would ask players to change the key of their horns within a movement, but this took time and had to be taken into consideration.

The valved horn was invented about 1815 and had advantages over the natural horn. It was a fully chromatic instrument, therefore crooks were no longer necessary and the hand in the bell technique was no longer used for pitch change. But as with all new things, it took time to be accepted. Despite the problems of the natural horn, some preferred its tone to the valved counterpart. Even in 1849 when Schumann wrote the Konzertstück For Four Horns And Orchestra it was not assured that orchestras used valved horns. Schumann himself wrote for a pair of valved horns and a pair of natural horns in the work, but four valved horns are usually used in a modern performance.

This work is seldom played, perhaps because it calls for four virtuoso horn players.

The work is in three movements with the 2nd and 3rd played without pause:
I. Lebhaft (Lively)  -  The orchestra begins with two loud chords, and the horn quartet comes in and plays a fanfare. The horns seldom have a rest as they have a spirited dialogue with the orchestra. Schumann was fond of the horn and utilizes all the qualities of expressivity of the instrument in this movement, from tenderness to forcefulness.

II. Romanze - The soft and gentle chords of the horns are the feature if this short movement, which leads directly to...

III. Sehr lebhaft (Very lively) - A return to the mood of the first movement as Schumann has the soloist imitate each other until they come together in a fine statement of horn harmony. The dialogue continues until the finale, when the orchestra and the horns join together and close the work.

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