Instrument of the Month: The Horn

Instrument of the Month: The Horn

Welcome to a new recurring feature on the MUST blog: Instrument of the Month! Each month, we will be featuring a new instrument, it’s history, fun facts, and some famous musicians who play it.

November’s Instrument of the Month is the horn! Modern horns are instruments resembling a flared tube, often curved and with keys to produce different sounds. The oldest horns were actually just that: an animal horn with a hole drilled in the narrow end. You can see examples of these ancient instruments in the ram’s horn used in Judaism or the African kudu horn.

Metal instruments based on the shape of animal horns survive from as early as the 10th-century BCE. The areas that are now Scandinavia and Italy had early examples of metal horns, as did China with their suona (though technically a reed instrument).

Early metal horns were less complex than modern horns. By the 17th-century, there were two kinds of horn: the trompe, made in a crescent shape, and the cor à plusieurs tours, a tightly coiled, spiraled horn. These were generally used for hunting, but later evolved into the brass instruments used today.

(Above: a trompe, and a French horn, based on the earlier cor à plusieurs tours)

Amongst the first written records of horn music are hunting-horn signals, which date back to the fourteenth century. The earliest of these is The Art of Hunting (1327) by William Twiti, who uses syllables such as “moot”, “trout”, and “trourourout” to describe a number of calls involved in various stages of the hunt. Apart from hunting calls, there is no surviving music from before the seventeenth century that specifies use of the horn. After this time, the trompe de chasse horn began appearing in ballet and opera orchestras in Europe.

Since then, the horn has remained in orchestras and bands the world over. The horn is a standard member of the wind quintet,  brass quintet, and of the brass band. In the 20th-century it became more popular than ever with the popularity of bugles in military bands during World War II. You’d be hard-pressed today to find someone who doesn’t know Taps or the Reveille.

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