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What You Didn’t Have Time to Learn


     One of many amazing streamed events from the IHS LA Symposium featured Principal Horn players from around the world.  Stefan Dohr, Tim Jones, Julie Landsman, Jennifer Montone, and Co-Host of the Symposium Andrew Bain.  The “moderator” of the event was Sarah Willis and the net guru for all these wonderful streams was Tim Kelly.

I loved the honesty and openness that all the panelists shared with the audience.  Horn players, in the past, haven’t always been open to discussing errors or mistakes.  To hear a newer generation of players like Jennifer Montone and Andrew Bain speak about past difficulties makes it all seem more approachable.  Tim jones talked about the evolution/revolution for female principal horn players  like Julie Landsman and Jennifer Montone.

The session was WAY too short.  I am sure that many questions could have been asked, but time ran out.  One question that I wanted to ask was, “What did you wish you had learned before you became Principal Horn?”

One question I wanted answered was the following:

“Why did you never tell me about the first 10 measures of Beethoven 7?”

You listen to these pieces, you practice the solos, but sometimes the difficult parts aren’t on the audition, and I count the first ten measures of Beethoven 7 among them.

It seems to me that with so much time devoted to horn concertos, solo excerpts, recitals, etc… teachers must make compromises and prioritise their time.  The one thing I wish I had been able to learn more about before playing Principal Horn would have been concertos.  We learn the basics because they are on audition lists (Ravel and Brahms piano concertos, for example), but the ones that are not on the lists can be the most challenging part of the first horn players job.  The first time you play Mozart’s 5th violin concerto, Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto, any Saint-Saëns concerto, any Mozart piano concerto, to name just a few.  I never had seen a Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto part before I got my first job.  I knew about them, and I knew that they had great horn parts, but I hadn’t really practiced them.  

Concertos are filled with endless delicate entrances (Chopin 1st Piano Concerto), strange measures rest to count (see Beethoven), and a myriad of different rhubatos.  In some ways you can’t teach some of these things, but it would have been nice to have a “heads up” on some of the more difficult ones.  Some may say that these things are a rite of passage that we all must endure, but when so much emphasis is placed on playing Mahler 5 or Tchaikovsky 5 we shouldn’t forget that we will probably play most piano and violin concertos more times in our career than Mahler 5.

Traits d'orchestre CRLG Vol I (2015)

I have been working on an orchestral excerpt book for the Liège Conservatory horn class, and thinking about this was important.  It is true that maybe we have to make a compromise with our time, but it is possible to at least become aware of some of the more difficult less performed pieces in the repertoire.  Especially those that never make it on an audition list.  By making the book myself I hope to save students a lot of money.  €10 per book printed and bound is a good deal. (also downloadable in pdf) 166 pages, complete horn parts to all Brahms symphonies, Haydn variations, and piano concertos, complete first horn parts to Strauss’ Don Juan, Till, Ein Heldenleben, 2 horn Don Quixote, and some Rossini and Weber.  Also, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Berlioz and Debussy.  All the parts are public domain, with a second volume to prepare for 2016.  That volume will contain Bach, Mozart and Haydn, as well as other misc. pieces left out of volume 1.

The new school year begins with a lot of hope and excitement.

© Bruce Richards 2012-2015