Baroque natural horn

Also:       cor      Horn      corno naturale      trompa      

Title: Handel Water Music--Menuet from Suite in F Major HWV348, by Georg Handel; The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock, dir. Label: Archiv. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 410525-2. Track: 6.

Contextual Associations

The natural horn is an end-blown lip-reed aerophone originating in Europe, The horn pictured on this page is a modern replica, made by Richard Seraphinoff, of an early 18th century horn by the Nurnberg maker J. W. Haas. The primary context of use of the horn in the early 18th century was the orchestra, which itself was in the early stages of development as a performance unit outside of the opera setting. Deriving from different forms of signaling horns used for hunts, the sound of and writing for this instrument was sometimes used to index that activity or, in a more general sense, pastoral settings. Horns were played primarily by skilled performers in the employ of the aristocracy, opera companies, churches, and municipalities that supported chamber and/or orchestral ensembles.


The main body of the instrument consists of the bell and several feet of tubing shaped into a coil of slightly more than two complete revolutions (see first detail image). To the end of this main section of the instrument can be added a number of different combinations of crooks, couplers, and spacers, the choice of which will determine the fundamental pitch produced and the precise tuning of that fundamental. In the second detail image the two crooks for this instrument are seen on the right; the lower one when added to the basic body of the horn will produce a fundamental pitch of F, the upper one G. These fundamental pitches can each be lowered by the interval of a half step, a whole step, or a minor third by adding the lower, center or upper coupler (pictured at left in the second detail shot) between the body of the horn and one of its two crooks. Minor tuning adjustments to any of these eight fundamental pitches can be made by inserting one of the four spacers (middle of second detail image) between a coupler-crook combination or the mouthpiece spacer (far right of second detail shot) between a crook and the mouthpiece. In the first detail image, which shows the bell section of the instrument, three holes with built-up walls and removable cork stoppers are visible (two of the holes are stopped, the middle one open). These are called vent holes and their purpose is to assist the performer in playing certain overtones better in tune and without the aid of inserting the right hand into the bell (a performance technique that, when applied, dramatically changes the tone quality of the note). This is not a feature of the original instrument on which this replica is modeled, but an addition by its maker to assist contemporary performers of period instruments to play better in tune while avoiding undesirable shifts in timbre. The third detail image, a close-up of the ornamental work on the bell, is provided simply to illustrate the fine workmanship that went into making this replica.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer holds the instrument with the left hand so the mouthpiece is positioned in front of the mouth and the bell faces sideways to the right of the torso with the right hand, in a partially-cupped position, inserted into it. The performer, through control of airstream pressure and embouchure tension, selects partials from the available harmonic series. The range of this horn will vary with the combination of crooks and spacers; as pictured here, the fundamental is E1 with partials 3 or 4 through 18 (partial 18 would be a F-sharp5) being of musical use. By manipulating the right hand position in the bell, further notes, located outside the harmonic series, can be produced but with a marked difference in tone quality.


The natural horn of the late Baroque era evolved from two sorts of earlier signaling horns used for hunting. Crooks and spacers were introduced by horn makers around 1700, and this probably helped stimulate composers of the first half of the 18th century to compose parts for the instrument. Although orchestral horns are today called ‘French’ horns and early hunting horns were known to be in use in 17th century France, by the early 1700s horns similar to the one pictured here were being produced and played in many parts of Europe and in the British Isles.

Bibliographic Citations

Hiebert, Thomas. 1997.  "The horn in the Baroque and Classical periods," In The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. ed. Trevor Herbert and John Wallace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 103-114.

Humphries, John. 2000. The Early Horn: A Practical Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morley-Pegge, Reginald, Frank Hawkins, and Richard Merewether. 1984. "Horn." NGDMI v.2: 232-247.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

423.121.22-4 aerophone--end-blown natural labrosone with curved or folded tube; with mouthpiece (material has been added to the tube to form a mouthpiece); with lengths of tube to set nominal pitches preparatory to playing

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - conical with flaring open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: lip reed (player’s lips) placed over cup mouthpiece at end of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: inserting hand into bell cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - selecting partials of a single cavity’s fundamental through overblowing


21.2 in. height

Primary Materials

metal - sheet


Richard Seraphinoff


J. W. Haas

Entry Author

Roger Vetter