Classical natural horn

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Title: Joseph Haydn--3rd Movement (Allegro) from Horn Concerto in D Major, Hob. VII:3; Timothy Brown, natural horn, The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, dir. Label: Editions de l'Oiseau-Lyre. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 417 610-2. Track: 9.

Contextual Associations

The natural horn is an end-blown lip-reed aerophone originating in Europe. The horns pictured on this page are modern replicas of early 19th century instruments. The first (gallery #1) was made by Richard Seraphinoff after an early c. 1810 horn by the Paris maker Antoine Halari (also Halary). Herman Ganter is the maker of the second instrument (gallery #2), which is base on a c. 1820 Viennese horn made by the Austrian maker Leopold Uhlmann. The primary context of use of the horn in the later half of the 18th century and the 19th century was the orchestra, which itself became a much more established idiom than it had been in the Baroque period. However, composers also increasingly included the horn in compositions for smaller, mostly wind ensembles. As virtuoso performers emerged there was a corresponding increase in compositions for the horn as a solo concerto instrument. 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. Today, a small number of professional horn players develop a specialization on Classical-era natural horns for performances and recordings with professional period-instrument ensembles.


The main body of both instruments consists of the bell and several feet of brass tubing shaped into a coil of slightly more than one complete revolution (see detail #1 and detail #3). This coil is, however, diverted on both instruments into two open-ended parallel lengths of tubing that accept a U-shaped tuning slide. The Halari instrument comes with two tuning slides that accommodate in part the variations in tuning standard a performer would encounter during the period (see detail #2, left side--the longer slide produces A-430 tunings, the shorter A-440). The Uhlmann instrument has a single U-shaped tuning slide. To the mouthpiece end of the main body of both instruments a terminal crook will be inserted that will determine the fundamental pitch of the instrument. The Halari horn comes with four crooks: G, F, E, and E-flat (see detail #2, center and right); the Uhlmann horn eight (see detail  #4, top left to bottom right), from longest to shortest, lowest pitched to highest pitched: C (with four coils), D (with three coils), E-flat, E and F (all with two coils), G and A (both with a single coil), and B-flat (straight). To the end of a selected crook the performer inserts the mouthpiece.

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 horn of the classical and early romantic eras is still an harmonic series rather than a chromatic instrument, and as a result players had to master the use of the hand in the bell to produce notes outside of the harmonic series. The aural consequences of this playing technique are quite clearly illustrated in the provided audio example--the muted notes are ones that fall outside of the notes of the overtone series above the instrument's fundamental. The performer, through control of airstream pressure and embouchure tension, selects partials from the available overtone series. The range of these two horns will vary with the selection of the crook; with the F crook inserted, the fundamental is F1 with partials 3 or 4 through 18 (partial 18 would be a G-5) being of musical use. The fundamentals produced with the various crooks on the Halari instrument are between E-flat1 and G1, and on the Uhlmann horn between C1 and B-flat1. 


The primary design feature of the horns pictured here that differentiates them from the Baroque natural horn is the tuning slide, which was introduced around 1750. In terms of the positioning of the terminal crooks in relation to the coil of the main body, the Uhlmann horn resembles the Baroque horn whereas the Halari horn, on which the coils of the selected terminal crook fit within the coil of the instrument’s main body, presages the look of the modern valve horn. Both Halari and Uhlmann were developing valved horns during and after the 1810s, simultaneously with the production of natural horns such as the ones pictured here. Horn players and composers of the 19th century had strong opinions about the horns they played and wrote for in their compositions. Viennese players and composers preferred the warmer, fuller tone quality of Viennese-made instruments, which had a slightly different bore profile at the bell end of the instrument (it broadened sooner and had a less pronounced bell flare) than did French-made instruments. This preference remained in place especially amongst Viennese players and composers well into the 19th century, long after chromatic horns with valves had been taken up by players elsewhere in Europe and America. Johannes Brahms, for example, intended the Viennese natural horn to be used in performances of his Horn Trio in E-flat Major (1865) and in his four symphonies (1876-1885). 

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

Region: Western 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


19.3 in. height

Primary Materials

metal - sheet


Richard Seraphinoff



Entry Author

Roger Vetter