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French Horn Facts

10 Interesting Facts About The French Horn

The modern orchestral brass French horn that we are familiar with today has evolved significantly from its ancient predecessor. This instrument has its roots in early hunting horns.

The very first horns to be used were made using animal bones. Cleaned of marrow, the hollowed-out bones could be used to blow through to create a sound. They were used throughout history to alert people to danger or to announce events, such as a feast or gathering.

Despite the French Horn being one of the few musical instruments to have a geographical name, it is actually German in origin. By 1815, German designers had built pistons and valves into the design that allowed musicians to avoid changing the pipes mid-performance.

These changes made the French Horn a more popular instrument, catching the attention of composers and increasing its use in popular musical compositions of the time.

Let’s take a closer look at the French Horn with these ten interesting facts:

French Horn Facts

1. The French Horn uses rotary valves instead of pistons to create a sound

French Horn Facts

Instead of having pistons like a Trumpet, or an adjustable pipe like a Trombone, the French Horn uses rotary valves that open a loop for the air to move through before travelling back to the main passage.

2. It was the French that introduced the Horn to the orchestra

Although hunting horns were used across France and Germany for hundreds of years, it was unclear exactly when they moved to be used in a musical setting.

While the Germans can be credited for giving the Horn its valves, it was actually the French that introduced it to the orchestra.

French Horn Facts

3. There are different types of French Horn

There are different types of French Horn, including single, double, and triple horns. Each type of French Horn has different benefits, but when starting, the single French Horn is more suitable for a beginner to learn with. The single French Horn is also lighter and less expensive.

4. Some French Horns have a detachable bell

French Horn Facts

Because of their unique shape, carrying a French Horn can be awkward.

This is why a version of the instrument has been developed with a detachable bell to make it easier for people to carry.

5. French Horns have two orchestral categories

The French Horn is categorised by composers into two different horn parts within an orchestra. These two categories are the high horn part, and the low horn part.

Because of its deep yet high-ranging sound, it has become an indispensable part of any professional orchestra.

6. The French Horn's orchestral debut was in 1664

Despite the horn being such an ancient instrument, the French Horn wasn’t used in an orchestral setting until the seventeenth century. Its first-known debut was in the comedy-ballet La Princesse d’Elide in Paris in 1664.

7. The most common type of French Horn is a double horn

The most common French Horn used within an orchestral setting (and with concert bands) is the double horn.

The double horn has a fourth valve that is used to play different notes through a separate set of tubes.

8. The French Horn is regarded as the most difficult instrument to play

The French Horn is recognised as one of the most difficult instruments to master and play. It can reach such a wide range of notes that it can be easy for a player to play flat or crack notes. This is why those who manage to master the French Horn are held in such high regard.

French Horn Facts

9. The Wagner Tuba French Horn

French Horn Facts

The Wagner Tuba isn’t actually a tuba at all. It is a French Horn that has a vertical bell and a larger bell throat.

It was invented by the composer Richard Wagner who needed it for his cycle of four operas known as the Ring Cycle.

The Wagner Tuba went on to be used by other composers such as Strauss, Sibelius and Bruckner.

10. The French Horn can reach 13 feet in length

Probably our most favourite of these ten interesting facts about the French Horn is that when uncoiled, the horn can reach 12 to 13 feet in length. That’s a lot of tubing!

Conclusion - French Horn Facts

Many classical composers have used the French Horn for its hunting type sound, notably Mozart, who wrote many concertos for the French Horn. However, the enduring, haunting and rousing sounds created by the French Horn live on today as is evident in the many blockbuster film scores that include notable horn compositions.

You only need to watch a film with a score by John Williams for a start. Many notable films with great French Horn elements include Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Star Trek, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Remember the Titans, Independence Day and Pirates of the Caribbean.

French Horn Facts