Wagner’s Words on the Use of Valve Horns
24 Sunday Mar 2013
Here’s a translation of Wagner’s notes at the beginning of the score of Tristan und Isolde regarding the use of valve horns:
“The composer believes that special notice of the treatment of the horns is to be recommended. The introduction of valves for this instrument has doubtless so many advantages that it is very difficult to ignore this improvement, in spite of the fact that it is true that the horn has lost some of the beauty of its tone thereby, to be exact, the ability to smoothly connect notes. This great loss would cause this composer to abstain from using valve horns because of his concern for the true character of the horn if he had not had the experience that some superb artists have been able to deal with the aforementioned disadvantages in a way such that the differences are almost inaudible, and that as far as the tone and the connection of notes are concerned there is scarcely any perceptible difference.
In expectation of hopefully inevitable improvements of the valve horn, it is thus urgently recommended to horn players to closely study the horn parts from the currently available score in order that the use of the valves is appropriate for the various keys. The composer has absolutely counted on the player having an E-flat crook (along with the F cro0k). It is up to the hornist whether or not they use crooks for the other changes to higher or lower horn keys that are frequently required in the score. The composer has assumed that single low tones notes will be produced via transposition. The notes with a + sign signify stopped tones, and we assume that the player will produce these notes using the valves.”