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My sister found a nice book with opera parts written for English Horn. The thing is, I play the French Horn.

I've done a little bit of research on the English Horn, and found out that is also a transposing instrument in F – just as the parts I play. Will it be okay if I play the English Horn parts on my French Horn?

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    Sure! But seriously, what do you mean by “ok”? Oct 12, 2022 at 12:27
  • i mean i can play the notes,same tone but maybe it will not sound so nice the melodies for example as itwas written for french horn Oct 12, 2022 at 13:02
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    Or maybe it will sound better. It's not what the composer intended, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. The other issue is range, there are probably notes written that you can't play on French horn, so you'd have to change octaves, but that's not a show-stopper either.
    – Duston
    Oct 12, 2022 at 13:34
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    When I'd just started to play the French horn, my mother went to buy me some tools/brushes for cleaning it. She came home with brushes for the English horn, which I obviously had no use at all for. You should consider yourself lucky! ;)
    – Oliphaunt
    Oct 12, 2022 at 21:18
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    Related: Can I play an English horn part with a viola? Oct 13, 2022 at 3:08

4 Answers 4

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Try it and see! Every time you "import" music from one instrument into another, you face a few questions:

  1. Is it even possible on the new instrument? Transcribing from a woodwind to piano might run into the fact that piano can't sustain a prolonged note. Going the opposite way might run into the fact that wind instruments can't play chords. Transcribing from bowed strings to winds will run into the fact that strings don't have to find places to take breaths. In this case, English horn and French horn have enough similarities that it's likely that everything is possible. Range is of course one of the considerations, but French horn has a very broad range and should cover English horn's (and a book of operatic melodies isn't likely to exploit the challenging extremes anyway).
  2. Is it "idiomatic" on the new instrument? Different constructions mean different fingerings, and passages that were written to fit well on on instrument might be awkward on another. Differences in instrumental capabilities might make you re-imagine or re-interpret the source material, like when a marimba plays the sustained tones of "The Swan" using tremolo, or a piano replaces blue notes with minor 2nds. Of course, you can also use these obstacles as challenges to inspire virtuosity or creativity. I once heard a performance of the last movement of Mendelssohn's violin concerto on tuba. The tuba was ludicrously unsuited for the fleet-footed, scintillating scurries of staccato arpeggios, and as the violin was supposed to climb three octave scales to end in a triumphant scream, the tuba petered out as it approached the top of its range to end in a wheezy "poop!" But the whole thing demanded the utmost virtuosity, and it was jaw-dropping to watch such an absurdly inappropriate stunt be pulled off successfully.

In this case, the English horn wasn't even the original instrument for which these melodies were composed; it was voice. So I wouldn't worry too much about the tone being wrong; both English and French horns are celebrated for expressive, melodic tone, and often compared to the human voice.

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You could play music for a wide variety of instruments on your horn. It would still work, for example, to play music published for Eb alto saxophone, violin, Bb trumpet, anything really. If it feeds your soul to play it, go for it.

If you want to play along with someone else, the key of your instrument matters. Say you were playing an aria from a Bb clarinet book on your horn and you wanted a friend to play the piano part that accompanies the solo. That wouldn't work, because the music is printed to work for the clarinet, which transposes a major second, not a perfect fifth. The piano book would be expecting a C to come out, the clarinet part would have a printed D... Your horn when you play that D would make a G come out. It would sound terrible and make no sense. You mention the English horn. That would work because the transposition is the same. In this same aria, the piano book would expect a C. The e.h. book would print a G, and when you play that G on your horn a C would come out.

TL;DR If you are playing alone, play anything that is reasonably possible for you ar your current skill level. If you are playing with others, play music published for instruments in F. You'll have the most success with French horn music, but e.h. music will probably work. The only time it wouldn't is if the e.h. is written higher than you can play on your horn.

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The three different "schools" on this are:

  • Play music only on the exact period instruments and exact tunings that it was written for: a lot of instruments has been improved over time and sounds different from when the music was written and the sould of the music is lost in translation.
  • Well, lets play on the modern equivalents of the instruments: example, trumpets and horns before about 1820 did not have valves as the valves where not invented before that (and so on for other instruments), good music is worth hearing even in translation.
  • Play on whatever sounds good or makes musical sense: use what you have. I tend to end up in this camp, so do play the music on your horn!

And as often, proponents of the different schools can become quite agitated when argueing.

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If you're playing by yourself, fell free to read from music intended for ant instrument, if it lies within a playable range. So it might come out at a different pitch than that intended. So what?

If you're playing in an ensemble, and either your instrument or the intended one is a transposing instrument, it's necessary for each to use the SAME transposition. English Horn and French Horn are both 'in F'. Good, that box is ticked too!

Will it sound good? Well, try. The English Horn is a reedy sound, the French Horn a more mellow one. But they are both wind instruments, so will phrase in a similar way, which is probably more important.

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