5

This is a passage for Horn in F in a moderato tempo (the key is 4 sharps):

Horn passage

Though it mostly moves by step, there are several leaps, one of which is by a dissonant melodic interval (diminished third). Will these intervals be awkward to play for the hornists, and what are the overall limits for leaps in the brass section?

5
  • 1
    Just like any other instrument, depends on the skill of the player. Is there a particular age, skill level, type of ensemble, or other player expectation that you have? Mar 6, 2023 at 3:03
  • 1
    Also, are you more asking about augmented seconds or the octave drop from A to A? Pretty sure the octave is harder than any seconds or thirds Mar 6, 2023 at 3:05
  • @ToddWilcox I'm talking about all of the large leaps of 4ths, 6ths, and octaves, as well as, if it happens to be difficult, the augmented 2nd. I expect the players to be reasonably competent, but I'm trying to avoid virtuoso passages that only soloists could play.
    – OprenStein
    Mar 6, 2023 at 3:10
  • Is this concert pitch?
    – phoog
    Mar 6, 2023 at 11:38
  • @phoog no, it's transposed.
    – OprenStein
    Mar 6, 2023 at 22:47

4 Answers 4

6

Competent brass players can certainly play intervals of an octave or less, although these intervals get harder in extreme registers (especially with big leaps into the upper tessitura).

Octaves are often easier than they look, because the players already have the pitch in their ears.

All of this said, I would argue that the hardest part of this excerpt is the key. These sharps and double sharps are definitely doable, but they will likely be trickier for the players than the leaps.

PS: A to F-doublesharp is actually a diminished third, not an augmented second :-)

6
  • Don't forget that a different crook can put a horn in a different key. Mar 6, 2023 at 21:39
  • @chasly-supportsMonica nobody uses crooks these days except in Vienna (ignoring period instrument specialists whose instruments have no valves and cannot play the parts in question).
    – phoog
    Mar 6, 2023 at 22:26
  • 2
    @phoog - That's a very negative way to put it. I would rather say that some people do use crooks these days - we don't know the overall requirements of the OP. They might wish to consider this factor. Mar 6, 2023 at 23:26
  • @chasly-supportsMonica it's not a factor that any modern orchestrator needs to consider (again unless they're writing for natural horn, which is obviously not the case here). Even the Wikipedia article on the Vienna horn says that using crooks other than the F crook is frowned upon. Writing the part for an instrument in a different transposition is just going to make life harder for the player, who will invariably use the standard F instrument and will therefore have to transpose the part if it isn't written in F.
    – phoog
    Mar 6, 2023 at 23:44
  • @phoog - Players of the natural horn can produce accidentals with a combination of breath and placing the hand in the bell of the instrument. I think it is more up to OprenStein to decide than you. I simply offered some extra information. Mar 6, 2023 at 23:55
6

Leaps by themselves are not a problem, nor are the specific intervals — particularly for valved brass instruments.1 The limitations would just be the player's ability and range.

For example, a reasonably skilled trumpet player (or talented amateur) can make leaps of an octave, but such large leaps could quickly exceed that player's usable note range if they get too high.

For a professional trumpet player, leaps beyond an octave are possible, and if not routine, at least not all that unusual either.

Here is a downward leap — legato, no less, which is more difficult — of a diminished 12th, from written F#5 to B#3, from Hummel's trumpet concerto.

Diminished 12th
(Image source: IMSLP, Michel Rondeau edition, solo trumpet part)

And here's a section from Haydn's trumpet concerto featuring several leaps of a major 10th, and two leaps of nearly two octaves.

Haydn trumpet concerto mm. 133–149
(Image source: IMSLP, Michel Rondeau edition, solo trumpet part)


1. The exception is the trombone, for which the practicality of leaps can be affected by slide position. But in that case, the issue would be more the speed with which the leap is to be executed.

3
  • 1
    I was a trombone player in my youth, and a common competition piece was Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in Bb. I recall that it included some 2-octave leaps.
    – Barmar
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:40
  • 1
    It should be noted that concertos specifically are not necessarily written for the merely "competent" players. They're deliberately show-off pieces for the soloist, so they're typically more demanding on the performer than other pieces where they're just part of the orchestra. If your whole brass section is forced to make such large leaps frequently, you might get some complaints. Mar 7, 2023 at 17:36
  • 1
    @DarrelHoffman That's a good point, but in light of that, it should also be noted that both of these concertos are routinely played by talented high-school students.
    – Aaron
    Mar 7, 2023 at 18:14
3

Can competent brass players play large leaps?

Yes. Remember that brass instruments in their fundamental form can play only tones that are found in the overtone series. Large leaps are inherent in the nature of brass instruments, especially in their lower registers.

In the upper register, because the overtones are closer together, playing a note accurately is more dependent on the player's control: breath pressure, lip tension, and indeed ear. Here I answer "yes" because the question specifies "competent," but remember that it is unusual to attend a symphonic performance, even a professional one, without hearing a flubbed note from the horns.

Look at a few horn parts from the late 18th through the late 19th century. They don't just contain leaps, their characteristic style is based on leaps. This music is an important part of the horn repertoire. For a horn player, a few fourths, sixths, or octaves are like breathing.

You'll also want to look at idiomatic writing for the modern valved horn, of course, in more recent works, where you'll find leaps both in passages that evoke the classical brass idiom (Fanfare for the Common Man comes to mind) and in passages that are mostly stepwise, as with melodies written for any chromatic instrument.

In general, as an orchestrator, you will want to become more familiar with all of the instruments of the orchestra. Buy a cheap used horn, or borrow one. Learn to play it, even badly. This will give you more insight into the answer to this question than any of us can. Look at a book of orchestral excerpts that a student hornist would use. Listen to professional recordings of these pieces. Look for videos online of students playing these pieces, too: this will give you a sense of what's hard and what isn't.

While you're doing all of that, you're bound to come upon passages that are similar to the one you're writing, to serve as a model. How do other composers handle the sort of texture you want to create (for example, the part crossing in the last measure is unusual).

Finally, make friends with a horn player. Don't just ask them to look at the part but ask them to play it for you, so you can hear whether it actually sounds as you imagine it does. They'll tell you if anything doesn't make sense or if you need to be careful about anything.

3

Those aren't large leaps! A LARGE leap would be something like 2 octaves! Nothing here is a problem. And instrumentalists tolerate 'difficult' intervals much more than vocalists do.

Note, however, that the convention of writing horn parts in open key with accidentals is still widely followed.

No need to be scared of the double-sharps. They actually make this example EASIER to read.

When tempted to under-estimate the agility of brass instruments, Google 'Carnival of Venice'. All college-level players play it.

1
  • "Carnival of Venice", forsooth! :) Mar 6, 2023 at 23:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.