Thursday, April 18, 2013

Horn Diary

Two weeks to go before the performances of the Brahms Requiem. Working with the horn parts for it continues to be a revelation for me. I feel blessed to experience such an opening into a realm of music I wasn't really aware existed. Back in my college and conservatory days, thirty years and more ago, I listened to the Brahms symphonies but never really connected with them. I always preferred medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Chopin and Satie.

What has led me into the Requiem has been the horn writing. Over and over again I've had the sensation of more deeply appreciating what he's up to as I work with the music. What's been especially amazing has been how learning to play the various horn parts has been teaching me how to play the horn. Somehow the gestalt of individual phrases leads me to better understanding the sheer expressiveness of the horn. There are times when it feels more like I'm singing wordlessly than playing an instrument - and other times when the phrase could only be imagined as being played by the horn. 

A practical result of all of this is being drawn to practice the horn even more than usual. I've pretty much put down the flutes, keyboard and the guitar and singing for the duration. My endurance has increased as a result. The question will be whether it's increased enough. Since I'm the only horn, I'm playing the first horn part as well as bits and pieces from the other parts when they are prominent. (Which means transposing at sight horn in E, Eb, D, C & Bb tief - an achievement of which I'm inordinately proud ;-)

One thing I've started to do is use how I'm holding the instrument to help with dynamics. When the horn part is meant to be high in the mix, I hold it away from my body (always off the leg) and angle it out a bit so the sound can flow unencumbered. In all the pianissimo sections I'm holding the edge of the bell tight against my torso with a bit of a downward angle so as to damp the sound a bit. That also changes the sound some, making it much more appropriate when accompanying quiet voices.

One particular revelation has been his use of off-beats. In community band I'm used to off-beats being very mechanical and fast. From time to time Brahms uses them in slow passages to amazing effect. Even if the tempo doesn't slow, there's a wonderful sense of peaceful relaxation.

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