Toot Your Horn!

Thursday, June 03, 2010 - 02:31 PM

Lots of composers put the sounds of Nature into their compositions.  Think of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons, or Ludwig van Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. In the 20th century, composers started putting outdoor sounds of a different nature into their work. György Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre (which the New York Philharmonic performed so brilliantly last week--you can hear the broadcast June 10 on WQXR), features not one, but two “Car Horn Preludes.” They're scored for twelve bulbed horns (like the kind on a bicycle), each one tuned to a specific pitch. Some of the Ligeti horns were so big and heavy that the percussionists had to stomp on them to play them!

That reminded me of the original car horn piece, by George Gershwin, who was so enamored with French taxi horns that he put them into An American in Paris. Gershwin ran around Paris rounding up the original batch of horns for the 1928 Carnegie Hall premiere (commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic). These days, most orchestras rent them. Carroll Music supplied the ones for Le Grand Macabre, but Steve Weiss Music, outside Philadelphia, is the go-to outfit for orchestras playing An American in Paris. It calls for four horns, pitched A, B, C, and D. When I spoke with John O'Connor and Randy Rudolph, the horn guys at Steve Weiss, they said they have a dozen sets in stock, for which they get hundreds of calls every year, from orchestras all over the U.S. (and even from Europe!). Today, the horns are made in Germany, rather than France. The Martin Horn Company started out producing cavalry, hunting, and fanfare horns (wouldn't you love to have one of those?). Now, they've moved on to ambulances and fire trucks. Of course, those horns are a lot less fragile than the Gershwin ones, which have to be tested and maintained to keep honking exactly the right notes.



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Comments [3]

FRED GARRISON from Highlands, New Jersey 07732

This is for Mr. Arthur Miller,

Bob Sherman's Listening Room Theme was the movement before the last movement of IBERT'S: Divertissement. It's called "PARADE". The last movement begins with that piano that sounds like a cat was jumping on the keyboard.
YEH, I know, "PICKY" PICKY"!


Sep. 05 2010 08:57 AM
Marcia Rita Jacobs from Ocean

An American in Paris features horns so real I will not play it while driving the car. Naomi, your voice transmits over the air with a nasal quality, not exactly horn-like, but more like paper over a comb. Your credentials are phenomenal, but...

Jun. 10 2010 08:08 PM
Arthur Miller

don't forget the last movement of Ibert's Divertissment - which we used to hear each weekday on Robert Sherman's Listening Room.

Jun. 07 2010 10:47 PM

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