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A Brief History of Horn Evolution


1. Origins      

Instruments made from animal horns have existed since ancient times - they were primarily used as signaling devices. The horn as a musical instrument has only existed for several hundred years.

One of the earliest "horn-like" instruments, the lur, dates back to sixth century B.C. Made of bronze, these horns were used on the battlefields by Scandinavian clans.  It makes a loud, obnoxious sound, just perfect for striking terror into the enemy camp.

hunting horn

In Europe, horns gained popularity in the trendy sport of hunting. As this aristocratic sport spread, horn-makers experimented with different shapes and sizes to increase the range of notes possible.  In 1636, French musical scholar Marin Mersenne wrote of four different kinds of horns in his Harmonie Universelle: Le grand cor (the big horn), the cor ŕ plusiers tours, (the horn of several turns), le cor qui n'a qu'un seul tour (the horn which has only one turn), and le huchet (the horn with which one calls from afar). Horns such as the cor de chasse and trompe de chasse (pictured left) fall into this latter category.

Shortly thereafter, the horn began to appear in the concert halls and theaters.   Too raucous for inclusion with the fine oboes and violins in the orchestra pit though, at first the hunting horns were used only onstage in scenes depicting, naturally, the hunt. The horn at this point was not yet ready for serious artistic endeavors - only as "special effects," to give flashy theatrics to stage productions.

Meanwhile in Bohemia, Austria and Germany a more refined school of horn playing was developing under the auspices of Count Franz Anton von Sporck.  The gentleman Count was, for all of his life, a hunting aficionado. He even founded The Order of St. Hubert (the patron saint of the hunt).  Then while visiting France in the 1680's, Count von Sporck heard some cors de chasse at a hunt. Immediately after hearing the French hunting horns, von Sporck instructed that two men of his consort be taught to play the instrument. These two men, Wenzel Sweda and Peter Röllig became the source from which horn playing in all of Bohemia and Germany grew.



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