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A Brief History of Horn Evolution

3. The Valve

omnitonic horn

    By 1815 several different Omnitonic horn designs were being manufactured.  The horns pictured here and on the previous page show only two of the many different types available then. The basic idea was that via a mechanism of some type, a player could quickly choose from a built-in collection of crooks, while still utilizing hand horn technique to play in any given key.
     Intended as a solution to the problem of quick crook changes, the Omnitonic horn proved to be both cumbersome and heavy.  It was also short-lived.   The Omnitonic horn was adopted mostly by conservative players who were not confident with the budding new technology that would soon eliminate the need for hand horn technique altogether - the valve.

     In 1815, in the Leipzig periodical Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Gottlob Benedict Bierey wrote:

     "Heinrich Stölzel, the chamber musician from Pless in Upper Silesia, in order to perfect the Waldhorn, has succeeded in attaching a simple mechanism to the instrument, thanks to which he has obtained all the notes of the chromatic scale in a range of almost three octaves, with a good, strong and pure tone. All the artificial notes - which, as is well known, were previously produced by stopping the bell with the right hand - are identical in sound to the natural notes and thus preserve the character of the Waldhorn. Any Waldhorn player will, with practice, be able to play on it. So that his invention may become more widely known and used, Herr Stölzel has laid his invention at the feet of His Majesty the King of Prussia and now awaits a favorable outcome."

Stolzel horn      In 1816, Heinrich Stölzel and a wind playing colleague, Friedrich Blümel, were granted a Prussian patent for the valve mechanism.  A later valve design of Stölzel's, a long stroke piston (known as the Stölzel valve), inspired other instrument makers. François Perinet developed a piston valve from Stölzel's model in 1839 that is the direct predecessor to the modern day piston valve.
     Stölzel's early piston valve horns also evolved into the horn that is still used by players in the Vienna Philharmonic today.

Pumpen-valve horn

     The piston valve, which moves up and down, soon inspired another development in horn technology.  About 1832, the rotary valve, which turns in a circle, was invented by Joseph Riedl in Vienna.
     By the mid-1800s the valveless Waldhorn with a set of crooks was being far surpassed by a single F horn with three valves and no extra crooks.  The valve could instantly change the length (and therefore the pitch) of the instrument by simply pushing down the key and activating the valve mechanism.  At first, piston valves were more common, but by the end of the 19th century, the rotary valve had gained popularity over the piston.  Playing with hand horn technique was rapidly fading away.


     Late in the 19 century, a German horn maker, Fritz Kruspe, was one of the first to manufacture both "single" and "double horns" with rotary valves. With the double horn, he crafted an instrument having a fourth valve that routed the air through shorter tubing that changed the entire pitch of the horn from F to Bb.  Today, the double horn is the most commonly used horn worldwide.



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