Music Appreciation 101, part 5: Brass without Valves
by, 02-16-2008 at 06:00 PM (276 Views)
As I look over the euphonium discussion topics on my forum I see a lot of talk about valve action and valve oil. But in the early days of brass instruments, this was not a problem because the first brass instruments had no valves. I'm leaving trombone out of this discussion because I think most readers are very familiar with the instrument already.
Early French horns were made with no valves, for example. They usually had various crooks (like our tuning slides) that could be used to make the horn play in different keys. But beyond that they could only play the patial series (the "bugle" tones) easily. Players quickly figured out how to do "fancier" things like stopping the bell tightly with their hand to produce a half-step alteration of a partial's pitch. The following example shows a horn player using a natural horn, but without stopping the bell. Also, he is playing a piece that was written after valved horns were common, but it is a horn call that Wagner wrote recalling days when a natural horn would have been used.
But I think the most common place we might hear a valve-less brass instrument today is when we hear a bugle play. Real bugles have no valves, although often trumpet players will play bugle calls for ceremonies using their standard valved trumpet. Here is a British bugler doing a fine job during a ceremony. You can hear the marchers in the background.
And one of the most well-known bugle calls is played before the start of a horse race. This instrument is more of a post horn or fanfare horn because it is not curved around. (Bugles were curved because they were carried on the march or on horseback.)
Speaking of post horns, these are small, usually straight trumpet-like instruments that were a favorite at fox hunts in England. Now they are also featured in solos with band, such as the following Post Horn Gallop.
At an Army Band Tuba-Euphonium Conference several years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Alp Horns perform. They even serenaded us in the hotel lobby before the concert. These are very long instruments, usually made of hollowed-out wood. The cumbersome design originated in the Swiss Alps according to legend. Here is an octet:
And here is an Alp Horn quartet:
Finally, here is a contemporary performance by jazz trumpeter Chuck Findley. He is using a slide trumpet, which is the length of a trumpet but with a slide instead of three valves. He doesn't take full advantage of the slide's possibilities in this example, but it is entertaining. (NOTE: turn down your volume before playing this one!)