Image from: Leopold Mozart “Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule”

Return of the Corno da Tirarsi

Olivier Picon, who played with us last March, has made some small alterations to the prototype of the corno da tirarsi, as kindly supplied by Blechblasinstrumentenbau Egger, that you may have heard here last October. Olivier has been busy performing and recording on the Corno da Tirarsi, and is scheduled to return to the Swaen stage next April. In the next couple of months, his detailed write-up on the research into this organological conundrum will be available on the De Swaen website where you can also read about our choice of instruments and other decisions in Historically Informed Performance (HIP).

On the subject of horns, some of our regular listeners have commented on the “different” way horns are played in De Swaen, (although last Sunday, you may have seen the Madeuf brothers playing in a similar way at the Concertgebouw).

There are many aspects of 19th century Romantic traditions that still affect HIP - from turgid tempi to “interpretative” conductors. During the 18th century, massive changes in social structure saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the decline of a feudal system ruled by powerful courts. As the courts disappeared, so did their orchestras and other trappings of grandeur, such as bands of highly-skilled trumpeters and lavish hunts. stick a hand or drill holes into instruments.... would have been an act of unthinkable sacrilege.

As a result of these changes, by the end of the 18th century, the art of clarino (high trumpet) and “high” horn playing, so familiar to Baroque composers, had been lost and the instruments’ symbolism suppressed. The horn survived - albeit muffled with a hand in its bell - but it was to be another 150 years or so before the trumpet was taken seriously again as a solo “art-music” instrument.

Before then, trumpeters, being also essential for military signalling, had been exclusively selected, highly valued, well paid and protected by a guild, since they directly represented nobility. (Specialised brass-playing Stadtpfeiffers were also very privileged.) Trumpeters would also have played horns at a noble’s most-envied status symbol, the hunt. The horn, since its sound was similar to the baying of hounds, was often featured in the music written for hunting celebrations and this character was used symbolically in other works.

To stick a hand or drill holes into instruments that had defined purity, the Divine, Royalty and nobility for centuries, would have been an act of unthinkable sacrilege.

Hopefully this explains why we feel it important to recapture the spirit of unsuppressed, pre-Romantic Droit du Seigneur with the triumphant sound of horns played in the original way, come what may.

Mike Diprose
October 2009


small horn boy

“Hofansicht des Jagdschlosses Kranichstein” Georg Adam Eger 1760
Voorpagina van Die Sinfonien des Darmstädter Kapellmeisters
Johann Samuel Endler 1694 - 1762, Joanna Cobb Biermann


Thanks to Graham Nicholson for building the horns in G.



J.S. Bach
Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?, BWV 89

J.S. Endler
Ouverture in Es, voor 2 oboi di selva, strijkers & continuo

J.S. Bach
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan III, BWV 100

Sat 24th & Sun 25th October 2009,