Please, horn parts with no key, really?

• Aug 26, 2022 - 03:24

Sorry but going forward there is absolutely no good reason to create horn parts in no key. None
Horns have had valves for more than 150 years. Why deny that fact. Why on earth carry on an out dated tradition. Yes there are horn players who might prefer it. My guess is that they are few and far between. And they can read "normal" horn parts just fine. I have never meant anyone who prefers it. Only the few groups that use Baroque instruments need it. But modern groups playing Baroque or early Classical music don't need it. If you play a modern horn why not read modern notation. If you play a horn with crooks? Sure.
If you are trying to recreate a baroque score. Then along with your natural horns you need to specify a few other things. Natural trumpets. Flutes and oboes with only two keys. And violins with shorter necks and gut strings. They all sound very different. And only a few players on each string part. Or only a keyboard with bass continuo.
Be bold.


you have never met anyone who prefers it because you never met me. i hate key settings for all instruments, it is like you are forced to take a step forward, so you can be forsed to take a step back when the composer wants it.

In reply to by bottrop

I believe you are referring to things like Bb clarinets and Eb saxophones. Notation software provides procedures for them. I'm talking more about an earlier classical score in the key of (let's say) D. Because horns had no valves, the player would put his D crook into his horn and be able to play in the key of D. These scores are handed to us with the horn part without a key signature. The player was able to play in whatever key he had a crook for. Well, the harmonic series, anyway. He could also "lip" or hand stop some notes not in the series, if needed. So today someone comes along and wants to transcribe a Baroque piece and sees a horn part with no key. So they leave it that way because that's what the composer wanted? Obviously if the player is going to play a natural horn with the proper crook, he needs that no key signature part. But that is not the norm. Of course, a horn player can transpose his part to the proper key as he plays it. Some do just that. But why? Horn is really the only instrument where we see this.

Wow! What prompted this outburst?

As you're fully aware, the practice of writing horn and trumpet (but not trombone or tuba) parts without a keysignature is a relic of the days of valveless, "natural" brass. But so many of the practices of music notation are relics from the past--note-stem direction, for instance, is a relic of the days of printing music with moveable type. Why are ties and slurs notated using the same curved lines?

My understanding is that classical orchestral music tends towards no key signatures, whilst brass band and jazz scores use them. Broadway?, Hollywood? I have no idea, but I expect it depends on which tradtion the composer comes from--anyone, please correct me. Grabbing a few 20th c. scores off the shelf, I see Shostakovich didn't use key signatures, but Britten did--I expect an influence of the strong tradition of British band music. And of course, in atonal or non-traditionally tonal music (Schoenberg, Hindemith), key signatures make no sense whatsoever.

I suppose it all depends on what tradition and style the composer wishes to align him/herself with: I recently did an orchestration of a piano piece by Debussy, in which I did not use key signatures in the horn parts, emulating the practice Debussy would have used.

As a composer, I tend to over-notate (cautionary) accidentals (my own original compositions tend to be in the non-traditionally tonal/modal vein, and obviously I was trained in the Classical tradition); and as a singer/keyboardist, I would be perfectly happy if every B-flat in a piece in F-major were written with its own flat--I'd rather not have to remember from one end of the bar to theother whether that B was natural or flat. On the other hand, when I see a piece notated with one flat in the signature, I subconsciously connect it with every other score in F-major I've ever seen--the sinfonia from Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's sixth symphony--and think "Aha! Gentle, Pastoral!" Not to mention the equally subconscious pull to make every A sound sweet and bright, every F sound like home. So I can see both sides of the argument.

In reply to by wfazekas1

OK. I fully realize that I am on shaky ground. And actually I expected much worse pushback. I suspect many see who started this thread and just decided to move on. I only posted because many newcomers trying to transcribe an early classical piece, ask about how to deal with a no key horn part. I might (but do not) say to just transcribe it in the key of the piece but for horn in F. Just like they would for any other transposing instrument. Why transcribe for an instrument that almost no one plays? At least Schoenberg and Hindemith were equal no key composers. And they specified what key instrument was to be used.
One of the interesting things about playing music is that I can sit in an orchestra almost anywhere and be able to play my trumpet part. Regardless of what continent I was trained on. Sure I might have to break out the C or D trumpet. But a horn player can't do that for something in B major.

Musicians are an interesting lot. I once took my natural trumpet to an orchestra rehearsal. We were playing a Hayden piece in D. This instrument was almost three feet long. Nobody batted an eye or mentioned, or asked about what I was playing. I didn't do it for the attention. I did it to see how it fit.

Do you still have an unanswered question? Please log in first to post your question.