Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
11:51 am
Sat August 1, 2009

Works by French Composers Camille Saint-Saens and Paul Jeanjean

Works by Camille Saint-Saens and Paul Jeanjean

On this all-French program we feature three solo instruments with orchestra, or is it four? Camille Saint-Sa?ns and Paul Jeanjean bring us pieces for violin solo, piano solo, and two different kinds of horn - with valves and without valves, the so-called "natural" horn.

Program:

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921): Romance, op. 36 (1874). Ulrich Hubner, natural horn, Kolner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens, conductor

Saint-Saens: Morceau de concert, op. 94 (1887). Ulrich Hubner, valve horn, Kolner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens, conductor

Saint-Saens: Wedding Cake, Valse-Caprice, op. 76 (1885). Stephen Hough, piano, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, conductor

Paul Jeanjean (1874-1928): Nocturne. Ulrich Hubner, valve horn, K?lner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens, conductor

Jeanjean: Romance. Ulrich Hubner, valve horn, Kolner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens, conductor

Saint-Saens: Morceau de concert, op 62 (1880). Philippe Graffin, violin, The Ulster Orchestra, Thierry Fischer, conductor

The French horn is usually called just "horn" by orchestral musicians, but France does play a big part in its development. The natural horn is simply a coiled brass tube, the pitches being produced by changes in lip pressure at the mouthpiece, and by changes in hand position in the bell at the other end. Interchangeable tubing was then invented to allow it to play in different keys. Players replaced these "crooks" as needed, but still, only a certain number of notes were available at any one time. In 1814 (by most accounts) the first valves were added, providing access to different lengths of tubing, and therefore more notes, without wrestling with any machinery. All modern horns use variations of this valved tubing design.

But the increase in notes comes at the price of a loss in character. Much of the appeal of the natural horn is the different quality of notes and keys. The modern instrument equalizes all of that, and 19th-century composers were quite aware of the issues, usually specifying the type of horn to be used. Richard Strauss loved the new horns, Brahms loved the old ones, and Gounod feared that the horn without its "natural" character would be just another trombone. (Let it here be stated that the Fleisher Collection is second to none in its appreciation of the trombone, and of the trombone-playing community, its friends, and loved ones.)

Well, thanks to Ulrich Hubner and this recording of the Saint-Saens Romance, we can hear what the natural horn sounds like. Listen to how diverse and wild the colors of the different notes are! He plays the other works (including the two Jeanjean pieces, supplied for this recording by the Fleisher Collection) on a 19th-century piston-valved horn. Clarinetists know Paul Jeanjean from his many etudes, and while most of his works are for his instrument, he did take time off to write a Nocturne and Romance for horn-playing friends of his.

Other works by Saint-Saens round out the program, bringing to mind what a versatile composer he was. He wrote masterfully in every idiom. At a time when the classical forms were seen as the special province of German composers, his many concertos are almost a political statement. The shorter works on our program are evidence of the clarity, precision, and balance that is the hallmark of Saint-Saens in particular, and indeed of all things French.

Camille Saint-Saens on Wikipedia

Paul Jeanjean on Wikipedia