What has the French Horn to do with the science of uncertainty? The Economist review of journalist Jasper Rees’s book I Found My Horn may have nailed it. The book chronicles Rees’s mid-life crisis in which he picked up his childhood instrument rather than running a marathon . It’s now being published in the US as A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument. More pertinently, a play starring co-writer Jonathan Guy Lewis opens this very night on the London stage.
What makes the horn quite so hard to play is the length of tubing necessary to produce its tonal range; despite three valves, it is very easy to hit the wrong note, or fall off the right one. There’s a level of doubt about each outcome that does not trouble other musicians to quite the same degree. Even professional orchestral players are more exposed than most to public musical catastrophe, because of the horn’s expressive value to composers. For this, among other reasons, horn players are considered a breed apart. This is how Simon Rattle puts it:-
You never eyeball a horn player. You just don’t. They’re stuntmen. You don’t eyeball stuntmen when they’re about to dice with death.”
Given the Knackered Hack’s quest for antidotes to hubris, perhaps mastery of the horn (if that is not a contradiction in terms) should be considered an essential qualification for public or corporate office? I’ve noticed that this website seems to attract a disproportionate number of horn players (at least two). Perhaps there’s a connection? You can purchase a CD by one of those readers below.
[By way of full disclosure, the Knackered Hack was placed first in the under 12s brass section of the Harrogate Festival in 1976, performing the second movement of Mozart's Fourth Horn Concerto K495, cough... ]
Photo credit: vtengr4047
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