A Horn Full of Honey

The french horn is one of the most treacherous instruments in the orchestra. It is a tightrope from which it is easy to fall. Mozart’s horn concertos, Beethoven’s symphonies, and Handel’s Water Music are just a few of the many places where the horns are prominently featured. One frap, as one player called it, can change the mood in the entire auditorium.

A recent New York Times article looked at the Vienna Philharmonic in general, and their horn section in particular, to see what makes them tick. For most, I think, being asked to identify an orchestra simply by their sound is nearly impossible. However, one name continues to come up as standing out with a unique sound – The Vienna Philharmonic.

According to Zubin Mehta, who first conducted the Vienna Phil in 1961, “It’s their obstinacy that has kept them so different, sound-wise, from the other orchestras of the world.”

Former WOSU colleague John McGrody used to come by my office and identify various orchestras and their conductor. At one point, he identified the French National Orchestra. “How did you do that?,” I asked. “He replied, “They were playing with a French accent.”

Listen to recordings of the Vienna Philharmonic, then let me know if you hear an Austrian accent.

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