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About the English Horn:
What is an English Horn?
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What is the range of the English Horn?

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What is a Cor Anglais?


oboe and cor anglais

Each of the woodwind instruments in the orchestra has a variant form. The Flute has a smaller relative, the piccolo, and this plays some of the highest notes in the orchestra. The word Piccolo simply means Little, or Little Flute. The bassoon has a larger version that plays some of the lowest notes in the orchestra, the contra bassoon, or just Contra.

Likewise the clarinet has the Bass Clarinet. But the oboe has a variant form that has a name so misleading as to cause many people to think that it is part of the a brass section in the orchestra. The instrument is the Cor Anglais, which of course means English Horn. It is not a horn; it is a larger oboe that plays in the woodwind section, and it was developed by the French in the mid-eighteenth century. Note the bulbous form at the lower end of the instrument; it is called the 'bell' even though it doesn't look like a bell. This shaped bell helps to make the very special sound that is considered to be amongst the loveliest of all wind instruments. Like both the oboe and bassoon, the sound is generated by blowing through two reeds that are tightly bound together and opposite to each other: the double-reed. Most people learn to play the oboe before they study the cor anglais.

The cor anglais is pitched in F, so the notes come out a fifth lower than they are written. This enables an oboe player to play the cor anglais without having to relearn the names of all the notes. Earlier versions of the instrument were curved. This made it possible for the player to reach the finger holes, but with the development of keywork the curve became no longer necessary. The modern cor anglais is straight and is usually made of African Blackwood or Grenadilla. Other hardwoods are also used today. There is a small bent metal pipe at the top called the bocal, or crook. The keys are usually made of silver plate. The instrument is very heavy and some people prefer some additional method of support for the instrument such as a sling or an endpin. The cor anglais is a woodwind instrument; it is made of wood; it is not a brass instrument. Arguably the closest relative is the alto saxophone which is pitched just a tone lower, in E-flat, and has a conical bore with a single reed like the clarinet.

The double reed consists of two reeds facing each other with a gap between, and they are bound onto a small brass tube called the staple, and this fits onto the bocal, right at the top of the instrument. The player puts the double reed directly into the mouth, and thus is able to exert much sensitive control over the dynamics and timbre of the sound. Reeds wear out very quickly. On average, a double reed will play for only about twelve hours before it must be replaced. Reedmaking requires considerable skill, and is very time-consuming. Professional players prefer to make their own reeds to their individual designs.

Everybody knows the sound of the cor anglais, but few people know what it is called or what it looks like. It tends to play very long, romantic melodies, such as in the slow movement of Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 'From the New World', or in Rodrigo's famous Concierto de Aranjuez for solo guitar and orchestra. In this piece the solo guitar plays slow, spread chords that accompany the famous cor anglais melody. The cor anglais is also a major contributor to the soundtracks of romantic feature films, where moods of sadness or longing are required.

Before 1886, there were only two symphonies of any note that had a cor anglais: Haydn, Philosopher Symphony 1764, and Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique 1829. However, the cor anglais was used extensively throughout the nineteenth century in opera, notably by Wagner and by Berlioz. Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde, 1865, features one of the longest orchestral woodwind solos ever written, and with this the cor anglais became reaffirmed as a major principal instrument in the opera orchestra. The cor anglais only became a regular member of the symphony orchestra in 1886, with Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor, and Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony. Other variants of the modern oboe are: the oboe d'amore, the bass oboe (baryton oboe), and the Heckelphone. Of the ancient variants, probably the best known are the Shawm and the Oboe da Caccia.

The length of a modern cor anglais is about 87cm. The weight is about 1.034 kilograms.

The picture above shows the oboe, and on its right, the Cor Anglais (English Horn).

What does a cor anglais sound like?

Vision de Paradis is an external link to an mp3 file where you can hear Geoffrey Browne play the cor anglais in a piece by Saint-Preux.

Below is a bigger picture of the modern Cor Anglais, and below that is a picture of a Heckelphone. The Heckelphone is pitched in C and plays an octave lower than the oboe. It is a loud and reedy instrument, but extremely agile, and was used by Richard Strauss in his opera Salome.

The French Horn is a brass instrument that does not have a reed to generate the sound. It is not related to the English Horn in any way, except that it is usually also pitched in F. In the classical orchestra it is often used to fill the gap between the low-pitched bassoons and the high woodwind such as flutes , oboes , and clarinets. In the Romantic orchestra it is also a fine and noble solo instrument. In Richard Wagner's opera Siegfried the eponymous hero prefers the heroic horn to the difficult, but romantic, reed instrument.