Stereotypes

March 19, 2016 at 9:30 am

Stereotypes are as rampant in music as they are in the rest of human interactions. So when you’re a French Horn, everybody expects you to act like a French Horn.

So, berets, striped shirts, croissants, escargot et vin, oui oui? Nein – lederhosen und bier. The common French horn is actually German. (The English Horn is the French instrument, you silly billy.)

Brass instruments have been around for millennia, and because they have the capacity to be LOUD, they were used to communicate over long distances, either in war (charge! or, retreat!) or in the hunt (we’ve managed to catch a single fox/boar with no less than 20 men and 100 dogs!) To make matters worse, valves (keys) on brass instruments are a relatively new invention (late 19th century); without valves, they are somewhat limited in the number of notes they could play. If you think about the pitches heard in a typical brass fanfare (eg, the theme to Masterpiece Theater), that’s pretty much what brass could do before valves were added. Modern brass instruments are able to play any pitch, and are capable of a huge pallet of tone colors – but it’s hard to shake old stereotypes. They still get more than their fair share of “ta-das” and “too-ta-ti-toos.”

But despite all the negative effects of this musical stereotype, the brass do what they do really well. Fanfare for the Common Man wasn’t written for the glass harmonica, after all. So, here is a rondo from a Mozart horn concerto which makes me want to go and chase foxes. Not boars, though. They’re scary.

If you like this, may I recommend this funny song by Flanders & Swann. It requires a very specific sense of humor, and an acute understanding of British pronunciation – namely, that the English consider “horn” and “gone” to rhyme (not to mention “burglar” & “pergola”)

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