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Introduction et Variationes concertantes, Op 248

'Czerny: Music for horn and fortepiano' (CDH55074)
Czerny: Music for horn and fortepiano
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Movement 1: Adagio
Track 1 on CDH55074 [2'58] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Tema et variationes
Track 2 on CDH55074 [5'18] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: Adagio espressivo
Track 3 on CDH55074 [2'39] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 4: Finale: Alla Polacca
Track 4 on CDH55074 [5'21] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Introduction et Variationes concertantes, Op 248
The Introduction et Variations concertantes is one of the first works ever written for the solo valved horn and piano. Authorship is credited to Czerny and Joseph Lewy, the latter being a horn virtuoso and pioneer of the newly invented valved instrument. The horn part contains several notes and key changes which would be unplayable on the natural horn, even with the advanced technique of hand-stopping the bell of the instrument with the right hand, prevalent at this time in Europe.

The Tyrolean theme has the air of an Alpine song about it, but could easily have been invented by Lewy or Czerny. While the variations have all the hallmarks of Czerny’s virtuosic style he would not have been as bold with the choice of notes, keys and modulations for the horn had he not had guidance from a keen advocate of the fully chromatic horn.

Interpreting this horn part gives rise to a unique set of technical challenges when faced with the evidence of how nineteenth-century horn players approached the new development of full chromatic availability on their instrument. Lewy’s legacy includes a set of twelve challenging études from 1850 with the following instructions:

These studies are to be played chromatically on the F horn. The valves should only be used when the natural horn is inadequate for the bright and distinct emission of the sound … Only in this way will the beautiful tone of the natural horn be preserved while, at the same time, retaining the advantage of the valve horn.

Berlioz wrote in 1843 in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik that:

It is foolishness to think that the effect of stopped notes, which are sometimes quite characteristic and required by the composer’s idea, should be lost on the valved horn, as one can produce these notes by inserting the hand into the bell just as well on the valved horn as on the ordinary natural horn.

In the same year Berlioz commented on Lewy’s playing of the valved horn in Dresden:

The most remarkable of the horn players is Lewy, who enjoys quite a reputation in Saxony. He and his colleagues use the cylinder horn …

So the question is: how much should the player use a hand-stopping technique when the valves offer a chromatic range? The answer comes partly from Lewy’s instructions for his études and partly from the Méthode pour le Cor Chromatique ou à Pistons by Joseph Meifred published in Paris in 1840. We know from Berlioz’s Mémoires that he was acquainted with Meifred as well as with Lewy. The latter had studied horn with his elder brother Eduard Constantin, who had studied in Paris with Domnich between 1810 and 1813, so they would have been familiar with the French school of hand-horn technique. Meifred was playing the valved horn from 1828 and was appointed to the Paris Conservatoire staff in 1833. There is a connection via Berlioz between Meifred and Lewy: they both began giving valved-horn concerts in the same year and they both expected hand-stopping to be used in conjunction with the valves. Therefore I have used guidance from the Meifred Méthode to help interpret the Introduction et Variations concertantes.

In 1829, with the assistance of Paris Conservatoire horn professor Louis-François (1781–1868), Meifred published a precursor to the 1840 Méthode, so his ideology would have been made public prior to the composition of this work. The author’s five goals stated here are: (1) to restore to the horn the notes it lacks; (2) to restore accuracy (of intonation) to some notes; (3) to render muted notes sonorous, while preserving the desirable timbre of lightly stopped ones; (4) to give the leading note in every key or mode the ‘countenance’ it has in the natural range, and (5) not to deprive composers of changes of crook, each of which has a special colour.

These are the guidelines I have used in deciding how to perform this work. It entailed treating the horn part as if it had crook changes marked so as to imbue the different leading notes with the desired ‘countenance’. Since this requires an unusual degree of sensitivity to the modulations and harmony changes, one can see why this technique lacked a universal appeal, especially for more complex works written after this tutor had been published. Nevertheless, Berlioz’s words seem quite justified regarding the composer’s requirement that certain notes should be characteristically stopped, and this seems to be the rationale behind the approach suggested by the publications of Lewy and Meifred. This is the first time that such a combination of the use of valves and a transposable hand-stopping technique has been used on a solo horn and piano recording. Interestingly, the horn part in Schubert’s song Auf dem Strom (1828) was written for Lewy and seems to require a similar approach.

from notes by Andrew Clark © 2000

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