Updated: Apr 6
By Bradley Strauchen-Scherer
Demilune horn “grand cor,” 1600-1650, Raulin Cretien I or Raulin Cretien II (France, Paris), Brass
Length alongside outside curve: 108 cm
Purchase, Elizabeth A.R. and Ralph S. Brown Jr. Gift, 2020 (2020.4)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is excited to announce the acquisition of a cornucopia of horns to its collection that highlight key moments in the instrument’s history. These instruments span over two hundred years, from forest and hunting field to the increasingly chromatic soundscapes of nineteenth-century music making. All of the instruments were acquired from the collection of Werner Flachs, whose fascination with the horn grew out of his keen interest in hunting history and culture. For many years, these instruments were displayed in the Schweizer Museum für Wild und Jagd, housed in Schloss Landshut, near Bern, Switzerland.
The poetic name “demilune” describes the profile of this instrument, which is one of the earliest forms of the hunting horn. Its crescent shape echoes instruments made of natural materials such as animal horn and elephant tusk. The brass body of this horn appears to have been formed from a single sheet that was shaped and joined with a longitudinal seam that is tabbed in the area of the bell before becoming a butt join along the remaining length of the instrument. The maker’s hand is visible in burnishing and hammer marks on the instrument’s surface. The bell interior bears traces of black pigment. The body of the instrument bears three brass rings, two mounted on ferrules encircling the body tubing and one mounted on the bell garland, for attachment to a baldric or carrying strap.
An intricately crenelated garland adorns and strengthens the bell. It is stamped with a repeating pattern of flowers and embossed with the maker’s mark comprising a stag looking over its shoulder standing atop the initials RC. The whole is contained in a circle in the manner of a cartouche. Stamped on the bell body immediately above the maker’s mark is the text VERNON, possibly referring to place of manufacture.
Horns like this have been popular signaling instruments for centuries and their use is often depicted in tapestries and other contemporaneous art. An instrument very much like this Cretien horn can be seen in the allegorical tapestry titled Vanity Sounds the Horn, held in the Met’s medieval art collection. Like oliphants, these crescent-shaped horns were important badges of status and as such, often appear in heraldic devices and crests. This acquisition represents the earliest signed brass instrument in the Met’s collection.
Detail from Vanity Sounds the Horn (from The Hunt of the Frail Stag), tapestry fragment, South Netherlandish, ca. 1500–1525, Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950 (50.145.4).
Trompe de Chasse
This large brass hunting horn is wrapped in typical circular form with its body tubing coiled 2 ½ times and secured to the bell and mouthpiece receiver with double sets of folded braces. Anecdotal sources suggest that horns with these duplicate sets of braces were reserved for the lead huntsman. The bell has a single, wedge-shaped gusset, indicating that two separate sheets were used for its manufacture. Longitudinal burnishing marks are visible on the bell section, revealing how the piece was worked on a mandrel. The bell interior has been painted black (a recent restoration in imitation of the instrument’s original finish), as is typical with hunting horns so that the bright metal does not “dazzle” horses and quarry in the sun. The bell garland is stamped with a repeating pattern of fleurs-de-lis, place of manufacture, and the maker’s name: FAIT A PARIS PAR / CRETIEN ORDINAIRE DV ROI.
Trompe de chasse “Dauphine,” ca. 1700, Cretien, France, Paris
Width across coils: 50cm; width across bell opening: 285 mm
Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 2020 (2020.3)
This elegant form of the hunting horn was given the name “trompe Dauphine” because it was adopted as the official hunting horn of the French court the year the Dauphin, future King Louis XV, was born. Horns like this were central to the elaborate and famed hunt at Versailles. The long tube length of the trompe Dauphine (14 foot D) could produce at least 16 notes of the harmonic series, which enabled huntsmen to play a repertoire of intricate calls to keep members of the hunting party apprised of events unfolding in the field. The trompe was also played to entertain listeners before and after the hunt. The sophisticated design and melodic capabilities of these French instruments gave rise to the development of the horn as a musical instrument. Because of the importance of the hunt as a reflection of wealth and noble status, stylized horns were often employed as decorative motifs, as can be seen in wall panels of the the Louis XV interior displayed in the European sculpture and decorative arts galleries at the Met Museum.
Detail from Louis XV room, Attributed to Jean-François Roumier, Paris, ca. 1720–25, with later additions. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1906 (07.225.147)
Pair of natural horns
Made from brass and pitched in 14’D, this pair of horns is identical in all details of design and construction. The bell and mouthpiece receiver stays are fashioned of flat metal. The flange of the bell stay is cut in an elongated cup shape. The body tubing of the instruments is coiled 3 ½ times. The two horns are wound identically, with the mouthpiece receiver on the left-hand side of the tubing when the horns are held in playing position, thus the instruments are “right handed” (although they could be held with either hand uppermost) and are not a mirror pair. The body tubing of both horns has been partially wrapped with cloth binding that is old and possibly contemporaneous. The surface of the instruments is warmly and deeply patinated. Longitudinal burnishing marks are visible on the bells and body tubing and are consistent with contemporary fabrication techniques. The bell interiors of the horns have been blackened. This surface is well worn and several layers of paint, none of them recent, are evident. Distinct patterns of wear in the bell interior indicate that these horns were played with the hand in the bell and suggest that they might have been used to perform repertoire featuring nonharmonic notes, which would have required the use of hand horn technique. The bell edge is decorated and protected by a wide garland reinforced with wire and an under-folded edge in the manner of a Saxon rim. The garland of each horn is stamped with five double-headed imperial eagles equidistantly spaced around its circumference and with the maker’s name as follows: IOHANN GOTFRID / HALTENHOF / IN HANAU 1729.
This pair of horns is of a transitional design that spans the instrument’s journey from the hunt to the orchestra. Although they could have used in an outdoor context, they are representative of the more compact form of the horn that appeared with increasing frequency in orchestras in the first decades of the 18th century. It is likely that Handel’s horn players, most of whom hailed from Germany, would have played the Water Music on instruments similar to this.
Pair of natural horns, 1729, Johann Gottfried Haltenhof (Hanau c. 1701-1783)
Bell diameter: 23cm; max width across coils: 42cm
Purchase, Alfred and Jane Ross Foundation Gift, 2020 (2020.5.1, .2)
Circular Trumpet, ca. 1830 Jahn (Paris, fl. 1816-1859)
Assembled instrument: max depth: 12.5cm; max width: 31cm; max height: 35cm
Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 2020 (2020.2a-q)
This iteration of the stopped trumpet takes the form of a miniature hand horn fashioned from brass, complete with an extensive assortment of crooks and a chamois-lined compartmentalized wooden case. The instrument is supplied with six internal crooks (inserted centrally into the body of the instrument in the manner of an inventionstrumpet or cor solo); two internal crooks that shorten the sounding length of the instrument, with a mouthpiece receiver that bypasses the terminal crook receiver on the body of instrument and one leg consisting of dummy tubing; three terminal crooks, and one coupler. The instrument and its crooks have similar hollow, tubular stays with rectangular flanges. Although no evidence of polychrome is present, it is likely that the instrument would originally have had a painted bell interior. The body of the instrument is engraved on the bell, in copperplate script, as follows: Jahn, à Paris.
Despite the invention of valves for brass instruments in 1814, makers and performers continued to experiment with a wide range of technology and performance practice techniques to enable brass instruments to play chromatically during the first half of the 19th century. This was driven both by teething problems with early valves and by a timbral aesthetic that prized the expressive nuances of hand stopping on natural brass instruments. Although this was best exemplified by the hand horn, the technique was also applied to natural trumpets that were configured to allow easy access to the bell interior and is described in a number of treatises, including those by Joseph-Gebhardt Kresser, Karl Bagans, and Joseph-David Buhl. By inserting fingers into the instrument’s bell and closing it off to varying degrees, the notes of the harmonic series can be manipulated to produce a chromatic scale. This technique and its resultant veiled timbre made the circular trumpet particularly well suited to soft, lyrical playing, which placed it at odds with the natural trumpet’s characteristic bright sound and use in the orchestra as a declamatory fanfare instrument. For this reason, the circular trumpet was cultivated primarily as a solo instrument. Although widely classified as circular trumpets today, the term ‘cornet simple’ was also used to refer to these instruments. The chromatic capacity of this instrument and its predisposition towards lyricism indeed links it more closely to the cornet idiom. Unlike the hand horn, which was acoustically better suited to hand stopping and continued to be cultivated in France and Britain throughout much of the nineteenth century, this technique was short lived on natural trumpets and cornets.