Monday, January 30, 2012: Horn Aplenty
Mozart’s Birthday was marked with an evening of fine music last Friday (Jan 27) at the Theatre of the Estates. The celebrated (French) horn player Radek Baborák not only led the National Theatre Orchestra, he also performed two of Mozart’s horn concertos while conducting the orchestra.
It’s not very often that you get the chance to see a conductor so thoroughly enjoying his role as the head of a group of smiling musicians who are not “his own” orchestra.
Moreover, you don’t often see the conductor turn around and literally continue to direct them single-handedly – the other hand inside the horn like it’s in a brass muffler. And then you see the conductor produce a glittering stream of perfect notes from an instrument that originally was used to signal hunters on horseback and their hounds.
Watch Mr Baborák’s subtle body language as he plays and conducts, in this excerpt from Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3 in E Flat Major performed at the birthday celebration:
You can also see him in performances with The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Feb 2 and 3; and with the Afflatus Quintet at the Czech Chamber Music Society concert Feb 21. All concerts are at The Rudolfinum.
A Cornucopia of Influences: Is That a French / German / — / or Czech Horn?
Although the horn was first used in an opera orchestra in 1664, the (French) horn is the youngest orchestral brass instrument with a mouthpiece. Technically, it was invented in Germany, but American usage names it a French horn, distinguishing it from “the” horn, which usually means trumpet. In Europe, though, the term for the large, circular instrument with the big throat (the bell) is just plain horn.
It was thanks to the Czech Count František Antonín Špork that the horn spread to central Europe. In the late 17th century he sent two of his huntsmen to France to learn how to use the horn as their practical tool. They taught others, and its use spread even to church institutions. Early Czech horn players include Jan Šindelář from the Colloredo-Mansfeld manor in Dobříš, and one Matějka of the Loretta, near the Prague Castle. Soon, composers from Bach to Mozart and many others were writing for the instrument. It quickly began improving and evolving, thanks to some Czech innovations including putting the right hand into the bell to reduce the pitch of a tone.
Among the Czech people, a tradition of inspired teaching spawned generations of then-famous horn players, and the tradition of close, individual training continues today. Mr Baborák, for example, began lessons at age eight under Prof Karel Křenek in Pardubice, continuing with studies under renowned horn player Prof Bedřich Tylšar at the Prague Conservatory, and by 18 Mr Baborák was invited to join The Czech Philharmonic as a principal horn player.
And he hasn’t broken the tradition, either: today, in addition to an active touring, concert, and recording career, he also teaches at the Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU). — oo
– Mary Matz
Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička