What is a French Horn?
The Orchestral horn, or French Horn, was developed about
1650 in France and is a large version of the smaller crescent-shaped horns
that had been redesigned with circularly coiled tubing. The French hunting
horn, which entered the orchestra in the early 1700s, produced about 12
tones of the natural harmonic series. The horn gained greater flexibility
about 1750 with the invention of the technique called hand-stopping.
Hand-stopping involves placing a hand in the bell of the horn to alter the
pitch of the natural notes by as much as a whole tone. Despite this advance,
cumbersome lengths of tubing, called crooks, were necessary for playing in
The invention of valves in the early 19th century
revolutionized the horn, allowing the player to alter the length of the
tubing by the motion of a finger. A horn in the key F with 3 valves can
produce a chromatic scale over 3 octaves, running upward from the B below
the bass clef. Modern players use hand-stopping to affect intonation and
The modern F horn has 3 valves, circular coils of narrow
tubing flaring at the one end to a wide bell, and a funnel-shaped mouthpiece
that accounts for the horn's soft, mellow tone. The double horn in F and Bb,
introduced about 1900, is rapidly superseding the F horn. Equipped with an
extra valve to switch to the Bb tubing, it offers certain technical
advantages. Most modern orchestras include four horns.