HomeProgram notesLes Préludes, by Franz Liszt

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Les Préludes, by Franz Liszt — 6 Comments

    • True, but early orchestras didn’t have good musicians to fill every chair. And hardly anyone specialized in playing a single instrument, especially not wind instruments. Fourth horn made one of the convenient places to put less skilled musicians. I did not mean to imply that fourth horn players were therefore not skilled musicians. Look at any orchestral part before Liszt’s time that consistently made less technical demands than other parts, and chances are the composer anticipated less-skilled players. By the time Liszt composed his orchestral works, orchestras may have been able to count on good musicians in every chair. At any rate, I doubt if any earlier composer wrote such an exposed and important fourth horn part as the one in Les Preludes.

  1. I have to agree with James Domine. The fourth horn player was trained and skilled into a low horn player from the start, and some of the best horn players of their age were low horn (and therefore second and fourth players); in Beethoven’s works, these can often be more demanding parts than the first and third. We only stopped training in this manner after the mid-nineteenth century.

    To cite such an important fourth horn part: the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ninth (almost four decades before this), where the major solo material is given to the fourth because it requires the particular skills in the low range that low horn players cultivated. Beethoven also put important solos in the second chair because of this specialization (Eroica recapitulation).

    While we (nor Liszt) could know who would ultimately sit in the fourth chair and their skill level, can’t we chalk up Liszt’s decision more to good orchestration and part writing? That gesture is actually a bit difficult to perform well—and moreover if it’s really to sing and have it come through the texture as it requires. It makes sense that Liszt made the other horns more still so that, when played by any hornist (good, bad, or ugly), that it could be heard clearly, just as we might still the right hand a bit for the sake of a melody in the left.

    • Thank you for mentioning earlier works with important parts for fourth horn. I am well aware that some hornists specialized in low horn and were excellent musicians. The fact remains that early orchestras did not have excellent musicians in every chair. If a composer wrote a piece with a particular orchestra in mind, he knew its strengths and weaknesses. Of course, he couldn’t know what other orchestras would play it. He might have a general idea of where the weakest musicians were likely to be. Some composers may have cared more about that than others.

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