The French and English horns are both aerophones commonly used in symphony orchestras, but they do not belong to the same family or have many similarities.
The French horn is a brass instrument with a rotary valve mechanism that allows the player to experiment with different pitches or notes. On the other hand, the English horn is a woodwind instrument with holes that open and close with specific key mechanisms, allowing one to change notes.
These two instruments do not belong to the same family and cannot be confused for one another in any way.
Learn more about these two fascinating instruments here.
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The French Horn
The French horn is bold, powerful, and mellow, but it isn’t French. The instrument developed from the earlier straight and short hunting horns.
However, in mainland Europe, the horn became curved and longer over time. The same thing occurred in England, albeit quite slowly.
As a result, when French hunting horns landed in England, they were dubbed “French horns” due to their many curves and longer length. The French horn evolved into the popular German horn, and there is also an Austrian modified version.
The French horn is played by vibrating one’s lips on a cup-shaped mouthpiece that sends a sound to the conical-shaped brass tube. The instrument tube is primarily circular and conical, with a huge bell flare at the end.
The French horn’s formal name is simply the horn, with no nationalities assigned at all. However, this can be complicated in the classroom where any tubular instrument is just called a horn, so the French horn sometimes goes by “Horn in F” or “F Horn” because that is the key most horns play today.
Current French horns feature three rotary valve systems that open additional lengths, allowing the player to experiment with specific pitches and notes easily. The pitch is adjusted using the bell and rotating valves.
Though the upper registers can become brassy and urgent, it has a powerful, melancholy, and elegant sound. In a lot of symphony orchestras, it is the lowest-sounding brass instrument.
The English Horn
The English horn is a somber, plaintive expressive woodwind instrument in the oboe family, pitched at a P5 lower than an oboe. It is a straight musical instrument with numerous holes running down its open-ended duct.
However, it is not English. It has a Germanic origin, where it was originally known as the “Angelic Horn,” which sounded like “English Horn ” in vernacular (engellisches Horn), and that is how it got its name.
Because the instrument’s top is angled, it is also known as a cor anglais, which is loose French for bent shape. The English horn is roughly 50% longer than an Oboe.
The instrument’s top has a double reed that pulsates as you blow into it to produce sound. A curved metallic tube known as a bocal connects the reed to the horn.
The instrument’s end has a bulbous bell flare. Sound travels along the bocal into a conical-shaped plastic or wood tube where an air column is gathered.
There are holes along this tube that close and open with specific key mechanisms allowing you to experiment with different notes.
In terms of sound, it has a woody, melancholy sound that’s purer than a bassoon but not as sweet sounding as an oboe.
Are They the Same?
No, the French Horn and the English Horn are considerably different instruments. The French horn is a conical mellow-sounding brass instrument with more range than the English horn.
You have to buzz your lips in its cup-shaped mouthpiece to create sound. There are rotary mechanisms that allow you to change pitch or play certain notes.
On the other hand, the English horn is a straight woodwind instrument with holes along its tube that open and close with certain key mechanisms to change pitch. It has a woody somber sound, purer than a bassoon.
The French and English horns don’t share many features in common. They don’t even belong in the same family.
The only thing they have in common is that they are both aerophones, which means they both generate sound by vibrating air columns inside tubes.
They’re also tuned in F below performance C pitch, so they sound lower than written. In an emergency, a horn could fill in for English horn sections. On the other hand, the English horn has a shorter range than the French horn, so it is unlikely that it could play the entire part.
Both of these characteristics are shared by the not-so-common Basset horn. But that’s where it ends.
The Bassett is played by blowing into a mouthpiece that holds only one reed. The tube is made of plastic or wood, but it is cylindrical rather than conical.
Which is easier to play?
While every instrument is always difficult when you first start, some are always harder to play than others. When it comes to the English horn versus the French horn, the French horn is said to be the hardest to play because its notes are closer together, so you have to be patient and train your ear.
Also, there’s the issue of cracked notes that you must learn to combat. French horn tubing also tends to trap saliva, and you have to spend a lot of time taking the instrument apart to clean this out.
However, both the French and the English horns are crucial members of orchestras and bands, so it’s good to learn them. The only issue is that they are expensive so you should only get them if you are sure.
A lot of horn players begin on trumpets and slowly move to horns.
The English horn is rarely selected as the first instrument, as players most often choose to start with the oboe and only proceed to the English horn after mastering it. The French horn is selected later.
While the French horn and the English Horn are both popular symphony orchestra instruments, they don’t share many similarities.
The English horn is a straight woodwind instrument with a bulbous bell end. It has a woody melancholy sound.
On the other hand, the French horn is a bold, powerful mellow sounding brass instrument. It’s conical and has a cup-shaped mouthpiece. Both instruments normally sound a fifth lower than written.