The Vienna Horns of Scotland
The Vienna Horns of Scotland
The Vienna Horns of Scotland
The Vienna Horns of Scotland

A History of the Vienna Horn

The external appearance of the Vienna horn differs most obviously from that of the usual modern double horn (or single horn) in its continued use of a detachable crook, instead of a leadpipe, its double-valve system and the general layout of its valve slides. Look more closely, and the bell flare is seen to expand at a more acute angle from a more slender throat. Typically, the bore of the cylindrical tubing is 10.7-10.8 mm (11 mm max.) rather than 11.5-13 mm.

Vienna horn by Robert Engel

1. Vienna horn by Robert Engel, 1995, with Haagston crook and Windhager mouthpiece

The crook

This detachable, pitch-determining accessory of the Vienna horn (der Bogen/ die Bögen) is older by about 120 years than the famous double-piston valves. The earliest known terminal crooking system is identified from a bill of sale dated 1703 presented by the Viennese instrument maker Michael Leichamschneider. Although a Bb alto shank or A alto crook may sometimes be used, with a shorter set of valve slides, the double-coil F crook is the one regularly in use and, at a metre, represents some 27% of the overall length of the instrument (c. 12 ft or 3.75 m), but is shorter than a typical French F crook which is about 35% of the overall length.

Towards a chromatic horn

The second half of the 18th century brought a ferment of ideas in such centres as Dresden, Paris and Prague, including the invention of the tuning slide, and experimentation – above all the hand-stopping technique – with producing notes outside the harmonic series of the crook in use. It also saw the first attempts (culminating in the first three decades of the 19th century) to find an engineering solution to changing horn or crook in order to change key. In the minds of the inventors a chromatic instrument was surely already the ultimate prize, not merely the goal of less hardware and a – more or less – quick change from one harmonic series to another. For players like C. E. Lewy, 1st horn of the K. K. Opera in Vienna and his brother, who were reported in 1826 to have played on the “newly invented Viennese chromatic horn”, it was a question of freeing the horn from the impediment of the tonal inequalities between stopped and open notes. This did not prevent the newspaper critics, however, from hotly debating the virtues or failings of the natural horn technique until the 1850s and beyond.

The Viennese natural horn

Horace Fitzpatrick believed that a pair of horns by Leopold Uhlmann represented the last refinement of the hand horn and the exact prototype of the Vienna valve horn. It is difficult, though, to see why a maker would choose to take this section of tubing across the corpus if he had no other motive than to build a natural horn.


2. Horace Fitzpatrick, The Horn and Horn-Playing, plate 12(a)

A different example of a hand horn by Leopold Uhlmann is much more familiar and more like French instruments, although this is certainly a Viennese model, most probably before 1850.

Natural Vienna Horn

3a. Natural Vienna horn by Leopold Uhlmann, 1st half 19th century

Natural Vienna Horn Inscription

3b. Inscription on Natural Vienna Horn by Leopold Uhlmann 1st half of 19th century

Leopold Uhlmann k:k: priv:

Natural Vienna Horn Inscription

3c. Continuation of inscription on Natural Vienna Horn by Leopold Uhlmann, 1st half 19th Century

Instrumenten Fabrik in Wien

The bore at mouthpiece receiver and tuning slide is narrower, the throat more slender and the bell diameter larger and more flared than a French equivalent. Leopold Uhlmann was still advertising natural horns similar to this model around 1848.

Vienna Valves

Leopold Tobias Uhlmann (1806-1878) set the gold standard for the next 175 years. Leopold Uhlmann’s famous five-year “privilege” (Privilegium) granted on 12 July 1830 was not for inventing the Vienna valves (Wiener Ventile, Doppelrohrschubventile, Pumpenventile), but for two major improvements to an already existing system. In Berlin Heinrich Stölzel had developed a functioning two-valve horn by 1814. He and Friedrich Blühmel (essentially a rival inventor) were granted a joint patent in 1818. But there is no evidence that Stölzel developed a double-piston valve. The laurels for this invention are now generally granted to Christian Friedrich Sattler of Leipzig. A drawing of a two-valve trumpet was published in 1821, with the comment that Sattler also made three-valve horns.

Trumpet by Christian Friedrich Sattler

4. Sketch of trumpet by Christian Friedrich Sattler, AMZ, June 1821 (Dullat, p. 150)

By 1823 the collaboration between the maker Joseph Riedl, of Vienna and hornplayer Joseph Kail, of Prague and the K. K. Hofoper, led

to a ten-year privilege for the “invention of a simple and durable device for trumpets and horns”. A later illustration in a trumpet method of 1828 shows an instrument with added third valve.


5. Riedl “Maschinentrompete”, 1828, Nárdoni museum, Prague (Heyde 1987, p. 261)

Examples of the Riedl horn layout by makers in Prague, Linz and Brno can be seen on the websites of Hans Pizka and R. J. Martz (Joseph Riedl, Eduard Bauer, Ignaz Lorenz, Joseph Cidrich) and in museums (August Heinrich Rott of Prague, EUCHMI, Edinburgh; Johann Schgaguler of Bolzano, GNM, Nuremberg).

Why is Leopold Uhlmann so often credited with being the inventor of the Vienna valves? Firstly, because Uhlmann created a far more efficient and effective system by improving the air seal of the valve caps, both inside at the bottom of the piston spindle, and outside against the piston casing. The patent application also included enclosed lever-return springs (clock springs, Trommeldruckwerk) which still function smoothly and fast on many old instruments. Secondly, he refers in his application to the “description of the secret of my new invention and improvement” but not to any previous patent. Thirdly, there is less contemporary documentation for the inventions of Uhlmann’s predecessors Sattler and Riedl/Kail, whereas Uhlmann’s 1830 application for horn, trumpet and trombone is preserved in the Technical University of Vienna.

Uhlmann's improved Vienna horn

6. Sketch of Uhlmann’s improved Vienna horn, 1830, Technische Universität, Vienna (Dullat , p.152)

It is interesting to note that his horn is shown as a right-handed, fixed-mouthpipe instrument with no tuning slide. Although the illustration is not a workshop drawing, and may therefore not be entirely accurate, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna owns an instrument (SAM908) so similar in design (but with tuning slide and terminal crook) that it must be one of the earliest examples of a valved Uhlmann Vienna horn in existence.

The artist König shows the same layout in his picture of a Vienna horn player.

Vienna horn player by

7. Vienna horn player by “König” (courtesy of Anthony Halstead,copyright unknown)

Interestingly, Uhlmann’s valve horn in the advertisement of about 1848 is quite unlike the model we are now familiar with.

Leopold Uhlmann advertisement

8. Leopold Uhlmann advertisement c. 1848 (Museum Carolino Augusteum, Salzburg)

As the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the hub of musical taste and innovation, Vienna was also the natural location for influential musical instrument makers. After Leopold Uhlmann’s death in 1878 his design

Valved Vienna horn by Leopold Uhlmann

9a. Valved Vienna horn by Leopold Uhlmann, after 1874

Inscription on valved Vienna Horn by Leopold Uhlmann after 1874

9b. Inscription on valved Vienna Horn by Leopold Uhlmann after 1874

Leopold Uhlmann K: K: Hof Instrumenten Fabrik in Wien

was continued by his son and nephew, also by Anton Dehmal who had worked in the Uhlmann factory, by the Erste Produktiv-Genossenschaft der Wiener Musikinstrumentenmacher (generally known as “Genossenschaft” horns) and by the successors to that tradition, in Vienna and in other countries, including, in modern times, Ganter, Engel, Yamaha, Haagston, Jungwirth, Kimura and Alexander. Vienna was, and remains, the high citadel of the use of the Vienna horn, and Leopold Uhlmann is rightly seen as the most influential of the makers.

Shirley Hopkins-Civil

10. Shirley Hopkins-Civil with Vienna horn by Andreas Jungwirth, 2008 (photo courtesy of Helen Civil)

Yamaha Vienna horn

11. Yamaha Vienna horn, model YHR-601

The Vienna Sound (see der Wiener Klang for the following comments):

Definition. The term “Vienna Sound” refers to differences in the playing style and sound concept of Viennese (and other Austrian) orchestras compared with other national traditions when interpreting the orchestral and chamber music repertoire.

For wind instruments: very little and selective use of vibrato as a means of expression, not as a general stylistic feature. Preference for instruments allowing strong change of tone colour according to dynamics required. Because of its smaller bore the Vienna horn generally has a brighter ( more overtone rich) sound than the double horn.

Research by the Institute for Viennese Sound Style IWK (Musical Acoustics) [Institut für Wiener Klangstil (Musikalische Akustik)] has shown that smooth, glissando-like slurring of notes is caused by the position of the valves not by the type of valve.

Short bibliography

Christian Ahrens, Eine Erfindung und ihre Folgen, Blechblasinstrumente mit Ventilen (Kassel, 1986)

Anthony Baines, Brass Instruments. Their History and Development (London, 1974)

Günter Dullat, Metallblasinstrumentenbau (Frankfurt/M.,1989)

Horace Fitzpatrick, The Horn and Horn-Playing and the Austro-Bohemian tradition from 1680-1830 (London,1970)

Herbert Heyde, Das Ventilblasinstrument (Wiesbaden, 1987)

Herbert Heyde, Hörner und Zinken (Leipzig, 1982)

Rudolf Hopfner, Wienermusikinstrumentenmacher 1766-1900 (Vienna &Tutzing, 1999)

Reginald Morley-Pegge, The French Horn: some Notes on the Evolution of the Instrument and its Technique (London, 1960, 2/1973)

Helmut Ottner, Der Wiener Instrumentenbau 1815-1833, (Tutzing, 1977)

Armin Suppan,“Das Wiener Horn und der Wiener Klangstil”=The Vienna Horn and the Vienna Sound Brass Bulletin 80 (1992) 28-46

William Waterhouse, The New Langwill Index, A Dictionary of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers and Inventors (London, 1993)

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