The French horn is only known by this name in English, with the rest of the world simply referring to it as ‘the horn’. It got its name because the French were known for their main role in the production of hunting horns.
The French horn (as we know it since the 1930s) is a Brass instrument made of brass metal. It is made up of brass tubing which is bent into a coil and has a flared bell at the end.
It is played by blowing through a mouthpiece and is controlled by a players air in their lungs and the muscles around the their lips. Additionally, most modern French horns have valves which are controlled by buttons, pressed by the left hand, and control the air flow within the instrument. Pitch is controlled by the position of the player’s hand inside the flared bell. The French Horn produces clear & mellow sounds.
A musician who plays the French horn is known as a French horn player.
The French horn falls into the Brass instrument family. In the classical orchestra the horns are grouped together and can be found in the central righthand section of an orchestra. As the evolution of music occurred so did the use of the French horn within classical music. Composers (e.g. Beethoven onwards) used 4 horns in their music, pairing them; one playing the high notes while the other pair playing the low.
In more modern orchestras you may find that the 4 horns also have an assistant which is used as a back up for the 1st horn during certain passages in the music.
Since biblical times, the horn has been used in a variety of ways including in religion and in war fare.
The use of the horn in religion still survives in Judaism; it is known as the Shofar and is used in traditions and religious rituals.
The earliest form of horn used by humans (and still used today as the Shofar) was an animals horn, typically ram. It would be used as a sign of warning (during battle – when an enemy was attacking) or spiritual calling.
As times evolved, so did the construction of instruments. Metal horns began to circulate as early as the 10th century, with humans emulating animal horns in the form of metal horns. As centuries went by the horn began to be associated with the hunting of animals, known as ‘hunting horns’, these were sounded when men would go out for a hunt (often known as a type of sport throughout history). This association continued throughout the centuries as composers (such as Mozart) would use the horn in their music to symbolise the hunt.