Circular Flugelhorn or Corno da Caccia

In its bore profile this unusual instrument is a flugelhorn or Saxhorn in Bb but its form and intended use is for the highest horn parts.  In the last 30 years or so there have been similar instruments made with similar intentions and variously called "clarin horn"  "piccolo horn" or the historically confusing: "corno da caccia".  The latter has become the accepted name by both makers and players because of its use in performing those parts indicated thusly by J.S. Bach and other composers.  During Bach's early career, the horn was only just being introduced as a standard member of the orchestra.  We know that the instruments being used had been developed as signal/fanfare instruments, but we don't know the exact design of the instruments used in early performances.  It seems likely that musicians used whatever was available that worked best and was acceptable to the composer or patron.  I hesitate to write more on this subject where my knowledge is weak but encourage you to read more authoritative sources such as "Bach's Orchestra" by C.S. Terry, "The Horn" by Kurt Janetzky and Berhard Bruchle as well as more recent sources.   In our time, with the great advantage of valve instruments, the high horn and trumpet parts are easier to play on smaller instruments such as this.


 Tom Meacham, a serious brass hobbyist and collector had been talking to me in recent years about making an instrument similar to modern corni di caccia.  One idea was to use double piston valves, which are considered obsolete today other than in the modern Vienna horns.  I looked into buying a valve assembly from several German makers that specialize in these.  They were willing to supply them but they weren't an ideal bore size for this project as well as being expensive.  Tom's idea was to have fourth rotary valve, so I asked him why not have all four valves be double pistons.  Since he wanted as much nickel silver parts as possible and a gold brass bell, making the valve section myself seemed the best idea.  This way, all of the parts are nickel silver other than the gold brass bell and optional copper flare.  After some experimentation and talks with makers that know more than I do, I decided that the bore should be .415" through the first three valves and .438" though the fourth.  The gold brass bell and copper flare were made for me by Kanstul as were the small nickel crooks and tubing.  The gold brass flare with engraved nickel silver garland is 6 3/4" diameter and the copper flare with nickel silver rim is 8 1/4".  I had to make and install the garland and larger nickel rim, since Kanstul does not supply them this way.  The garland and Sterling silver shield were engraved by James McKenzie in a very high artistic level. 

I had never made a complete double piston valve assembly before but the technology is fairly simple as long as all the parts are made carefully.  The results are very successful and this instrument can certainly used for the high horn parts as discussed above or for anything that might call for a flugelhorn, German hunting horn or even post horn parts by Mozart, Mahler and others.  The timbre can be varied somewhat by the mouthpiece choice.  It can be played with any flugelhorn or French horn mouthpiece using the appropriate mouthpipe shank as seen in the seventh photo.  Not surprisingly, large horn mouthpieces cause the pitch to go flat in the high register and I suspect that a little experimentation would find an ideal compromise between the two.


The last photo shows a three valve version that I made for Jim Bell more recently.  He wanted the detachable bell flare to allow for a flatter case.  This instrument can be made with three or four rotary valves for a more modern version.