Following in the steps of my last post, here’s another nifty little eight bar passage—this one from the finale of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G, featuring the principal and second horns. The movement opens with a modest trumpet fanfare introducing a series of pastoral variations in the strings, but then it’s off to the races at rehearsal letter C when Dvorak calls upon the entire ensemble to repeat the main theme. Everyone joins the party at this point, but the horns, without a doubt, make the grandest entrance.
There are moments of shining glory in every instrument’s orchestral repertoire, and the horn is no exception. Actually, the most famous passages for horn and those that are arguably the most difficult and fun to play were written by Germans, but this one deserves at least an honorable mention.
Sure, the first four bars aren’t too exciting (actually they are), but that’s because Dvorak is getting ready to kill you. In the sixth measure. Death by horn trill. Honestly, when else do you get to trill on a double forzando? And twice? Maybe in something by John Williams, but that’s because John Williams writes for TIE Fighters and Jedi Knights. This is primal fury in a 19th century symphony.
Underneath this blaring figure, the strings and everyone else are frantically making all sorts of noise too (e.g. sixteenth note runs in the firsts, more trills in the clarinets, oboes, and bassoons), but nothing you’d ever be able to hear over this totally fantastic elephant wail.
I thought I had a recording of this piece from several years ago, starring yours truly, where I sound more like a donkey than an elephant, but I can’t find it. So here’s a fragment from a recording by the slightly more reputable Vienna Philharmonic with Myung-Whun Chung.