The simple answer about how to write for natural horn is the primary notes need to be written in the harmonic series, notated as if C were the fundamental.
The natural horn is played by a french horn player, there is
very little difference between the range of the modern horn and
the natural horn.
A professional horn player should be able
to play a range of almost four full octaves; from pedal E (concert
A below the cello) to High D (concert G just above the treble
clef staff). There natural horn is no different, but it has many
more limitations and color changes, good notes and bad. Similar
to the way Kenny G sounds on the saxophone but with
more weird random tone changes. These tone changes flavor the
music and if done correctly enhance the tonality and expression
of the music.
The horn is like a bugle it has a set of notes that are played
just like the modern horn, with the hand in the bell in a generally
These notes (above) are played normally and
could be played by any pro so they sound like the modern horn.
The following notes are played open, with the hand out of the bell,
and these notes were seldom played soft in classical music. The
Bb was almost always done FF, the F# and A, seldom written
except in fast scale passages. I would not appreciate phase
that peaks on high A, it is beastly to be in tune on.
(Grace notes are the open "anchor tones" that
are easy "bugle" reference points that are important
to keep the horn play on key and in the right place on the overtone
The following notes are played mostly
covered, if they are played loud or forced the will sound stopped
or brassy as we hear a lot in the writing of Mahler. These
tones should be written quietly. As a matter of fact, these
tones are the key to volume of the instrument . The open tones
should balance these quite covered tones.
The echo stopped tones. These notes, as do the notes in part four,
are part of the notes that are quite easy to do on the NH. The
can be played a little louder than the notes in part four, but
are still covered tones and can't be blasted.
The stopped notes. These notes are harder
to play, and often get the nasty stopped sound no matter how hard
the player try to smooth them out.
The pedal notes:
These notes are seldom used, but Beethoven used them in his sextet
as a descending then rising slow chromatic line, accuracy
of pitch is quite a problem for most players here. Fast jumps
to these notes are not possible.
The full range of the natural horn then sounds like this:
(work in progress; October 2007)
The choice of horn key
There are two basic items to understand when
writing for natural horns,
key of the horn and (2) the quality of the choice of notes.
The simpler of the items to understand is the key of the horn.
As a composer you most likely will have some concept of what
tone center or centers you will want to use. Writing for F horn
if you want the center to be in F may not be the best choice.
The horns keys are divided into three sets Low Bb, C, & D are
dark horns, Eb, E and F are “normal”
and the G, A & high Bb are bright.
This choice of brightness or darkness must be balanced by
questions such as if you want to write a fast or more energetic
horn part, or not. The low dark keys sound production reacts
slower than the other keys. Thus the low keys work well for
slow music without much calisthenics to the horn part or
If you are writing in the key of F it would be advisable to
use a horn keyed with F as a open tone and maybe more advisable,
depending or personal preference, with F and C as open notes, so
the keys with this