Steinmetz Natural Horn Making - with Graham Nicholson

Last summer, on my way to various concerts in Germany, I needed a few overnight stays in Holland. I was fortunate to be able to stay with Graham Nicholson in The Hague. While I was there he showed me two horns he had been making in his workshop; detailed replicas of instruments by Leichamschneider. We practiced duets for several hours using these instruments and they worked brilliantly.

Over the summer I kept on thinking about the instruments, such was their impact on me, and I enquired about ordering one. Graham offered to make an instrument on the agreement that I would come to The Hague and help him to make it, which I was more than willing to do. Quite how much help I was, I don't know, but I had an excellent time and it is just so inspiring to be around Graham. He has such energy and enthusiasm for all things and he is exceptionally intelligent on a huge array of topics. Watching him make instruments is fascinating.

When I arrived, Graham offered me a choice of models. I had already tried the Leichamschneider and he also had two instruments that were replicas of an instrument by Georg Freidrich Steinmetz (both left handed wrap and a right handed wrap prototypes). I decided that this smaller, thrice wound, Steinmetz model would be more portable and more importantly, an optimised resonator for the type of music I want to play on it. 

Most horn players find J.S. Bach's horn parts in the key of G and above very demanding. This is not just because it is remarkable music but it is possibly because most horn players play on an instrument that is an inefficient resonator in this register or perhaps it is simply because many horn players are not accustomed to playing so high for a sustained time. By this logic, and as an experiment, I think it will be interesting for me to practice the horn. 

Even after a few days of playing horn again (I played modern horn for a time in my youth), I have noticed a significant improvement in my trumpet playing. Firstly, by necessity the horn needs more air to travel through it than the trumpet does. Now, by association, when I play the trumpet my air support is also greater, giving me better control over the instrument. By practising the harmonic series one octave lower on the horn, I am learning more and more about the exact placement and tuning of these notes (and how to correct them) whilst playing in a comfortable register with a relaxed embouchure. This, when applied to the trumpet can give a greater level of understanding, and I hope it will build an intuition, even when I take the extra octave of the trumpet into consideration. 

During my first visit, Graham got me to engrave my own bell garland. I substituted the space where the coat of arms would normally be with the symbol of the Isle of Man, the Three Legs of Mann. It was so rewarding to learn to chase metal to make an engraving. Every time I play the finished instrument, I take a great deal of pleasure out of looking at the garland. The instrument feels to have real character and it is a pleasure to look at as well as to play. I am so indebted to to Graham for his excellent hospitality in The Hague and for making such a beautiful instrument. The research, development and experimentation work that Graham has put in has paid off as this horn is incredible!

I will make a web gallery of all the construction process photographs soon and I will put them onto a separate page about the instrument.

Instrument Started: 17th - 19th November 2013

Instrument Finished: 21st - 24th April 2014

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.