Horn Staff Labeling in Dvorak

In Dvorak’s Symphony 9, Mvt 4, the horn parts are marked like this:

I. II. E


What does “E” represent? Thank you.

The transposition.

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Thank you, but I am suprised it’s not in F which is why I was confused. I don’t think I’ve ever seen horns in E.

Modern horns were develop in the 19th century. Before they played everything on natural horns in different tunings. The transition to modern horns and also to write in F only took a relativ long time.

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Old natural horns had interchangeable crooks to change ‘key’. Since Dvorak 9 is in E minor, it made sense for Horns in E to be specified.

I strongly recommend reading Berlioz Treatise on Orchestration (enlarged & revised by Strauss) available at IMSLP, for a complete history of Horn usage.


Thanks. I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of that. I assumed valved horns were already in common use then.

Today hornists often prefer originals like »Horn in E« or »Horn in D« over F-transposed parts of these pieces. Me too. Horn players are trained hard to transpose up and down all the time. For many its easier to read C major transposed in E than B major in F? Know what I mean?
Its another style of playing and thinking of harmonic structures if you are thinking in a specific key (like relative solmisation) than having lots of accidentals.

I think for conductors its hard to figure out sometimes, what horns and trumpets are playing. In older scores the transposion is often written just one time and about ten pages ago. In late romantic music the transpositions are changing quite often within a piece but the transposition itself is hidden somewhere in the unclearity of old scores.

Common transpositions downwards: E, Eb, D, C, Bb
Common transposition upwards: G, A, Bb alto
Hard to transpose: B (tritone transposition)


Fascinating! Thank you!

On top of Janus’ perfect explanation the technic of interchanging crooks is even today still in use at e.g. Trumpets. A standard “Bb” trumpet is often asked to play in “C” and players exchange the “Bb” crook with an “C” crook. That is giving a slightly different sound and improves the intonation.
The modern “F” horn is “placed” in chromatic scale of “Bb’s” an “E” crook would be placed in the scale of ##'s. Also here that helps massively on the intonational part of all “(original) non-valved” Instruments.

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Thanks for the excellent information. I love the sounds and emotions of which horns are capable, and deeper knowledge will make my horn writing stronger.

You are very welcome

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It’s rather a long while from Berlioz to Dvorak. It’s my understanding (though I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong) that valve horns were easily available to orchestras in the Dovrak era, but that many ensembles and conductors considered them “new-fangled” and that Dvorak (among others) wrote for the older crook’d horns because of skepticism about the newer instruments, and whether they would be mere passing fads.

Quite right. My advice was meant as: 1) read the Berlioz to understand everything about natural horn writing. 2) Read the Strauss edits because he explains everything about the new-fangled valve horn AND how composers, particularly Wagner, continued to use the old terminology when writing for the new instruments, as Strauss himself did for many years (eg Alpine Symphony 1915).


Have I mentioned that the members of this forum are fantastic? :sunglasses: