How to override an instrument transposition? Horn in Bb Alto doesn't sound right

I’m currently doing a score study of Mozart’s Symphony No40 in Gm. One of the horns called for is a Horn in Bb Alto. Logically most Bb instruments sound a major 2nd lower than written and that appears to be how Dorico interperets it. However it’s creating a lot of clashing minor 2nd chord clusters which I’m not really thinking was Mozart’s intent.

Various other sources seem to suggest that a Horn in Bb Alto sounds up a Perfect 4th (beats me why) - such as this handy chart. When I manually cheat the notes up to sound a perfect fourth, suddenly I’m getting nice chord tones with the rest of the music, which I’m figuring is what Mozart intends. Can anyone with experience of this piece or horns in general explain which is the correct transposition and the one Mozart intends?

And if indeed it is supposed to be up a perfect fourth, how do I change this in Dorico? Thank you!

That chart obviously describes how hornists who are used to (and only have) a horn in F would transpose parts written for other horns when playing it on a horn in F, which sounds a fifth lower than written. A Bb alto doesn’t sound a fourth up, it sounds a major second down for what’s written.

Agreed! This note is at the bottom of the chart:

I’m not working in Dorico right now, so I can’t check. Just to be sure: are you working in a transposed score or one in concert pitch?

Update: I checked in Dorico, and I found the Horn in Bb alto (and other horn types) is working correctly: it sounds a major second lower than written in a transposed score. If you still have the issue, maybe you could upload the Dorico file? I think you mixed up the stacked horn transpositions and/or the differences between transposed and concert score.

Ah ok, apologies for the inexperienced question. I don’t know much about horns in general and I find they have lots of variations and transpositions through history :face_with_spiral_eyes:

Yes as I understand it that website (which I found via a google search for horn transpositions) appears to be directed specifically at horn players. So you are saying this chart means the transpositions are based on the difference from horn in F as a reference point? For what it’s worth, I did find a couple other websites which also said the transposition is a perfect fourth above, though those too could be based on horn in F perhaps – hence my confusion since I don’t play horns obviously. So as someone who doesn’t play, I can ignore this transposition guide and just go with what I figure it normally would be for Bb instruments - sounding a major 2nd lower?

Regarding your other question, the score I am working from is transposed, and within Dorico I also have it showing transposed rather than concert. If it is indeed the case that Horn in Bb Alto is supposed to sound a M2 lower, then there are no issues – that must be what Mozart intended after all. If you’re curious, I’m only within the first minute of the piece when the horns first come in, so I haven’t gotten far, here is the score I’m looking at (Bb Alto at top, G on bottom)

I just noticed these minor 2nd clusters (sounding Bb4 next to A4) and thought that was a bit odd… but then again it is over a C# fully diminished 7th chord alternating with a D major and it’s very brief so the dissonance does work in context. I just wanted to make sure after I saw that confusing horn transposition chart that I didn’t have my setup incorrect before moving forward with my studies. Thank you!

The problem appears to be your source. Your screenshot from Finale shows the correct key signatures for Horns in B♭ and G (if these parts had used key signatures, which they did not – that’s another issue). But the notes in the first Horn are wrong! They are written a 3rd too low for an instrument in B♭. Get another score and compare.

Those bars of the Horns should sound like this at concert pitch:

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Wow, you’re right. The reason I preferred that score was merely that it was modern/clean engraving with lots of margin room for me write notes on. However when I looked at another available score on IMSLP which is older (Urtext edition I think), it’s using no key signature staves and the parts are reflective of what you suggest they should be. This is that exact same part from this new source I found -

Sure enough, that both seems more correct on paper (especially given historical context where semitone clusters didn’t seem appropriate) and sounds more correct to my ears considering the harmony that Mozart is writing there. Bummer this source (and any other free ones I’ve found on IMSLP) don’t have a nice amount of space in the margins and between staves to write notes and my analysis, but I’ll make do as long as it’s correct :wink:

Thanks for pointing that out. I knew something was fishy around that horn part. Glad I could get on the right track early on - no point in studying something if it’s all wrong!

Mozart would never notate horn parts thought from the perspective of a horn player playing on a valve horn in F. Those didn’t exist yet. The horn crook determined the transposition, calculated from a written C on the staff.