Transposing for french horn

Apologies if this isn’t the right place for this query. I’ve encountered a strange problem producing a french horn part for a wind quintet. The horn is in F, and I expect the key signature to be D for the horn for a piece in the concert key of G. However, I’ve found several pieces where the horn part (clearly marked as horn in F) is written in C. In fact I’ve actually played the clarinet in such a piece, where the horn player was using the part written in C, and all sounded fine. Can anyone please explain?

It’s not necessarily that the horn is written in C, but rather than the horn staff is shown without a key signature. Some instruments – including horn, trumpets, and timpani, among others – are very often written without a key signature, but they are still in the expected transposed key, they simply show accidentals as required in all cases rather than showing a key signature.

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Absolutely right! Many thanks for this. I did know that brass parts were sometimes written without the key signature, but I hadn’t spotted (hadn’t thought to look) that all the correct accidentals are present for the required key. It must be a bit confusing for the player.

It’s tradition, so it’s what the players are used to. It’s a hangover from the days when a different horn (or crook) was used for each different key.

I did once ask one of the LSO’s horn players whether they’d rather a (new, but tonal) piece had key signatures or accidentals, and the answer was accidentals, on the basis that pretty much all the standard orchestral repertoire does it that way.

Right. It just makes for a rather more cluttered score, particularly with the more exotic keys.

This reminds me of a time when I was playing 3rd Horn in a piece where I had about 8 bars in the whole piece. The conductor wanted to start practicing at a certain section of the piece so we had not yet played through it. So, he says “Let’s start at the key change”. So, I had to ask “Um, where’s the key change?”


Haha! Yes - exactly!

Thats why I write atonal music. People will have to refer to bar numbers and rehearsal marks, like in the stone ages :smiling_imp: