Favouring the cor basse, a matter of diversity?

Teunis van der Zwart

Giovanni Punto (1746-1803) was probably the most famous horn player of the 18th century, and my research concentrates on the question of the kind of sound Punto made on his instrument. An often described yet seemingly forgotten aspect of the horn sound in the second half of the 18th century deserves special attention, namely the sound of the cor basse or low horn player. Giovanni Punto was a cor basse player. In several methods for horn that appeared around 1800, authors put emphasis on the choice a horn player had to make for life, for either cor alto (high horn) or cor basse: cor alto required a small mouthpiece, cor basse a larger mouthpiece. Louis François Dauprat (1781-1868) compared the resulting sound distinctions between the two types of horn with the differences in timbre between a tenor and a bass voice or a viola and a cello. Ernst Ludwig Gerber (1746-1819) went even further. In 1789 he wrote: “The art of refining the tone on the solo horn has reached the greatest heights today. When a pair of virtuosi mount the platform, one seems not to hear the sound of brass instruments, but a flute accompanied by a gamba.” Together with students and colleagues I investigate the possibilities of modifying the modern sound ideal of two horns that blend perfectly because their sounds are homogenous rather than distinct. By using mouthpiece swith the typical dimensions for cor alto and cor basse, and by being confronted with the differences in timbre between viola and cello or between flute and gamba, we attempt to get closer to the sound aesthetic of the second half of the 18th century.