Teunis van der Zwart - Giovanni Punto (1746-1803), cor basse virtuoso: His instrument, his technique, his music and his life

The horn player, composer and conductor Giovanni Punto (1746-1803) traveled all over Europe, performing his own concerti and chamber music. This research has been inspired by the question of what it must have been like to hear Punto playing. The son of a serf, he impressed Mozart and Beethoven with his artistry; he played a silver horn made for him by the Parisian horn maker Lucien-Joseph Raoux, and Mozart’s Requiem was performed at his funeral. Reportedly, he was a master performer of double tones and even chords; a highly neglected early example of multiphonics. A typical solo-candenza highlight, this technique did not find its way into written music of the classical era, with the exception of the Concertino for horn and orchestra in E minor, op. 45 (1806) by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826).

Research Questions

  • Did the fact that Punto was a cor basse (low horn) player, using typical low horn equipment, contribute to his fame as a soloist, whereas today horn soloists are normally high hornplayers? As Punto stated in his tutor manual, cor basse players used much wider mouthpieces than cor alto (high horn) players. Today all (natural) horn soloists use relatively small mouthpieces. As part of this research Punto's compositions will be played on mouthpieces that resemble the ones he used. This might cause considerable differences on today’s standards of playing the natural horn as a solo instrument.
  • Punto worked with Mozart and Beethoven. This begs the question of whether he influenced their way of writing for the instrument? In his orchestral music, Beethoven often writes the most interesting solos in the low horn parts, whereas today the cor alto players assume the role of soloist. Are these solos, for instance the famous part for the fourth horn in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, related to (compositions of) Punto?
  • How much did Punto contribute to the art of handstopping on the natural horn? He said he learned the technique from Anton Joseph Hampel (1710-1771) in the early 1760s. In his tutor manual as well as in his compositions, Punto is rather conservative in the use of this technique, compared to some of his contemporaries. Is the limited use of handstopping one of the reasons for his success?
  • What role did Punto play in the development and unification of the horn in the second half of the eighteenth century? He must have met with many horn players in different countries. Did he help develop the silver cor solo he received from Raoux? What impact does this nowadays rarely played type of horn have on the performance of solo repertoire?

Teunis van der Zwart

Teunis van der Zwart is a versatile musician. At an early stage of his career he decided to become a worldwide ambassador for the natural horn. Since then he made numerous recordings and concert-tours with outstanding ensembles for early music, like the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, windsextet Nachtmusique, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Bach Collegium Japan, Collegium Vocale Gent. For fifteen years, Van der Zwart was the principal hornplayer of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, a position he still has with The Orchestra of the 18th Century. With both orchestras he regularly performed as a soloist and made CD recordings of Mozart's horn concertos for Harmonia Mundi France and Glossa.
With the Japanese Orchestra Libera Classica and Hidemi Suzuki, he made a CD recording of Joseph Haydns Hornconcerto for TDK. In 2007 Van der Zwart recorded the Ferdinand Ries concerto for two horns with the Kölner Akademie, conducted by Michael Willens. In 2008 a CD recording of Brahms' Horntrio with his chamber music partners Isabelle Faust, violin, and Alexander Melnikow, piano, was released by Harmonia Mundi France.

With the Orchestra of the 18th Century and the Netherlands Bach Society Van der Zwart recorded the Quoniam of Bach's B-minor mass. As a soloist he worked with conductors such as Frans Brüggen, Philippe Herreweghe, Ivor Bolton, Richard Egarr, Hidemi Suzuki and René Jakobs. As a chamber music player, soloist, teacher and lecturer, he appeared in numerous concert series and festivals throughout Europe, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Teunis van der Zwart taught at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, where he was Head of the Early Music Department until 2019. He is also active as a conductor of orchestras and choirs, and as artistic leader of Music Meeting Heiloo.



Prof. Ton Koopman, Universiteit Leiden