Vienna Horn by Anton Dehmal

Anton Dehmal established his firm in Vienna in 1883 after training with L. Uhlmann from 1875-1882. This instrument came with a beautifully shaped hard leather case. It is difficult to put a date on the case, but it is certainly old and might even be as old as the horn itself. Anton Dehmal died in 1907, so presumably this instrument was made between 1883 and 1907. I have not had any repair work done to the horn, but it has had an extra hand guard added at some point.

Despite Brahms' preference for the natural horn this horn has been used for all of his symphonies , often alongside another horn by Thomas Dehmal , Anton's nephew. This mirroring of 19th century performance practice raises an interesting dilemma: whether to follow the composer's wishes, or to play the type of instruments the players in those days used. Nowadays, if a composer asks for a particular instrument, it would be normal to do as the composer wishes. For example in Ligeti's Horn Concerto, four natural horns are used in the orchestra. In performing the Horn Trio, I feel that the music benefits in several key places by being performed on the natural horn, and clearly this is what Brahms requested. Probably it is appropriate to respect Brahms' musical wishes at least as much as Ligeti's. Next time I play the Brahms symphonies on historical instruments, I would like to try using natural horns, especially now that the technique of hand horn sections is so much more secure than it was when the musical world first began to accept period instrument performances.

In addition to the music of Brahms, these Dehmal horns have been played in Bruchner's symphonies 3 & 6, Smetana's Má Vlast and Mahler's 1st symphony. Whilst the masters of the "Vienna Horn" tend to be those players who use the instrument the most in the line of their work in Austria, notably the horn section of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, it is interesting that musicians who come to the instrument from the perspective of the natural horn can sometimes find alternative and historically based ways of playing it. Fast scale passages are not the best feature of the design of the Vienna valves, but using the valves to achieve the right key and then using hand horn stopping technique to achieve the scales works very well. A combination of hand horn technique and valve horn playing using this instrument may be heard in Czerny's Introduction et Variationes concertantes for horn and fortepiano on the Hyperion recording mentioned above.