The French horn’s distinct sound has long been associated with hunting and military music, and its use in orchestral and film music reflects this. The use of the French horn in a musical ensemble or orchestra dates back to the Baroque period, and there are several examples of French horn music in Georg Philipp Telemann’s works. The French horn was also used George Frideric Handel, and the sound of the horn can be heard in Johann Sebastian Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto. Later works Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and other classical composers featured French horn music in symphonies, horn concertos, and wind or brass quintets. Orchestral composers such as Gustav Mahler used the horn to create heroic or triumphant effects in the twentieth century, and the instrument’s sound became more prevalent in film themes and background music.
Many works featuring the horn were written during the Baroque period, including Handel’s Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music. French horn music took many forms during the Classical Period, including horn concerti and other pieces Mozart that featured a solo horn. The French horn was used in combination with other instruments in Classical Period French horn music. Johannes Brahms composed a Horn Trio for violin, horn, and piano, and Robert Schumann composed a Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra. Richard Strauss’ Romantic music made extensive use of the heroic tone of the horn, particularly in Til Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.
Composers incorporated the French horn into their individual styles in the twentieth century. Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings was composed Benjamin Britten, and Sonata for Four Horns was composed Michael Tippett. Six horns are required in Gustav Holst’s score for The Planets. The growth of horn choirs and horn ensembles, which bring together musicians of various abilities to practice and perform works written or adapted for such ensembles, began in the middle of the twentieth century. The French horn’s wide range allows music composed or arranged for a horn choir to heighten interest utilizing the available options for contrasting tones and counterpoint.
In the twenty-first century, the French horn is commonly referred to simply as the horn, though the term “French horn” has stuck in the United States. Two horns are usually found in orchestras, though some musical scores call for four or more. The horn’s triumphant sound has made it a popular instrument for film soundtracks. John Williams composed the themes for the films Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, and Jurassic Park, all of which feature the instrument.