Transposing is here to stay
Pragmatically, philosophically, and pedagogically, I believe in reading orchestral parts as originally written.
Pragmatically, established orchestras on all levels have complete libraries with horn parts in the original keys. Until these libraries are completely revamped, horn players will have to be proficient in transposition; and since Richard Strauss was writing for horn transpositions as late as 1945, orchestral literature will require transposing for years to come.
Philosophically, the ideal would be for us all to experience works in their original keys on natural horns so that we would know the "sound" of each crook and emulate it on our modern horn. Playing from the original means a cleaner page to read and puts us closer to knowing the composer's intentions. Just as some teachers endorse memorization, I believe that the cognitive aspect of transposition helps make us better musicians.
Pedagogically, I strongly believe in teaching trans- position to students of all ages. For young players, it introduces them to the concept of the staff as a form of symbol-reading system. College students need to be prepared for professional life; in addition, transposition aids us all in skills such as score reading and conducting.
From the perspective of 20+ years of orchestral playing, it's difficult to hear the parts any other way.
Ellen Michaud Martins, UMass Lowell
Enough is enough
Could we please put the technique of transposition in its proper place for the 21st century? Transposition is a technique for study and understanding the history of the horn, but it need not be part of performance practice for modern hornists. With today's computers, is there any reason why a player has to sit in front of an audience and look at one note and play another? I have a C horn by pressing valves 1 and 3, but does anyone play symphonies in that manner? No; we pretend to play C horn while actually using any number of valve combinations.
College students will be better served if they spend their practice time learning the techniques that will be needed by all horn players of future generations such as improvisation, big band, and extended techniques. Orchestral demands are evolving all the time. The brass quintet repertoire is full of extended techniques and im- provisation, yet these techniques are seldom practiced.
Original parts should find a place for study and for performance on original instruments; a hornist with a modern double or triple horn should play F horn parts. Should someone planning to audition know what partial they're playing, what part of the chord they're sounding, how it sounded in the period? Of course. Should they sit in front of an audience and fake playing another horn? Of course not. Let's enter the 21st century honestly.
John C. Boden, University of Southern Maine
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