An expressive and melodic instrument, the English horn has phased in and out of widespread popularity since its inception. A member of the oboe family, this double-reed woodwind is pitched in F which is a perfect fifth lower than the C-pitched oboe. Its deeper tone is partly a result of its longer body and pear-shaped bell in comparison to the oboe. Many oboe players double on the English horn, or cor anglais, as it is also known.
The beautiful tone of the English horn has found a place in some very important pieces of music over the years. The first concertos for the English horn were written in the 1770s by Christoph Willibald Gluck and Joseph Haydn. Chamber music for the instrument was created by Ludwig van Beethoven in pieces like his “Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn” and by Igor Stravinsky in “Pastorale.” The English horn’s grave, full tone has been lent to many operas where it is perfectly designed for dramatic, melancholic solos. English horns have inspired Hector Berlioz many times in pieces like “Roman Carnival Overture.” It has also found its way into the music of Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky in memorable music such as “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture” and “The Nutcracker.”
Around the turn of the 20th century, many composers like Jean Sibelius, Arthur Honegger, and Aaron Copland began to write solos for the English horn. As it increased in popularity, it also began to strike the interest of film composers. English horns can be heard in epic film scores including “The Lord of the Rings,” “Schindler’s List,” and “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” It also crosses over to the jazz music arena from time to time with appearances in several Carpenters and Elton John songs.
Among the best English horn manufacturers is the esteemed F. Lorée brand. Founded in 1881 by François Lorée, this brand has a long history of creating some of the finest English horns. F. Lorée handcrafts these instruments from select Mozambique Grenadilla wood and completes them with solid nickel-silver keys. These keys are plated with silver or gold and finished off with the French hallmark which has become a renowned characteristic of the F. Lorée brand.
One of the finest American makers of cor angalis is the Fox line. Hugo Fox was the principal bassoonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before he began to make bassoons in 1949. He gradually expanded to oboes and then introduced four English horn models in 1999. Most English horns are made of African Blackwood or Grenadilla. The Fox line includes several instruments made of plastic resin. These intermediate instruments are ideal for teaching new English horn players before making the full investment. Fox’s plastic resin models include the Fox Model 555 English horn and the Fox Model 520 English Horn which has become a top choice in schools.
Whether you are a skilled English horn musician, an oboist who doubles on the English horn, or a new musician eager to learn this melancholic instrument, the Woodwind and Brasswind has a variety of instruments from the top manufacturers.