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Cor anglais (English horn)

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Cor anglais (English horn)

Cor anglais or English horn

Hornbostel–Sachs classification 422.112-71
(Double reed aerophone with keys)
Developed about 1720 from the oboe da caccia
Playing range

Related instruments

Musical instruments
String instruments

The cor anglais (UK /ˌkɔr ˈɑːŋɡl/ or US /ˌkɔr ɒŋˈɡl/; French: [kɔʁ ɑ̃ɡlɛ]), or English horn (American English), is a double-reed woodwind instrument in the oboe family.

The cor anglais is a transposing instrument pitched in F, a perfect fifth lower than the oboe (a C instrument), and is consequently approximately one and a half times the length of the oboe. The fingering and playing technique used for the cor anglais are essentially the same as those of the oboe, and most oboists double on the cor anglais. Music for the cor anglais is thus written a perfect fifth higher than the instrument actually sounds. Because the cor anglais normally lacks the lowest B-flat key found on most oboes, its sounding range stretches from the E (written B natural) below middle C to the C two octaves above middle C.

Description and timbre

Its pear-shaped bell gives it a more covered timbre than the oboe, closer in tonal quality to the oboe d'amore. Whereas the oboe is the soprano instrument of the oboe family, the cor anglais is generally regarded as the tenor member of the family, and the oboe d'amore—pitched between the two in the key of A—as the alto member.[1] The cor anglais is perceived to have a more mellow and plaintive tone than the oboe. Its appearance differs from the oboe in that the reed is attached to a slightly bent metal tube called the bocal, or crook, and the bell has a bulbous shape. It is also much longer.

The cor anglais is usually notated in the treble clef, a perfect fifth higher than sounding. Some composers notated it in the bass clef, when the lower register was persistently used,[2] and historically several other options were employed. Alto clef written at sounding pitch is occasionally used, even by as late a composer as Sergei Prokofiev. In late-18th and early-19th-century Italy, where the instrument was often played by bassoonists instead of oboists, it was notated in the bass clef an octave below sounding pitch (as found in Rossini's Overture to William Tell). French operatic composers up to Fromental Halévy notated the instrument at sounding pitch in the mezzo-soprano clef, which enabled the player to read the part as if it were in the treble clef.[1]

Although the instrument usually descends only to (written) low B, continental instruments with an extension to low B (sounding E) have existed since early in the 19th century.[3] Examples of works requiring this note (while acknowledging its exceptional nature) include Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder and Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Antonín Dvořák, in his Scherzo Capriccioso, even writes for the cor anglais down to low A, though it seems unlikely that such an extension ever existed.[4]

Reeds used to play the cor anglais are similar to those used for an oboe, consisting of a piece of cane folded in two. While the cane on an oboe reed is mounted on a small metal tube (the staple) partially covered in cork, there is no such cork on a cor anglais reed, which fits directly on the bocal. The cane part of the reed is wider and longer than that of the oboe. Unlike American style oboe reeds, cor anglais reeds typically have wire at the base, approximately 5 millimeters from the top of the string used to attach the cane to the staple. This wire serves to hold the two blades of cane together and stabilize tone and pitch.

Perhaps the best-known makers of modern cors anglais are the French firms of F. Lorée, Marigaux and Rigoutat, the British firm of T. W. Howarth, and the American firm Fox. Instruments from smaller makers, such as A. Laubin, are also sought after. Instruments are usually made from African Blackwood (aka Grenadilla), although some makers offer instruments in a choice of alternative woods as well, such as cocobolo (Howarth) or violet wood (Lorée), which are said to alter the voice of the cor anglais slightly, reputedly making it even more mellow and warmer. Fox has recently made some instruments in plastic resin.

History and etymology

The term cor anglais is French for English horn, but the instrument is neither from England nor related to the (French) horn. The instrument originated in Silesia about 1720, when a bulb bell was fitted to a curved oboe da caccia-type body by the Weigel family of Breslau. The two-keyed, open-belled, straight tenor oboe (French taille de hautbois, "tenor oboe"), and more particularly the flare-belled oboe da caccia, resembled the horns played by angels in religious images of the Middle Ages. This gave rise in German-speaking central Europe to the Middle High German name engellisches Horn, meaning angelic horn. Because engellisch also meant English in the vernacular of the time, the "angelic horn" became the "English horn." In the absence of any better alternative, the curved, bulb-belled tenor oboe then retained the name even after the oboe da caccia fell into disuse around 1760.[5]

The earliest known orchestral part specifically for the instrument is in the Vienna version of Niccolò Jommelli's opera Ezio dating from 1749,[6] where it was given the Italian name corno inglese.[7] Gluck and Haydn followed suit in the 1750s,[8] and the first English horn concertos were written in the 1770s. Considering the name "cor anglais," it is ironic that the instrument was not used in France until about 1800 or in England until the 1830s.[8] The local equivalent for "English horn" is also used in other European languages such as Italian, German, and Spanish.

The suggestion has been made that anglais might be a corruption of Middle French anglé (angular, or bent at an angle, angulaire in modern French),[9] but this has been rejected on grounds that there is no evidence of the term cor anglé before it was offered as a possible origin of anglais in the 19th century.[10] The cor anglais still has a bent metal pipe, known as the bocal, which connects the reed to the instrument proper. The name first appeared on a regular basis in Italian, German, and Austrian scores from 1741, usually in the Italian form corno inglese.[11]

Through the last quarter of the 19th century, the French and Italian names cor anglais and corno inglese were the only titles ever used for the instrument by English writers.[12] It is remarkable that the French version of the name persists in English-speaking countries, where colloquially the instrument is always referred to as the "cor".[1]


Concertos and concertante

Until the 20th century, there were few solo pieces for the instrument with a large ensemble (such as orchestra or concert band). Important examples of such concertos and concertante works are:

† Though concertante in nature, these are just orchestral works featuring extensive solos, with the player seated within the orchestra

Chamber music

Better known chamber music for English horn includes:

  • Ludwig van Beethoven's Trio for 2 oboes and English horn, Op. 87 (1795)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven's Variations on "Là ci darem la mano", for 2 oboes and English horn, WoO 28 (1796)
  • Elliott Carter's Pastoral for English horn (or viola, clarinet or saxophone) and piano (1940)
  • Felix Draeseke's Little Suite for English horn and piano, Op. 87 (1911)
  • Paul Hindemith's Sonata for English Horn and Piano (1941)
  • Charles Koechlin's Monody for English Horn, Op. 216, Nr. 11 (1947–1948)
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Adagio in F (or C) major, K 580a (Fragment, 1789) (Probably not an original piece for cor anglais[13])
  • Vincent Persichetti's Parable XV for Solo English Horn
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen's Zeitmaße for flute, oboe, clarinet, English horn and bassoon (1955–56)
  • Igor Stravinsky's Pastorale for soprano and piano (1907), in the composer's own arrangements for soprano, oboe, English horn, clarinet, and bassoon (1923), and violin, oboe, English horn, clarinet, and bassoon (1933)
  • Augusta Read Thomas's Pilgrim Soul for cor anglais and two violins (2011)
  • Heitor Villa-Lobos' Quinteto em forma de chôros for flute, oboe, clarinet, English horn and bassoon (1929)
  • Carlo Yvon's Sonata in F minor for English Horn (or Viola) and Piano (published ca. 1831), one of the few sonatas written during the Romantic era for this combination.

Solos in orchestral works

The English horn's timbre makes it well suited to the performance of expressive, melancholic solos in orchestral works (including film scores) as well as operas. Famous examples are:

Use outside classical music

Though primarily featured in classical music, the cor anglais has also been used by a few musicians as a jazz instrument; most prominent among these are Paul McCandless, Jean-Luc Fillon, Sonny Simmons, and Vinny Golia (see also Oboists performing primarily outside classical genres). The cor anglais figures in the instrumental arrangements of several Carpenters songs. It has made some appearances in pop music, such as in King Crimson's Dawn Song on their album Lizard, Lindisfarne's Run For Home, Randy Crawford's One Day I'll Fly Away, Tanita Tikaram's Twist in My Sobriety, Marianne Faithfull's As Tears Go By, and many (e.g., Judy Collins' and Barbra Streisand's) versions of Send in the Clowns. In Britain, Tony Hatch's theme tune to the long-running soap opera Emmerdale Farm was originally performed on the cor anglais, as was also the version of Harry South's theme tune played at the end of each episode of The Sweeney. The cor anglais is also featured in the Lionel Richie and Diana Ross version of Endless Love, and in Elton John's Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Candle in the Wind 1997. The song A Mutual Friend by the band Wire from the album 154 uses a cor anglais. A cor anglais carries the opening of Fiddler on the Roof's "Sabbath Prayer". The instrument features prominently in the theme music to the ITV productions of Brideshead Revisited and The Chief, and in the closing version of the theme music for The Sweeney.

Paul McCartney holds a cor anglais on the album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The instrument also features in the 2005 film American Pie Presents: Band Camp (referred to as an oboe).


External links

  • English horn fingering guide
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