If you went to High School in LaPorte, Indiana you might play a horn like this
E.A. Couturier
Conical Bore Single F Horn

Label (Bell):
Conical Bore
E.A. Couturier Co. Ltd.
Sole Makers
LaPorte Ind.
"Conical Bore" single
Serial Number:
Date of Manufacture:
ca. 1918?
3 Périnet
(continuous conical)
Mouthpiece Receiver:
7.8 mm
Crook Socket:
Bell Flare:
spun, lateral seamed
Bell Throat:
about 6.9 cm
Bell Diameter:
30 cm.
Base Metal:
Cornet virtuoso Ernst Albert Couturier (1869 - 1950) was born in Poughkeepsie, NY on September 30 1869. As a child he studied piano and violin, and at age fourteen took up the cornet. He was accepted at the New England Conservatory about two years later where he excelled at violin, piano, and theory, but was less successful on the cornet. At the suggestion of his teacher he abandoned it altogether to concentrate on his other studies. As a result he dropped out of the Conservatory and went to work in his uncle's watch repair shop.

Inspired by the playing of the celebrated cornet soloist Theodor Hoch (1842-1906) Couturier requested lessons, studying with Hoch for four years. During that time he found employment with several bands and later formed a band of his own which he took to the St. Louis Exposition of 1892. The following year he joined The Gilmore Band as a soloist and briefly as substitute conductor. During this period he also took up composition, publishing several original pieces and arrangements. Settling in St. Louis after the turn of the century he continued to tour the midwest and Europe with several bands as conductor and cornet soloist. Audiences were amazed at his six-octave range and ability to play "chords" (multiphonics) on the cornet.

Turning down an offer to tour with Sousa's band, Couturier instead went to work for Frank Holton Company in Chicago as a consultant and demonstrator of their line of cornets. While at Holton he developed the "Couturier Model New Proportion Cornet". Upon leaving Holton in 1912 he applied for a patent on his "new and useful Improvements in Cornets" which was granted on September 23, 1913 (patent number 1,073,593, see below). This was the genesis of his line of "Conical Bore" instruments of which the subject horn is an example. Rights for the production of the first instruments were granted to J.W. York & Sons of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1916, Couturier had a falling out with York and, with two associates, formed his own company, "E. A. Couturier Co., Ltd.," in New York. [Sources differ on the date of founding and details: The New Langwill Index gives the year as 1918 and states that Couturier had purchased the Seidel Band Instrument Company in Elkhart, Indiana from William F. Seidel (1848 - 1922) the same year. This is confirmed by a report of two early Couturier cornets, both with serial numbers below 1600 and labelled "Elkhart" and also a cornet in the collection of the University of Edinburgh cited as: (3274) Cornet in B-flat, A. E.A. Couturier, Elkhart, Indiana, 1913 or soon after {1136}.]

In 1918 the operation was moved to LaPorte, Indiana, where Couturier fully developed his product line and received many patents (see table, below). It was during this time that the subject horn was made and a second version of the conical bore horn was also developed (see patents, below).

In 1923 E.A. Couturier Co. Ltd. was sold to Lyon & Healy, Chicago which operated until 1929. Meanwhile, Couturier continued product deveopment and returned to performing including playing in vaudville in Los Angeles. Around 1929 he returned to New York State where he died at Wingdale, NY on February 28, 1950.
Patents of E.A. Couturier
Description Patent Applied Issued
"Cornet" (The basic patent for Conical Bore brass instruments) 1,073,593 Sept. 3, 1912 Sept. 23, 1913
"Cornet" (An "ornamental design" that added a quick change valve. The text does not contain details nor mention of the quick change valve.) D52,207 Apr. 27, 1918 July 23, 1918
"Trumpet" (An "ornamental design" that added a quick change valve. The text does not contain details nor mention of the quick change valve. This patent is interesting in that it blurs the distincion between a trumpet and cornet.) D52,473 Apr. 27, 1918 Sept. 24, 1918
"Side Trombone" (Conical Bore) 1,385,202 June 25, 1919 July 19, 1921
"Mute for Musical Instruments" 1,425,318 May 14, 1921 Aug. 8, 1922
"Quick Change Valve for Musical Instruments" valve 1,436,085 May 14, 1921 Nov. 21, 1922
"Phonograph" 1,513,534 July 11, 1921 Oct. 28, 1924
"Wind Instrument" Improvements to his conical bore valved instruments which in particular applies to the second version of the conical bore horn 1,438,363 Sept. 12, 1921 Dec. 12, 1922
"Valved Brass Instrument" (An improvement to valves purporting to eliminate "wolf" notes.) 1,729,568 June 26, 1928 Sept. 24, 1929

The very peculiar horn shown below (it was dubbed "krazy horn" on one of the Internet eMail horn lists when it turned up on eBay) is a result of E.A. Couturier's desire to have a full range of perfectly conical bore brass instruments. The horn in particular has throughout its history been regarded as a "conical" instrument in comparison with the more cylindrical trumpet branch of the brass family. In its purest form, the cor de chasse, the horn is truly conical. With the introduction of tuning slides, first on the natural horn in the eighteenth centruy and later on the valve tubing, the horn incorporated more and more cylindrical "pockets" as Courturier calls them. In 1912 Couturier filed a patent applciation for a fully conical cornet which is described at length below. This horn is an extension of that patent. It can be readily seen that there are no tuning "slides" on the valves as such. Instead the valve tubing is fixed having continuous conical taper. The taper is maintained even within the bores of the pistons themselve. Free from the constraints of parallel valve slide legs, Courturier was free to bend the tubing into seemingly whimsical shapes, although his intent was no doubt to minimize the sharp bends found on more common horn wraps. It doesn't appear that Couturier ever attempted a double horn design. One can only wonder how that would have turned out!

The horn plays fairly well with a full range from the pedal notes to high C. The upper register is sometimes weak and for some reason evan some middle range notes are poorly centered. (Couturier addressed the problem of "wolf" notes in a later patent.) As noted below, the piston valves require almost twice the throw of rotary valves adding difficulty to fast passages. Couturier became aware of this and purports to have corrected it in his later patent (see below). Another issue is water removal. It would have been nice if he had included water keys on the valve tubing which he does show in the cornet patent drawings. Instead a careful combination of raising the bell to drain the water back to the valves, then pressing the valves one at a time while blowing forcefully to drive the water through to the first branch with a final full turn of the horn to drain the water out the bell seems to be the most effective method. (Another method might be to remove the valve pistons to drain the valve tubing but that can only be done during long rests or tacets.)

The serial number, 1882, is stamped on the second valve casing.
The valves are numbered 1,2,3 on the casings with corresponding scratch marks on the bottom of the pistons. The piston valve throw is about twice that of a typical rotary valve: Piston throw = 1.90 cm vs. .95 cm on my Conn 8-D. Couturier addresses this problem in his "Wind Instrument patent of 1922. see details below.)

At right, in the top photo the pistons are shown in order from left to right 1, 2, 3, as seen from the bell side of the horn and shown in the above photo. In the lower photo they are in the same order but rotated 180o. (Note the guide pin at the top of each piston. Note also that these pistons are sprung from the bottom, and not the top as was shown in the original Conical Bore cornet patent of 1913 described in detail below.)

The pistons are conical-bored throughout to maintain the overall conical bore of the horn. In his last patent "Valved Brass Instrument" (1,729,568, dated September 24, 1929 and not used on these pistons), Couturier purported to eliminate "wolf" notes by making the bore of the piston suddenly larger than the inbound port diameter.

The piston diameter here is 1.98 cm. Couturier was later able to reduce this diameter in the second generation of Conical Bore instruments by greatly shortening the length of the leadpipe making the tubing diameter at the valves much smaller. (See patent 1,438,363 described in more detail, below.)

An open and shut case. Nothing unusual to report here except it appears to be contemporary with the horn, smells pretty bad, and is labelled number 27, presumably one of a whole school fleet of Couturier instruments. Now that would be something to hear! The mouthpiece is a Vincent Bach Corp., Mt. Vernon, NY number 10, which barely fits the smallish mouthpipe receiver. In his efforts to achieve maximal conicality, Couturier seems to have started with the smallest usable mouthpiece receiver diameter. Case closed.
Last but certainly not least, the horn comes complete with a music lyre in case you haven't fully memorized the "Long Call" for the halftime show. Couturier's placement of the lyre holder requires the long stem variety with multiple bends.
Couturier filed his first patent application for Conical Bore brass instruments (1,073,593, accompanying illustrations shown above) on September 3, 1912. This is the patent that covers the subject horn. In the application Couturier makes the following statements. (Numbers in the text refer to the drawings shown above):
To produce the most desirable tone from a cornet it is essential that the vibration produced the mouth piece be conveyed to the bell of the instrument through a constantly enlarging pipe, and it is a detriment to the cornet now in use that they have, intermediate the mouth piece and the bell, a number of cylindrical portions of the pipe. In order to produce the most desirable sounds from a cornet I provide that the pipe through which the virbrations produced at the mouth piece pass shall be constantly expanding from the mouth piece to the bell, this expansion to be present whether the instrument is used in the well known open position or with any combination of the valves.

...It is at times necessary to alter the number of vibrations produced by the cornet in order to adapt it to the exact pitch of other instruments. This is done in the ordinary cornets by lengthening the pipe through which the vibrations pass and this lengthening is accomplished by pulling out, as far as necessary, U-shaped slides forming parts of the pipe of the instrument. The ordinary cornet has such slides, both on the valve pipes and on a section of the pipe through which all vibrations must pass whether the valves are in use or not. The pulling out of these slides leaves cylindrical pockets in the pipe which are detrimental to the quality of tone produced from the instrument. For tuning the instrument I provide that an approximately U-shaped section 15 [note: ref. drawing above] of the pipe thereof intermediate the mouth piece and the valve casing be removable and when it is desired to lengthen the the pipe for varying the pitch I provide a longer section 15', shown in Fig. 6, of a shape similar to 15 and interchangeable therewith, or, should it be desired to shorten the pipe, I provide a shorter section 15'' shown in Fig. 7 similarly shaped and interchangeable with section 15. The long section is of such length as to lower the pitch of the cornet one-eighth of a tone or less and the shorter section is so constructed as to raise the pitch one-eighth of a tone or less; thus the cornet is given the range of one-quarter of a tone or less. By this interchange of members I avoid the interposition in the pipe of any cylindrical portion adjacent the member 15. This appears more clearly in Fig. 4 in which the gradual expansion of the pipe is somewhat exaggerated. 16 is a portion of the mouth pipe as it comes to the member 15 from the mouth piece of the instrument; 17 is that portion of the the mouth pipe nearest the bell from member 15. The end 16a of the member 15 is adapted to be sheathed in the slightly enlarged inner portion 16b of the pipe of the instrument and the end 17aof the member 15 is adapted to be sheathed into the slightly enlarged inner portion 17b of the pipe 17. When these two ends are respectively sheathed, the continuity of the pipe of the instrument remains unbroked, while it would be possible to partially withdraw the member 15 from its full engagedment with the portions 16b and 17b of the pipe and thereby vary the pitchof the instrument, it is a fact that such action would impair the tone produced by interposing in the pipe 2 cylindrical pockets. It is to avoid the forming of any such pockets that I provide for tuning by means of a plurality of members similarly shaped to member 15, of varying lengths, and interchangeable therewith.
It is important to note that the subject horn is NOT provided with additional slides for fine tuning and that the legs of the main tuning slide appear to be cylindrical throughout. In the cornet described above the taper is maintained throughout the tuning slides by varying the thickness of the walls of the slide legs keeping the outer surface cylindrical. On the subject horn the slide legs are much longer and the wall thickness appears to be constant. Therefore the conality of the subject horn is compromised by having two cylindrical "pockets" on the tuning slide.

On September 12, 1921 Couturier applied for a second patent on his line of Conical Bore instruments, this time illustrating it with the horn shown above. Note the inclusion of conventional looking tuning slides on the valves. Couturier asserts, however that "a continuously tapered conical bore is provided throughout the length of the instrument." The main feature of the new design was to shorten the mouth pipe such that the tubing at the valve section is much smaller diameter than previously, thus allowing the valve pistons to be of smaller diameter and length, reducing the length of the stroke, and friction and mass to make the action faster.
This invention relates in general to wind instruments and more particularly to valved instruments, and while the principles thereof are applicable to many types of instruments such as orchestra horns, ballad horns, cornets, trumpets, fluegel horns and alto horns, I have selected for illustrative purposes a French horn in which the principles of my invention are embodied, as will be later understood.

In instruments of this character, it has heretofore been customary to employ a long mouthpipe which in the ordinary French horn is eighty inches or more in length before it enters the first valve chamber. Obviously, an appreciable amount of time is required for the sound wave produced at the mouthpiece to travel through the mouthpipe to the valve chambers, and consequently, if the valves are manipulated simultaneously with the production of the desired tones at the mouthpiece, the control of the tones by the valves will not be properly timed with respect to the production of the tones and therefore the resultant tones delivered from the instrument will be more or less imperfect. This lagging of the sound waves between the mouth piece and the valves can be somewhat corrected by an experienced player, who from long practice, is able to partially compensate by his fingering of the valves for the inherent inaccuracies of the instrument, but even prolonged practice is unable to wholly overcome this defect. Another disadvantage of the ordinary instrument of this character resides in the fact that by reason of the long mouthpipe the ports or passages through the valve casings must be of considerable size, since the diameter of the bore of the instrument increases with the increase of distance from the mouthpiece. This large size of the valve passages necessitates a long stroke of the valve, and in the ordinary French horn, if a piston valve (which is the most desirable of the valves for this purpose) is employed, a stroke approximately three-fourths of an inch in length is necessary to completely change the position of the valve passages with respect to their communicating pipes. Obviously, such a long stroke is very tiresome for the player, and in rapid work it is almost impossible of attainment. If a valve is only partially depressed, as it is very apt to be when speedy manipulation of the valves is required, the partial registration of the valve passages with connected pipes inevitably results in an imperfect tone.

With a view of obviating such long strokes, it has been the practice to utilize rotary instead of piston valves, and while these valves may be manipulated with a shorter stroke, their action is sluggish and the liability of imperfect tones is not very materially reduced by their use. Furthermore, if all metal operating mechanism is used, the parts will rattle and cause an objectionable clicking when playing. If linen threads are used in lieu of metal parts the threads are apt to break in the midst of a passage, thus rendering the instrument useless as they cannot be quickly replaced.
Couturier goes on to explain in great detail how this new design overcomes these perceived deficiencies. In a reply to a thread on horn@music.memphis.edu dated 9 March 2008 on the topic "krazy horn" in reference to the subject horn, Steve Mumford offered the following information on the horns made by E.A. Couturier including his own horn which is of the second design described above:
       The "improved" design was patented in 1922, patent # 1,438,363 if you'd like to look it up. It has tunable valve slides and a very short leadpipe that goes directly into the 1st valve after only about 8 inches. This means that the bore at the valve section is very small, the taper continues through the valve section and after. This later design has a bigger bell throat than the earlier one. Each tube of the valve section is slightly bigger when it returns than when it goes out. For instance the "outbound" tube of the 2nd valve is .358 and the "inbound" is .362.

       Why wouldn't an "improvement" of this sort continue to be made? Money. Manufacturers have learned to make acceptable instruments cheaply. There were plenty of brass insturments built in the 20th century that had features that really did make them play better, but they were more expensive to produce that way. The Couturier brochure mentions that most piston valve brass instruments required 2 different sizes of drills to drill all the holes in the valve section. The Couturier instruments (everything from cornets to tubas) required 32 different drill sizes for the same operation.

       So, why bother? Because it's there! Couturier wasn't just some random nut. He was an amazing musician who could play things on the cornet that nobody can play today. I'll extend a standing challenge - I have the music! He built a company that produced the full range of brass instruments and also saxophones. All the brass instruments were made on the "conical bore" principal, even the trombone. He had a dream and he made it happen.

       So, how does it play? Very nice! Ergonomically it's a little weird, the piston valves aren't so easy to manipulate. The sound is unique, very dark and woodsy, particularly rich when compared to "normal" horns. That richness of sound is what I particularly like about it. It's different from anything else. The pitch is very useable from low F# all the way up to high C, the E and D at the bottom of the staff are nice, maybe a touch higher than usual which is not so bad. D in the staff works just fine on open. It took a little while to find the center above the staff, she's a bit leaky, but once I found it, it rings out nicely.

       As far as the earlier model with the non-tunable valve slides, I tend to think that wouldn't really be a problem, other than water dumping! The cornets and trumpets play well in tune in either Bb or A, using the same fixed valve loops for both keys. How can that be? Let's just say that the acousticians can't explain everything. Hmmm, now that I'm warming up to this thing I'm liking it better and better. High range is really coming in, a little long call, Konzertstueck etc. It opens up good for the louder stuff. Mendelssohn Nocturne, very easy, relaxed, less taxing than on a double horn! I imagine this would be a really nice horn if it wasn't quite so old, beat up and leaky!

- Steve Mumford

[Steve Mumford is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music. After performing for eight years with the Louisville Orchestra, he returned to Ann Arbor and is now a busy freelancer, appearing regularly with the Michigan Opera Theater Orchestra and other orchestras around the Midwest. He has toured the country presenting lecture-recitals on the history of the horn. Mr. Mumford has played antique instruments with baroque orchestras in New York and Los Angeles and has performed on original Civil War instruments for PBS's The Civil War series.]


Scott, Kenton (moderator). Horn-u-copia Public Forum Discussing Antique, Obscure, and Out of Production Brass Instruments, http://www.horn-u-copia.net/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1159189879/12

Schwartz, Richard I. The Cornet Compendium "Well Known Solosists: Ernst Albert Couturier", http://www.angelfire.com/music2/thecornetcompendium/well-known_soloists_co-cz.html

Waterhouse, William. The New Langwill Index, A Dictionary of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers and Inventors. London: Tony Bingham, 1993.


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