Single Descant Horn

Label :
single descant
Serial Number:
Date of Manufacture:
ca. 1890 - 1910
B♭ (a' ~ 461 Hz) 
3 rotary
10.85 mm.
Bell Flare:
single seam
approx. 6.2 cm.
Bell Diameter:
18 cm.
Base Metal:
brass with nickel-silver trim
(click on photos for larger view)

Sara Bowman photo

Sara Bowman photo
The horn shown above is a descant horn in B♭ in "old Austrian military pitch", a half step higher than modern pitch.1   It resembles a circular cornet in the collection of Edinburgh University, in that the upper arc of tubing is not part of the air column but functions as a brace between the bell and the first branch to form a circular corpus. It has a much more pronounced conical bore leading to a larger bell than the other conical brass instruments of the same length such as the cornet, flügelhorn, and posthorn. Since the bell is too small to be used effectively by the right hand the horn is held by the upper false tubing with the bell pointed backward, making it basically a Halbmond with valves and a handle. The bore is conical throughout except for the relatively short cylindrical path though the valve section.2 
The maker of this horn is unknown. It was most likely made in Austria or in one of the numerous workshops in Markneukirchen, Germany in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The valve section and bracing are generic. The mounting of the valve levers is unusual in the manner it is attached to the corpus at one corner. The valve rotors are tapered, measuring 21.6 by 20.7 mm (first valve). All of the valve components are stamped "1" for purposes of keeping the parts of the assembly together. These are the only markings found on the horn and probably have no other significance. The bore of the cylindrical section (10.85 mm.) is consistent with that of Vienna horns.3

The single seam of the bell tail can be seen in the bell flare (below left). 

Sara Bowman photo

Sara Bowman photo

Sara Bowman photo

Special thanks to Sara Bowman for providing the photos on this page. Thanks also, to Andreas Zenker, director of the Emaus-Jünger, for graciously providing historical background of the Austrian high-pitch tuning,  and to Robb Stewart and Robert Eliason for their valuable insights.


1. Descant horns are also available pitched in high F, an octave higher than the standard orchestral horn, and often coupled as a double or triple with a B♭and/or F horn. They are often confused with the modern so-called corno da caccia. Koehler (2014) explains the distinction: "Smaller than a descant horn in B-flat or a mellophone, yet slightly larger than a flugelhorn, the corno da caccia is not strictly considered a member of the horn family. It is often used by trumpeters to perform the high horn parts from Baroque composers like J.S. Bach and Telemann with modern orchestras because it sounds more hornlike than a flugelhorn and is more secure in the upper register. The unique sound of the instrument is also affected by the fact that the player's right hand operates the valves and is therefore not inside the bell. Although Bach scored some of his horn parts for corno da caccia (most notably in the "Quoniam" of the Mass in B minor, BWV 232), that historic instrument is not under consideration here.... This modern instrument is not related to the coiled form of the natural trumpet made famous in the portrait of Gottfried Reiche, which was sometimes called a tromba da caccia or Jägertrompete."  Regarding the high pitch, in the eighteenth century pipe organs in Germany were often tuned to such a higher pitch (known as Chorton or Cornet-ton), so it is also possible (but less likely) that this horn was built specifically to be compatible with a provincial baroque-period church organ. Bucur (2016) states that in the 20th and 21st century "contemporary Baroque orchestras with period instruments, adopted the pitch used in pre-Leipzig Bach's cantatas", referencing A = 460 - 470. Alternatively, considering the possibility that this instrument is a signal horn rather than an orchestral horn, Baines (1976) offers a tantalizing description in the context of valved Furst-Pless horns: "...the Grand-Duke of the Palatinate before the 1914 war had a band of circular 'hunting cornets' [Jagdkornett] which played waltzes in the woods during the luncheon interval."

2.  The dimensions are as follows: leadpipe, 34 cm. (conical); tuning slide and valve section (cylindrical), 21 cm.; first branch and bell tail (conical), ca. 72 cm. for a total length of ca. 127 cm., somewhat shorter than the modern B♭ trumpet. It is difficult to pinpoint its exact pitch since the harmonics are not very well in tune with each other and are easily lipped up and down using a horn mouthpiece.  It would probably be a little more stable with a shallower cup but the receiver is too small to accept a larger shank of a cornet or flügelhorn mouthpiece.. The fundamental and first three overtones are measured as follows with tuning slide extended 5 mm and the tuner set to A = 460.8 Hz.: 121.5 Hz. (~ B♭), 243.5 Hz. (~ B♭), 361.5 Hz. (F)  487.0 Hz. (B♭).

  3. Widholm (2016) gives the bore of two instruments by Leopold Uhlmann as 10.8 mm. See also Erste Wiener (10.7 mm), and anonymous Vienna (10.9 mm) in this collection).


Baines, Anthony. Brass Instruments, Their History and Development. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. ISBN 0684152290

Bucur, Voichita, Handbook of Materials for String Musical Instruments,  Springer, 2016

Haynes, Bruce;  A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of 'A', Scarecrow Press, Nov 6, 2002

Heyde, Herbert. Das Ventilblasinstrument, Seine Entwicklun im deutschsprachigen Raum von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1987. ISBN 3765102253

Heyde, Herbert. Hörner und Zinken, Musikinstrumenten-Museum Leipzig Katalog Band 5. Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1982.,

Koehler, Elisa, Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer's Guide to Trumpet History and Literature, Indiana University Press, 2014

Widholm, Gregor, "The Vienna Horn: Its Acoustics and Playing Technique", Historic Brass Society Journal,  v, 28,  New York, 2016

Zenker, Andreas, and Zenker, Anna,  Festschrift zum 25-jährigen Bestandsjubliläum der Emaus-Jünger, Bubnik Ebenau, 2013

 Send eMail to Dick Martz
Contents of this site and all original photographs copyright 1999-2011, Richard J.Martz
All rights reserved.