The French horn is a wind instrument that's part of the brass family. It is commonly found in symphony orchestras and brass bands. Due to its distinct sound, many composers throughout history have used it to denote various effects. Here are some more facts about this diverse instrument.
French horns have 12 feet of coiled brass tubing that ends in a flared, bell-shaped opening, where the sound emerges. The player blows into a mouthpiece and can control the pitch through his lips and by using the available valves. There are either three or four valves, depending on the type of horn. There are several variations of the French horn, including the single, double and triple horns; the Vienna horn; and the natural horn.
The natural horn is the predecessor of the modern French horn, and has no valves. It was commonly used in hunting to help assemble hunters and point them in the direction of the hunted animal. The sound these early horns produced was called a recheat. In the mid-18th century, Anton Joseph Hampel developed the hand-stopping technique, which involved placing a hand into the opening of the bell to change the pitch. In 1815, pistons to change the pitch were introduced and later refined into valves instead of pistons. Many classical composers used the French horn and its "hunting"-type sound in their compositions--notably Mozart, who wrote many concertos for the French horn.
Some notable French horn players include: Philip Farkas, author of several books on the French horn and former principle hornist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; David Pyatt, principle hornist of the London Symphony Orchestra and the youngest winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition; and Barry Tuckwell, who wrote the definitive book on the French horn (see Resources).
One of the strangest types of French horns is the Wagner tuba. Technically not a tuba at all, it is a horn with a vertical bell that has a larger bell throat (the part immediately before the actual opening). Invented by composer Richard Wagner specifically for his cycle of four operas, collectively known as "The Ring of the Nibelung," it has since been used by other composers as well, such as Sibelius, Bruckner and Strauss.
Since the French horn is a rather cumbersome instrument, the widest and most unwieldy section of the horn--the bell--is detachable on modern horns. This makes transporting the instrument on airplanes much easier.