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Is it a French Horn or Mellophone, Alto horn or what?
The Horn is the Soul of the Orchestra
There occasionally arises a difference of opinion
on exactly what to call a particular horn.
ou will find horns of many different configurations, not always falling easily into one catagory or another. From the first cave man that blew into the worn tip of some animal horn or hollow vine they found that certain interval pitches came most easily from the different lengths or size of horn and learned to put pieces together for different sounds.
Through the centuries craftsmen everywhere experimented a lot!!
Modern theories on harmonics have now been refined and modern instruments fall more defiinitely into defined optimum lengths, and what we now consider proper classifications
There remains some confusion however, what to call some instruments. This page
hopes to add to the confusion, and define members of the Horn family. Too much discussion, I'm sure, for what seems to be a simple subject ~ sections on this page are roughly as follows ~
French Horn defined ~ Horn-style Mellosphones ~ Alto Horns ~ Trumpet style Mellophones ~ Horn History dates

Conn piston French Horn
The best horn history site I have found ~
~ Visit the Cyberhorn Museum at HornPlanet
There are excerpts of highlights in horn history, towards the bottom of this page

More good links to galleries of different instruments and variations,
see links at the bottom of this page
Input, corrections or differences of opinion welcome. Contact me at Uniqhorns

"The horn is the soul of the Orchestra" ~ Robert Schumann

The defining features in all brass instruments are length, bore profile, wrap and bell
~ Profile ~ that is, the diameter of the bore and how it tapers from the mouthpiece to the bell.
Length and bore being most important in determining the range and key of the instrument
taper, tubing wrap and bell ~ along with the mouthpeice, determining the tone quality.
Initial leadpipe bore determines which mouthpieces might be used, but the
profile and wrap determine which is most appropriate, and define the horn.

(I leave discussion of mouthpieces to someone else, and another time.)

Example ~ The Flugabone may look a lot like a Flugelhorn or Bass Trumpet, but the length and
percentage of cylidrical tubing wrap, and bell of the Flugabone more closely matches a Trombone,
best uses a Trombone mouthpeice ( I think), and retains the Trombone sound.

A note to the purists out there who object to the term 'French' before 'Horn'. ~
The term 'horn' is so generic, it seems there is something needed to set apart this fine instrument
from all the other horns in the world. Sometimes I refer to my German Horn or my Czech Horn.
Call it a Concert Horn, call it Fred I don't care ~ On this page I use the term French Horn ~ stfua mate

French horn is defined by :
A} Leadpipe and initial bore fits french horn mouthpiece about 11 to 12 mm. ~ circular* general wrap, mostly tapered tubing (except valve body),

B} Several standard lengths comprising the F (12'), Bb (9') and Eb horns, (?)and various combinations in double, triple and compensating horns,
*)Some marching French Horns are oblong horns
~ different looking, still has a French Horn profile.

C} general contour of the final extended taper of the outer tubing curve into the traditional wide bell

D} French horns have valves. Without them you have a natural horn, or Waldhorn, forest or hunting horn
Three valves are common in the single horn, four in the modern double horn, having two sets of tubings for each of the three main valves, switched by the fourth valve.

There are some five and even six-valve models
(the 6 valve models I saw were Chinese instruments),
I have never played one and can't attest to their value.
Also there are some four of five valve models that are not 'double' horns, but instead compensating horns,
since they change the general length of the horn instead of switching the valve tubing banks as a set

Important ~ Lots of people get this wrong ~
Whether rotors or pistons, right or left bell, all can be properly called French Horn.
If the bore and general tubing wrap matches a french horn then it is. I have seen piston (pic below) and rotary horns, right and left play (though left is rare), all were French Horns.
People tell you things like ~ "a Mello plays to the left",
or ~ a Mello has pistons ~ but it is not that simple.
I've seen diferent variations of mellophonii as well,
Although models with pistons played by the right hand with the bell to the left are by far the most common, particularly in the Americas. *see note below

Waltzenhorn compensating French Horn in F, I think+?
slide show

Amati, Kraslice modern Double French horn F-Eb
slide show

American Victory Eb Mellophonium
slide show

Hoton Marching Horn
Key of F? ~ French Horn or Mellophone or what?

*Historical and Geographical influence
People in America seem to have a more rigid view than most, of what certain models of instrument "should" be.
Keep in mind that the first simple hunting horns date back to the early 1600's and modern brass instrument heritage goes back to the early 1800's By that time craftsmen all over Europe had been making instruments for centuries, but the Americas were as yet sparcely populated and a long ways from the cultural center of the world. America developed isolated by geography from the markets accross the oceans, fueled by the growing spread of machine shops and mass production, especially late 1800's and early 1900's, The Sousa Era.

The companies that grew up in America tended to make horns of similar configuration so thay could played together easily. After all you can't have right-bell horns mixed in with left-bell horns, especially when marching. Collisions are catastrophic when playing a mouthpiece pressed to your teeth, (especially when marching).
Marching and playing a horn at the same time is a dreadful thing to do, anyway.

The rotary valve - right bell tradition ~ By tradition, the most common French Horn developed as a right bell instrument, with rotary valves, which are easier to continue playing as you turn the bell up for sounding alerts thru the woods. Originally tucked under the right arm to leave the left hand free to control the reins. The horn could be held looped around the arm so the bell could be raised naturally by lifting the upper arm. In dire conditions the horn could be dropped back over the arm and shoulder to allow the hornsman to draw a weapon with his right hand while still controlling the horse with his left. In dire circumstances the horn itself can be used to smack your opponent, but it has a negative affect on the tone quality of the horn.
When craftsmen began adding valves, they positioned them to play with the left hand, and the well established right-bell tradition was maintained.

Amati large hunting horn Amati ~ small rotary hunting hornThere are exceptions as always ~
Amati now makes a small hunting horn with rotors held and played by the right hand
~ however the rotors are on the bell side so the bell still points to the right
click images for larger views

The development of the mellophonium was to provide a horn that was easier to play, and put out more volume than the concert Horn, especially for a marching band. Also sturdier, of slightly heavier material than the french horn, mellophones were more suitable for rough conditions, like WWI and WWII Army Bands, other travelling bands or, god forbid, a Junior High band.
Developed after the Koenig and Ballad Horns, mellophones retained the pistons-played-with-the-right-hand design, to be more adaptable to musicians familiar with trumpets and coronets, usually more plentiful than concert horn players.
Hence the piston valve - left~bell tradition. return to top

Mellophones ~ two different families
There is one general class of mellophone shaped like the French Horn ~
The other more closely related to the Trumpet Family (see next section).

Properly called by many a Mellophonium, these have the same general curl and offset bell as the French Horn. The leadpipe is the same or slightly larger than the french horn and accepts a mellophone mouthpiece, generally wider and more cup shaped than the french horns. Other mouthpeices may fit, but they sound best with the style intended. The mellophonium commmonly has pistons and is played right-handed with the bell on the left, but, as with the French horn, can also be bell-right, and an even more rare model having rotors and still be properly called a Mellophonium

The bore is about the same, tubing is shorter (about half, ~ six feet) and quicker tapered than the French Horn, with an equal or slightly smaller and heavier bell. These often came with sets of interchangeable crooks (slide pieces) to play in different keys. They also sometimes had switching valves and tubing added in strange ways to accomodate. One of these is pictured at right.

A comment on the difference in the terms mellophonium and mellophone.
Since I was young I remember being told the old term was Mellophonium (when euphoniums were common), refering to the older horns like those shown at right. Today the common term is mellophone. There are various newer horns in the marching horn and Drum and Bugle Corps catagories, all called mellophones.

The term Mellophonium was applied by Conn in the 1960's, with Stan Kenton's outlandish Conn bell-forward Mellophonium section. This was basically a straightened out version of the original (literally for the prototype, as told by Scooter Pirtle) and I beleive, promoted as Mellophonium mainly to set it apart from other mellophones of the time, add to the mystique and make it sound more exotic. I don't believe the term mellophonium originated with that horn.
Stan Kenton wrote many pieces featuring the four horn section, (which gained much notoriety (and controversy)) ~ in the album "Mellophonium Magic" producing 11 total albums with the section, recorded from 1960 to 1963.

Amati now makes the same horn (see below), and calls it simply - a mellophone.
So calling it a mellophone or mellophonium seems interchangeable.
Either way, the important thing is that mellophone sound,
uniquely different from altos, french horns or Euphoniums.

For a good look at the anscestory of the mellophone visit
the Open Encyclopeadia Project's Mellophone Page
or Al's Mellophone page ~ Mellophone and marching horn history
after opening ~ click on 'History' or 'Bells Front' in main menu at left

The Stan Kenton Mellophonium section was critiscised at one point, for the blaring tone that resulted from using trumpet and cornet mouthpeices instead of the mellophonium mouthpeices provided. Stan put a stop to that practice when he realized that they had switched.

The very first Courtois Koenig horn original mellophone in F, manufactured 1856, presented to Herman Koenig by Antoine Courtois. Unlike its predecessors the year before, in the key of C
Amati Eb
Amati Eb Mellophone

Add to the confusion ~ All three horns here are New versions of the V.F.Cerveny (Amati) Alto Horns ~
The two horns to the left ~ right and left handed Eb horns ~ having rotary valves, circular wrap and what appears to be lighter tubing than the mello, and to the right, an Eb Bell-up model with an oval wrap, also with rotary valves, played with the left hand.

All five of these horns have an 11.7 mm bore ~ same as Cerveny French Horns

Left ~ Amati Mellophone F Eb
Right ~ Amati Mellophone Eb
both piston model left bell ~ played with the right hand ~ I intend to get specs from Amati ~ Denak to clarify class specifications on these and the altos. . (15Oct05)

The other Mellophone is that related more closely to the Trumpet family with the bell forward.

There are Mellophones, Marching Horns, Frumpets, Alto Trumpets, Bass Trumpets, Valve Trombones, Flugabones and maybe others, commonly in Bb but there are others.
All look somewhat similar in a whole range of designs. In general the mellophone name is simply a slightly fatter version of a trumpet, with a noticably larger bell.

Tubing wrap can be oval, similar to, but wider than the trumpet, or maitain the traditional round shape, as in one model of Amati Mellophone (below), which is somewhere in between. (Amati also makes the other, French horn kind with pistons they call Mellophone ~ shown above).
As with the horns ~ trumpets, coronets and flugels can also have rotary valves, more common with the European craftsmen. The defining aspects remain the bore profile and configuration of the tubing.

Somewhere in the mix of things is the Flugalhorn, which is generally a slightly fatter version of a trumpet with steeper tapered 6'6" tubing flare into a slightly larger bell, but much smaller than the mellophone. Usually has an oval wrap like a fat trumpet or modern coronet, with a deep V-cut mouthpeice (about 11 mm bore) and bell-forward

All you really need to know is what key to play in.
Don't worry about what to call it.

Wolf Rotary Flugelhorn

(left ~ Amati Mellophone)

Amati F Mellophone

Bach Stradavarius Flugelhorn

Still confused? Me too. I haven't yet answered
all my own questions. Oh well ~ go play now.
You might like to visit Al's Mellophone Page
or more on Alto class Al's Tenor Horn Page
or Bob Beechers page for the Euphonium

Some landmarks in horn development ~
Excerpts from ~ Horn ~ For full version Visit their Brief History of the Horn
~ In 1636 ~ Origins in the hunting horns ~ French musical scholar Marin Mersenne
wrote of four different kinds of horns in his Harmonie Universelle:
Le grand cor
(the big horn), the cor a plusiers tours, (the horn of several turns),
le cor qui n'a qu'un seul tour (the horn which has only one turn),
and le huchet (the horn with which one calls from afar).
To the right here is one of very few images of the huchet I have found so far.--->>

Horns such as the cor de chasse and trompe de chasse, used in the beginning for accent at appropriate times, such as hunting scenes, soon began the evolution into a refined concert hall instrument. Ties to this ancient origin is probably the why the term 'French' Horn came into usage.

~ 1680's ~ Count Franz Anton von Sporck while visiting France heard some cors de chasse at a hunt
Immediately instructed two men of his consort, Wenzel Sweda and Peter Rollig be taught to play them
This became the source from which horn playing grew more refined in all of Bohemia and Germany.

~ early 1700s ~ multi-key Crooks ~ Baroque composers began writing more complex and artistic music for this horn. Up till this time It was still necessary however to switch horns if a composer wanted the hornist to change keys, so they would carry several instruments to perform on. The impracticality of this led intelligent horn makers in the early 1700's to the invention of the crook, so the hornist could carry a single instrument adaptable with crooks to play in different keys..

~ 1760 ~ Hand stop techniques ~ Not only were instruments evolving ~ also a new technique in playing had firmly caught on that was taking the horn to the next step in its evolution. The Bohemian virtuoso hornist in the court of Dresden, Anton Hampel (1711-1771) is generally credited with developing and teaching the technique that had been known by some hornists as early as the 1720s. Quite simple really: by manipulating the right hand inside the bell of the horn, he could play tones other than the natural harmonics

~ 1750 and 1755 ~ tubing selectors ~ Anton Hampel encouraged a Dresden instrument maker, Johann Werner, to construct a horn with detachable crooks for both the mouthpipe and middle of the horn, that a full range of transpositions was possible on one instrument. The Orchestra horn, as it was called, was honed and perfected

~ 1800's ~ Valve development ~
~ 1815 ~ several different Omnitonic horn designs were being manufactured. The basic idea was that via a mechanism of some type, a player could quickly choose from a built-in collection of crooks, while still utilizing hand horn technique to play in any given key. Intended as a solution to the problem of quick crook changes, the Omnitonic horn proved to be both cumbersome and heavy and was short lived

~1816, Heinrich Stolzel and a wind playing colleague, Friedrich Blumel, were granted a Prussian patent for the valve mechanism. A later valve design of Stolzel's, a long stroke piston (known as the Stolzel valve), inspired other instrument makers. Francois Perinet developed a piston valve from Stolzel's model in 1839 that is the direct predecessor to the modern day piston valve.

~ Stolzel's early piston valve horns also evolved into the horn still used by the Vienna Philharmonic

~ 1832 ~ The piston valve, which moves up and down, soon inspired another development in horn technology. About 1832, the rotary valve, which turns in a circle, was invented by Joseph Riedl in Vienna

~ mid-1800s the valveless Waldhorn with a set of crooks was being far surpassed by a single F horn with three valves and no extra crooks. The valve could instantly change the length (and therefore the pitch) of the instrument by simply pushing down the key and activating the valve mechanism. At first, piston valves were more common, but by the end of the 19th century, the rotary valve had gained popularity over the piston. Playing with hand horn technique was rapidly fading away.

~ Late in the 19 century ~ Combination Horns ~ a German horn maker, Fritz Kruspe, was one of the first to manufacture both "single" and "double horns" with rotary valves. With the double horn, he crafted an instrument having a fourth valve that routed the air through shorter tubing that changed the entire pitch of the horn from F to Bb. Today, the double horn is the most commonly used horn worldwide.

For a full version of this History of the Horn, Visit Horn Planet's Brief History of the Horn

7 Bell 6 Valve Tube ~ click for larger viewAnother interesting history is the development of the Trombone, since in its simplicity,
it is one of the oldest instruments to develop and has had lots of variations.
For a great discussion and pictures of some reallly wild looking instruments visit:
Bob Beecher's Trombone page ~ also has a discussion page for the Euphonium

To the right is a really odd and rare seven-bell six-valve Tuba.
May be one of a kind. (click on picture for better view)

For a fascinating look at a wide array of other antique instruments visit:
Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments

You might also like to visit ~ Al's Mellophone Page
see 'History' or 'Bell's Front' in the menu at left
the Open Encyclopeadia Project's Mellophone Page
or more on Alto class at ~ Al's Tenor Horn Page

For some really different horns visit ~ ~ pick from the horns listed on the left,
Train horn samples are on the different pages
Also see my page on Train horn Chord details

Le-Perreux-sur-Marne ~ Separe de Nogent sur Marne en 1887

Ecartele Au premier de gueules au huchet contourne d'argent et au chef cousu d'azur charge de deux fleurs de lys d'or, au deuxieme de sable aux trois etoiles d'or rangees en fasce et surmontees d'une couronne de baron du meme, au troisieme d'azur au viaduc de trois arches d'argent, maconne de sable et pose sur des ondes aussi d'argent mouvant de la pointe, au quatrieme de gueules a la chaine de quatre anneaux d'argent, posee en pal, les deux anneaux du milieu rompus.
~ Origine du nom:Vient du latin Petrosa nom donne au site par les moines de l'abbaye de Saint-Maur au 13e siecle, pour rappeler la nature pierreuse du sol.
Quartered: With the first of mouths to the huchet circumvented money and the chief bent of azure charged with two flowers of gold lily, to the second of sand to three stars of gold arranged in fasce and surmounted by a crown of baron of same, to the third of azure to the viaduct of three arches of money, built of sand and posed on money waves also driving of the point, with the fourth of mouths to the chain of four rings of money, posed out of stake, the two rings of the middles broken.
~ Origin of the name: Comes from Latin Petrosa ~ a name given to the site by the monks of the abbey of Saint-Maur to the 13th century, to point out the stony nature of the ground.

This page started 26 Sept 05 ~ last update 20 Jan 2007
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questions or comments about this site email
Information on this page compiled from ~ Horn Planet's Brief History of the Horn; Amati-Denak website;
"The French Horn" booklet by Jeremy Montague, along with hours and days searching through other ads, eBay listings, and websites for horns of various types, along with my own personal experience in music.