French Horns Sound Like Vanilla

Most of my life revolves around music. As a composer and conductor, music is always present in my mind whether I’m doing routine chores or even sleeping. As a composer, I especially enjoy creative activities such as cooking. I know it may be very loosely related, but if you think to the core, you are creating ... one to fill the soul and one to fill the belly!

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Since I enjoy cooking so much and music is constantly present in my mind, sometimes I catch myself comparing sounds to ingredients, instruments to flavors/smells or even whole dishes to whole pieces. This is the case of the French Horn and the delicate vanilla! I must admit that the Horn is one of my favorite instruments to write for, its blending capabilities in music are outstanding; but…why vanilla?

When you think of the French Horn, Mozart’s or Strauss’ Horn concertos come to mind along with Strauss’ Don Juan imposing horn section solos, Mahler’s or Bruckner’s monumental symphonies or even Schumann’s Konzertstück for 4 Horns and Orchestra. For those fond of history, we’re reminded of the early “hunting” uses that the instrument had or even the royalty or nobility symbolism it had in the Baroque era. We could say that the French Horn embodies a certain power in itself, which could make the comparison with the gentle vanilla peculiar. That changes when you take a moment to listen to the opening measures of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte, the Poco adagio of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No.3 and the way it adds its special and desired “flavor” alongside the trombone and clarinet. And, of course ... the ever so tender way it opens the way for the piano in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.2. The list could keep on going, but once you hear the gentleness the French Horn can achieve and the way it blends power with finesse, it starts to appear quite similar to the unique, sweet and warm vanilla.

Those who like to cook like me know that vanilla has to be used with respect in any recipe that calls for its use; otherwise you could end with the very rich and heavy Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony’s First Movement horn section solo in a not so martial dish.