Part of the woodwind family, the English horn is a larger version of the oboe with a pear-shaped bell, usually made of grenadilla wood. There is usually only one in an orchestra and the player sits in the oboe section. The player blows into a double reed which vibrates and resonates into the instrument, producing a sweet and melancholic sound. The range of the English horn is slightly lower than that of the oboe.
Did you know?
Despite its name, the English horn is not actually very English. It is believed that the origin of the name comes from a mistranslation of the French “cor anglé”, or “angled horn”, describing the curved or “angled” nature of the bocal which connects the reed to the instrument.
In Nuages, by Claude Debussy, the slightly nasal sound of the English horn floats like an atmospheric dream over a cloud of muted strings. The English horn solo from the New World Symphony is certainly one of the most famous in the repertoire. In the third excerpt, from the Symphony in D minor by César Franck, the smooth sound of the English horn greets the warm colours of the cello section over a background of string pizzicatos.
Nocturnes: I. Nuages
Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”: II. Largo
Symphony in D minor: II. Allegretto