Until the mid-18th century, the French horn was an instrument which, like the trumpet, was restricted to the series of natural pitches produced with only the players embouchure. This meant that the instrument was restricted to a certain key, and the only way to change this was to change the physical length of the horn with various additional pipe loops. By the time of Joseph Haydn’s debut at the Esterházy court, horn players had begun exploring ways of extending the harmonic reach of the instrument by stopping the bell with the right hand, producing notes between the natural scale. The player who, above anyone else was famous for doing this, was the Bohemian Jan Vaçlav Stich, more generally known by the name Giovanni Punto, but the horn players of Haydn’s orchestra seem to have been early adopters as well, judging by the high and challenging horn parts of his symphonies. This is also a feature of Haydn’s charming little E-flat divertimento, whose horn part is a challenge even for players today, with their highly developed and complex instruments.
When Paul Hindemith had survived service in the trenches of world war one, he embarked on a renewed effort to establish himself as a composer, in a thoroughly transformed world. Five years of war had washed away the old notions of finesse, convention and traditions. Music, too, was utterly changed. The aesthetics of romanticism, to be sure, had begun crumbling well before the war, but by now, there definitely was no way back. Hindemith, who also had taken his first steps as a composer within a romantic mindset, now threw himself into a harsh expressionist world, often with satirical undertones. Then, after some years, he settled down in a neo-classicist world of ”Neue Sachlichkeit”, but in the works of the early 1920s especially, there is certainly no sense of compromise in his work. The sonata for cello solo came about during these years of intense creative work: it has been reported that Hindemith wrote four of the five movements in one single day. The sonata is symmetrically laid out around a substantial middle movement, surrounded most closely by two brief intermezzi and rather richer outer movements. The lyrical middle movement also contrasts against the brusque frensy of the surrounding music.
During the years leading up to world war one, York Bowen was a rising star in British music, both as a pianist and composer. After studying at the Royal Academy of Music, he soon transferred to the faculty, first as a piano teacher, and later as professor at the same institution. His compositions, shaped in a personally tinged late romantic language, were well received and won him several awards in his home country. Alas, during the following decades, society and aesthetical preferences moved on, leaving Bowen behind, as something of a musical relic from days gone by. Nevertheless, he kept writing music, often containing some pedagogical element – especially in his works for piano. The quintet for horn and strings was written in 1927 and it is a prime example of Bowen’s vivid, but outdated style. Aside from the piano, Bowen also played the horn and the viola. The horn part, then, is skilfully idiomatic. The first movement starts off with moods alluding to both Vaughan Williams and Ravel, but then recedes towards more conventional expression. After the thoroughly romantic middle movement follows an exuberant finale, filled with playful energy.