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Thoughts on enCORes + Free download 'Beim Schlafengehen' score below

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

What to play as an encore for French horn players...

The applause continues, the audience is already on their feet, the bouquet of flowers has been received, and the soloist has taken multiple bows. It's clear. The audience wants more... an encore.

Unfortunately, it's a rare pleasure to witness a horn player as a soloist. And when they do perform solo, it's not a given that they have an encore ready. Some are just happy to have made it through in one piece and be on their way home.

Furthermore, finding a suitable encore piece for a horn solo is not easy. After all, the horn lacks the harmonic possibilities of the piano and the agility of the violin. Yet, you hope to surprise the audience with virtuosity, emotion, or perhaps a piece that has never been heard before.

The legendary Dennis Brain often played the short "Le Basque" by Marin Marais as an encore. It's a lively French dance with a virtuosic variation. In its simplicity, it's a humorous choice that sends the audience out of the hall with a smile. Younger horn players might recognize it as the theme of Sarah Willis' Horn Hangout. However, as is often the case in our repertoire, a piano is required, making "Le Basque" unsuitable as an encore after a solo performance with an orchestra.

Most of the solo repertoire we have is written in a 'modern' idiom. Pieces like Esa-Pekka Salonen's Concert-Etude or Peter Maxwell Davies' "Sea Eagle" are spectacularly difficult. However, they lack the accessibility that you hope will enchant the concert audience.

Stefan Dohr frequently performs Olivier Messiaen's "Appel Interstellaire" as an encore. It's a beautiful but cryptic solo piece with a certain religious significance. This can leave the audience feeling disoriented, which is also an option, of course.

After his performance of Glière's concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic, Radek Baborak even played three (!) encores (available on the Digital Concert Hall). He begins with Bernhard Krol's "Laudatio," which is a more accessible solo piece, but, in my opinion, falls somewhat between the cracks as an encore. Then, he plays a hunting fantasy by Charles Koechlin, using only the D-horn. The hunting horn vibrato and the somewhat rougher sound work surprisingly and humorously. Finally, as the orchestra has left the stage, he performs his own composition, an "Alphorn Fantasie." It's a simple but effective piece, using only the open F-horn. With its beautiful sound and the use of the characteristic 'impure' overtones that define the alphorn, he manages to conjure an entire alpine meadow on his own. In my view, this is the most successful of the three encores.

Swiss hornist Pascal Deuber takes a different approach with the jazzy "Happy Blues" by Zsolt Nagy. It's a spectacularly swinging piece where the roaring multiphonics are a must. However you must feel very comfortable with the large leaps and agility after already performing for a while.

The retired Eric Terwilliger created his own "Till Eulenspiegel fantasy" for horn solo. As a musical composition, it may be somewhat fragmentary, but it leaves a successful signature on his concerts.

I had the pleasure of performing as a soloist with my own orchestra, Phion, in Richard Strauss's Second Horn Concerto last September. Therefore, I began to think about an encore. I wanted to play something personal and lyrical. That's why I made a small arrangement for a string quintet and horn (download for score and parts down below) of one of my favorite songs by Strauss: "Beim Schlafengehen," the third "last song." This way, I could present something personal with my colleagues. It may not be virtuosic, but due to its familiarity and simply beautifully written music, I believe it was a success.

What good encores have in common is that they add a personal touch to the evening. They showcase music that is close to the soloist's heart or highlight the unique aspects of the player: agility, a sense of tone, or simply a love for certain music. This personal and thus vulnerable element brings the audience closer to the soloist. They reveal more of themselves, creating space for an intimate connection between the performer and the audience. It's as if you're sitting next to someone in their practise room. That feeling of being connected is, for me, the core reason why I make and listen to music.

This article was published in October 2023 in the Uijlenspieghel, the magazine of the Dutch Horn Society.

Download here the score + all parts.

Let me know what you think of the arrangement. I would love to receive recordings when you perform it. Reach out to me through my instagram or to my email Have fun and 'Schlaf well'!

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