Review - Tannhäuser Fantasy for horn octet. Music by Richard Wagner arranged by Bob Ashworth

edb 0108003 Horn Club series

Though I don't suppose the single-minded Richard Wagner would have seen it like this, I've always felt it ironic that while the horn plays such a significant role in the composer's music, he never wrote anything for us to play as soloists. Perhaps the first person to address this omission was the great Viennese horn player Karl Steigler (1876-1932), a performer who, from the age of 15, ran his own professional horn quartet and who made several arrangements of Wagner's music for horns alone. The Russian player Vitali Buyanovsky (1928-1993) followed up with a fantasy for horns on music from Wagner's Ring cycle and several other horn players have added to the repertoire since. The latest is Opera North principal and BHS honorary member Bob Ashworth, who has just published his own fantasy on themes from Tannhäuser.

Although everyone will know the opening tune, this arrangement is not for the faint-hearted and has parts which will keep even the most experienced players on their toes. Despite its considerable technical challenges, it is, as one would expect from Bob, skillfully arranged and will sound terrific when played by players of the right calibre. With high quality performers in mind, Bob has deliberately kept the parts in the keys in which the original horn parts appeared. At the time that he composed Tannhäuser, Wagner's writing for horns often involved rapid changes of key, and Bob has preserved these. He says he couldn't bring himself to write out the horn parts from the famous opening of the overture in F when they were originally in E. It just wouldn't feel right. Frankly though, if transposition is a problem for you, you are probably not ready to play this arrangement anyway. Hard music, but exhilarating if you are up to it!

John Humphries, The Horn Player, BHS, Vol.3, No.1, April 2006

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