Skip to page content

About this Piece

Whorl, noun — Each of the turns, coils, or convolutions in any spiral structure.

Eddy, noun — A circular motion in water, or air, contrary to the current.


As someone who spent a decade attempting to tame the tricky winds that flow from mouthpiece to bell, I have a deep love of the horn and enormous admiration for those who can master its treacherous physics. The thoughts swirling in my head as I wrote for Andrew Bain were largely connected to the beauty of his sound and the purity of his tone in all registers.

With its combined conical and cylindrical tubing of around 17 feet, coiled into a manageable shape, the modern French horn in F bears, like an ancient city enrobed in modern dress, signs of its history. While it may seem curious that it is the only brass instrument requiring the player to keep his hand in the bell, that is an essential part of taming the sound. Before the invention and adoption of valves in the 19th century, the right hand would close or open the bell to alter the pitch. What every hornist knows and science proves is that the influence of that right hand in the bell is crucial, even today, in subduing the higher notes, whose close overtone proximity makes them precarious at the best of times.

The music begins with a soft curving phrase, contrasted by slightly turbulent notes that show the changes in timbre the right hand can bring about. Following this pathway leads to the moment when the sounds from the bell are completely closed or “stopped,” and the player pivots the bell to highlight the curious nature of an instrument whose sound emanates from behind the performer.

A turn toward nostalgia follows with melodies available to the natural horn; the curious pitches sounding strange and primal when not “corrected” into standard tuning. These shapes are built out of intervals familiar to any hornist, made up out of nature’s overtones. There is an element of sadness in this music from the past: the oft-used motive of “horn fifths,” so evocative of countryside experience until the Industrial era, can’t be realized by a lone player. This is definitely music minus one. The end curls back to the opening phrases as the energy ebbs away. –David Robertson