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Chaussier horn


The Chaussier horn is a valve horn developed by Henri Chaussier (1854-1914) at the end of the 1880s and built by the French firm Millereau. The mim has the only known specimen of this type of horn. The Chaussier horn is omnitonic, which means it can be played in multiple keys without resorting to crooks (short pieces of tubing which change the length of the instrument and so also the pitch). It originated in France at the time when the valve horn and the natural horn (which has no valves) were still competing with each other, and had both devotees and opponents. The valve horn was in widespread use by then, much to the displeasure of the advocates of the traditional, authentic sound of the natural horn, under which group the Chaussier horn was classified. But strictly speaking, the omnitonic horn is a hybrid instrument since it can be played as a natural horn, using the harmonic series to produce notes, but also as a valve horn, producing every note of the chromatic scale. In theory the Chaussier system was applicable to all wind instruments. The mim's Chaussier horn has four valves: two descending, which lengthen the tube, and two ascending, which shorten it.      

The Chaussier horn was first presented at the World Fair in Paris in 1889, but it won no accolades. One of the members of the jury was the first curator of the mim, Victor-Charles Mahillon, who Chaussier simply presented with the opuscule explaining his system. In spite of the inventor's best endeavours, the Chaussier system never caught on. The main reasons were the complicated new fingering and shortcomings in purity when the instrument was played chromatically. Mahillon discussed these problems in his catalogue.

It was the valve horn in the key of F rather than the natural horn that won the day and eventually became the standard instrument. Thanks to the growing interest in historically correct performances from the second half of the twentieth century, the natural horn experienced a revival. But nobody had heard of the "cor Chaussier".  

The mim made this unique instrument available to a research project carried out by the Hochschule der Künste (Forschungsschwerpunkt Interpretation) in Bern. The objective of the research entitled Das Cor Chaussier, Französische Hörner zwischen Natur- und Ventilinstrument in der 2. Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts was to make a perfect copy of the original and then to perform the repertoire on the new instrument, including Camille Saint-Saëns' famous Morceau de concert.

The forgotten story of the Chaussier system deserves our attention as evidence of the many attempts made by musicians, instrument builders and inventors to improve the quality of instruments, and music in general. Not all the inventions and improvements to instruments have achieved the desired success, but they can still be interesting. In the case of the Chaussier horn, there are lessons to be learned with regard to the building of musical instruments, performance practice and interpretation.

"Chaussier" horn inv.1312
From H. Chaussier, Notice explicative sur les nouveaux instruments, Paris 1889
From H. Chaussier, Notice explicative sur les nouveaux instruments, Paris 1889