Usually, studying the score of a great work is like a revelation, even when you know the piece well as a player or listener. However cool you thought the piece was before you opened the score, you can’t help but be amazed and astounded by what you discover when you look at the score, not just for the first time, but every time.
However, I can think of one moment of genuine abject heartbreak in my score study experience. I had always loved Dvorak 7 since I first played it in my youth orchestra. For me, the greatest moment in this symphony, and just about the greatest moment in any symphony, is just before the end when the horns leap up an octave ff and come down chromatically. I always used to look forward to that moment when we played it, and our stellar youth orchestra horn section (including one current Met Orchestra member, who was playing 3rd, so strong was the section back then) always nailed it. When I finally got the score, that was the first thing I looked for.
And to my horror, I discovered it wasn’t there. The great moment was a retouch, dreamed up by some conductor.
Now, normally, at Vftp, this would be the moment when I explain to you why Dvorak was right, and why we should never second-guess a genius.
But I’m not going to. If there is one moment in all music where you just have to say, excuse me, “fuck it- I’m doin’ this,” the end of Dvorak 7 is it. It’s a moment worth going to Hell for. I will face Tony D at the Last Judgement and say “I was sure you would have written this if you thought of it,” and accept my punishments. Anyway, we’re not so much ignoring what he wrote, but adding it what he didn’t think to write, which is usually far worse, but in this case, better.
I did once have a horn player try to refuse to do it- I think she was allergic to sunny days and good food, too.
I’m completely against doing it with trumpet instead, which is sometimes suggested. It’s not that the line needs to be loud, it needs to be epic, and only the horn will do at that moment.
I intended to write about this when I conducted the piece in November, but never got around to it. Fortunately, I was reminded of it today by this excellent post by Bruce Hembd at Horn Matters (one of the best blogs in the biz). I like very much the idea of all four horns playing it, but schalltrichter auf, bitte!
This bit of re-orchestration does have some merit; it adds volume and depth to an important line that otherwise may not be heard.
The passage in the red box below is typically doubled by the first horn player, sometimes in tandem with Horn III or even a trumpet. I performed it once where – at the conductor’s request – the entire horn section joined in.
We liked that con mucho gusto but in hindsight, it might have been overkill.
The horns typically play these notes.