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Agrell, Jeffrey - Gallimaufry Suite for low horn and piano

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Agrell Gallimaufry
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Gallimaufry Suite for  Low Horn and Piano

This piece was written for the Low Horn. It is meant to expand on a repertoire that lags far behind what exists for the high hornist.

This march starts off in 7/8 (3+2+2) – Sousa would not approve. The piano assumes the role at first of tuba and snare drum. For the percussive part in the pianist’s left hand, the pianist may tap the piano with the right hand. Or use any other noise maker (wood block, shaker) for the percussive sounds. Holding a stick (wood block) or small percussion instrument may mean altering or abbreviating some measures – go right ahead. Make noise any way you can. Other possible solutions: body percussion (slap your lap) or hand drum (djembe or conga drum). You may even add a percussionist. You could then ask them to improvise for most of the rest of the piece.

Section 1

The first section of the piece is an aggressive, odd meter sort of off-balance march. The horn enters on a very wrong note – a Gb against the F in the bass.  And holds it for a while, even crescendoing on it until it finally resolves down to an F. This opening captures two major recurring elements of the whole piece. The first is movement (both harmonic and melodic) by half steps (called side-stepping in jazz). The second is the use of tension and release.

Section 2

After the first section, this odd march moves in a new direction. It becoming very funky in rhythm and (blues) scale material. Note that those low C3’s start the funk motifs. They may be played one octave higher if necessary or desired. The first two instances are indicated in the notation, but applies to all occurrences. The middle section moves into more of a noble long line adventure for the horn. It is accompanied by the piano. This does double duty as a tuba-esque oom pah bass overlaid with higher flowing flute-like decoration. This march displays its weirdness once again at measure 66, where a written-out cadenza suddenly appears (a cadenza in a march??). This should be played very freely (the player is also free to change or even abandon what’s written and make up their own. Go for it!).


Note that the last two bars have an alternate ending that moves up to C3 instead of down to C2; take into account how the embouchure is responding down that low today and make your choice accordingly. After that, a recap starts up again at m. 79; it drifts into an odd fade-out at the end. The final anomaly (and mirror image of the beginning of the piece) is a very long wait on the “wrong” low G# in the horn to finally pop up to resolve on low A. Note: if you have enough air, simply keep going on this note until you run out, then signal the pianist when to stop (together). The pianist should make this last note as soft as possible.

The principal features of this waltz are extensive use of “natural” horn passages (one fingering) and the whole tone scale and augmented arpeggio. The horn opens with alternation between F (F:0) and Gb (Bb:23) horns, both using the 2-3-5-3 overtone number pattern. The “B” section jumps around between horns: F, A, Ab, Bb, Gb. Then for contrast comes a section using the whole tone scale, but sound like Debussy it does not. The horn player may have his/her say with an optional cadenza. Suggested for this is either the whole tone scale or use of “natural horns” – or both. After the recap comes a short coda that makes use of a rapid change of “horns” (if the player wishes). The pianist finishes with a brief flurry of notes over the soft stopped B4 in the horn.

This consists of an angular, atonal eight-bar theme and a series of five short variations on this material. The horn theme is ominous, almost angry, a bit like the unison low horn line in Shostakovich 5. The pianist helps create the atmosphere by holding the sustain pedal down as the hornist plays into the open piano harp. Two measures rest are given to let the piano ring in sympathetic vibration with the horn but hornist and pianist don’t have to count this. They can simply listen and start up again after the sound has faded. The same is true in the coda at the end.

Variation I

The highly contrasting variations follow one another without pause. The first variation is Impish. It features jagged jerky sporadic leaps by the hornist. This while the piano thumps low bass notes decorated by high tongue-in-cheek punctuations in unpredictable fashion.

Variation II & III

The second variation is marked “Aggressively”. The horn hammers out a wide insistent stream of zigzag eighth notes. It is supported by various smashes and crashes and offbeats in the piano. The movements are short. After eight bars of this pummelling, the bass line melts into a walking bass line. This emulates a jazz pizzicato bass and leads into the atonal swing of Variation 3. This style uses swing eighths, where it is notated in 4/4 but played with triplet 12/8 feel. This part comes to a full stop before starting up again in a faster triple meter section.

Variation IV

Variation 4 features frequent use of the right hand closing the horn bell. Then opening to scoop and swoop up to open notes from a half-step below.This is indicated by the circle/cross half-stop symbol above the note. It yields a rather tipsy character to this variation.

Variation V

The fifth and final variation speeds up even more. It takes its inspiration from the great French cornet virtuoso and composer Arban by harnessing double tonguing technique. This variation ends on a long, low F#2. The hornist has the opportunity at this point to take an atonal cadenza solo if desired. A second option is for the horn and piano to improvise an atonal dialogue at this point. you can add spice to this cadenza by using a lot of extended techniques. These include stopped horn, half valve, fluttertongue, glisses, pitch bends, air sounds, anything goes. Experiment and acquire of easy-tograb extended techniques to get out and show off here.

A recap of the theme follows the cadenza, and goes into short coda with bouncing tritones, a micro-remembrance of the hand-horn bends, and a final short fluent sixteenth note passage in the horn (highly recommended: most of it works beautifully by alternating Bb:2 0 2 0).

The old saying is that all horn music is either Long Line or Hunting Music. This movement is the latter. It is in 6/8 rondo form, as many last movements of horn compositions are, but with a tasty twist: it is based around the blues scale, not something in much use back in the eighteenth century, but which is familiar to everyone today.


As mentioned above, the quick passages in this movement in the horn can be most easily negotiated by using fingerings that call on the shorter horns (Bb side). This movement takes frequent advantage of the rhythmic opportunities available in 6/8 time – alternation between and juxtaposition of the feeling of two and of three. The opening theme acts as a ritornello that returns between various episodes. Natural horn overtone glissandos (one fingering each) are called for at measures 53 and 59, wide swoops up and down with one fingering. The trick is to make the glisses as even as possible and not get “stuck” on any of the notes in the series.


After various twists and turns, the motion comes to a halt (mini-piano flourish – take your time!) at m. 110, and the hornist may, if they choose, take an improvised 6/8 cadenza using the blues scale (1 b3 4 #4 5 b7) at m. 113 (option #2: let the pianist take an improvised bluesy cadenza here, if they are familiar with the style and improv). After that is a final go-round with the opening theme, which segues into a sparse, bouncy, soft codetta, finally drifting down to a low, low, C2. Note that an alternate ending (that ascends to C3) is provided for those days that the embouchure just does not want to cooperate in vibrating that slowly in that extreme range.

Note on all cadenzas:

There are cadenza moments for every movement. Only the first one is written out. As noted, the player may play it as is, or change it as they wish, or compose or improvise their own. All cadenzas are optional – include them or omit one or some or all as you wish. There is also this: there is also the option letting the pianist in on the fun: the pianist may take over any of the entire cadenzas (as agreed upon ahead of time). Any cadenza moment could have both players involved, either alternating (like a conversation) or playing simultaneously.


If you want to add more imagination to it (and we hope you do), have the not-playing partner of the moment: play a small percussion instrument or do body percussion. Do a dance. Bring in a percussionist of any sort during the cadenza (and perhaps the rest of the piece). Bring in a dancer. Add lighting (including turning all the lights off). Read a poem. Have the audience make some kind of rhythmic sound (clap, fingersnap, stomp foot, hum a drone, etc.).

Or some combination of the above. Or something else not mentioned here. This is your moment to go wild (at least within the general spirit of the movement) and make each performance unique and fascinating. Notation can only go so far, and it’s pretty boring to play everything exactly the same every time. We are delighted when you can find ways to make the piece brand new every time. Your audience will thank you for this as well.


A tip on ways to create your cadenza: Look over the horn part of the rest of the movement. Steal! Choose a bit of it, repeat it, change it, make a sequence out of it, play it backwards, keep the rhythm, change the pitches or change the rhythm and keep the pitches. Take little breaks. Make short statements. Start clearly, but with less energy. End with more energy (e.g. faster, higher/lower, louder).

For examples of cadenzas for movements 2, 3, 4, listen to Ricardo Matosinhos’s composed cadenzas in his performance of the piece on  YouTube!. His cadenzas are included in this publication.

Since the range of this piece is restricted to the middle and low registers,  I have taken advantage of the ability of the valves using the shorter horns (= Bb side) to aid quick note change. In the upper register the valves do very little (pitch change up there comes mostly from a steely and precise embouchure), but in this range (ca. G4 and down) a change of a Bb side fingering will (very likely) produce a change of note, allowing for some very fast and fluent passages that would be difficult or impossible using the longer horns (F side) in the same region.

The performer may use of course whatever they like; I’m just relating how the horn part came about and what works for me. On the other hand, in places the piece goes the other direction and makes use of “natural” horns, where the player should stay on one “horn” (fingering) to get the desired effect – no valve work at all!


What’s printed here is the result of my experimentation and what sounded interesting to me at the time. You – the performer – should treat this ink as just a beginning, not an end. I implore you to be convincing, not correct. Your job and my job are the same: to bring an interesting and entertaining piece to our listeners. To that end, please (please!) feel free to tweak anything to make the piece match 1) your ideas and sensibilities and/or 2) your technical abilities.

If you find spots where you can change something (a note, a fingering, a register, a dynamic, an articulation, and so on) to make the piece match what you would like to hear or what you are able to do, please go right ahead. This includes adding rests, fermatas, ritards, tempo (play the tempo that works for you). Does it work better for you to go a little faster or slower? Try it and see what happens. Feel free also not to play the whole piece – one or two movements might be just fine for certain occasions.

Personal Meaning

This is not changing for the sake of changing. This is about change that means something to you, and serves our purpose – where composer and performer are partners – to give a meaningful and convincing performance. It’s also more fun and interesting for the player if the piece is a little different every time. The same goes for the piano part. Pianist: if you can improve or adjust the piano part to solve certainly technical difficulties and/or serve the player and/or the piece better, please go ahead. If you would like to adjust (say) the occasional flourishes to suit what you hear and what lies well for you, just do it.

In sum: start with what’s there. Then make changes as needed or desired. I am totally on board with trying out ideas that go even farther, such as adding an improvising percussionist or two (here, there, or everywhere) or perform in a room where you can control the lighting. The main thing is 1) have fun 2) give an entertaining show/performance. (And maybe #3: send me a copy of your revised edition and a recording of your performance so I can appreciate your work as well).


Jeffrey Agrell

See Ricardo Matosinhos perform this on YouTube!