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The cor anglais, or English horn, is a double reed woodwind musical instrument in the oboe family.
It is a transposing instrument pitched in F, a fifth lower than the oboe (a C instrument), and is consequently approximately one-third longer. The fingering and playing technique used for the cor anglais are essentially the same as those of the oboe. Its sounding range stretches from the E (or, rarely, E flat) below middle C to the C two octaves above middle C.
Its pear-shaped bell gives it a somewhat more nasal, covered timbre than that of the oboe, being closer in tone quality to the oboe d'amore. Whereas the oboe is the soprano instrument of the oboe family, the cor anglais is generally regarded as the alto member of the family, and the oboe d'amore, pitched between the two in the key of A, is the mezzo-soprano member. It is perceived to have a more mellow and more plaintive tone than the oboe. Its appearance differs from the oboe in that the reed is attached to a slightly bent metal tube called the bocal, or crook, and the bell has a bulbous shape.
Reeds used to play the cor anglais are similar to those used for an oboe, comprising a piece of cane folded in two. Although the instrument itself is longer, a cor anglais reed is shorter than that of an oboe reed, and also slightly wider. Where the cane on an oboe reed is connected to a small metal tube (the staple) partially covered in cork, there is no such cork on a cor anglais reed, which fits metal against metal onto the bocal, in a manner not dissimilar to the bassoon.
The instrument can range in price from about US$1500 to $9000.
The term "cor anglais" literally means "English horn", but the cor anglais is neither English nor a horn. The instrument's name is sometimes supposed to derive from the circumstance that at some point a standard cor anglais resembled an oboe da caccia, a baroque alto instrument of the oboe family, which tended to be either bent or curved in shape, and was thus called a cor anglé, meaning "bent horn" (it has a flaring brass bell similar to that of a horn and looks quite horn-like), this epithet later to be corrupted to cor anglais. The cor anglais and the oboe da caccia are otherwise quite unlike, however, and there is no clear connection between them. It has alternatively been suggested that the name of "anglehorn" developed as a reference to the the English horn bocal, a part which is not present in most of the smaller members of the oboe family. However, the name seems to have appeared first in German and Austrian scores of the 1760s/70s, always in Italian form as "corno inglese." Prior to this, in the late Baroque period Johann Sebastian Bach referred to a similar double reed instrument pitched in F as taille.
Many oboists double on the cor anglais, just as flautists double on the piccolo. (Although piccolo oboes, called oboe musette or piccolo oboe, do exist, they are very rarely played.)
There are few solo pieces for the instrument, although its timbre makes it well suited to the performance of expressive, melancholic solos in orchestral works (particularly slow movements) as well as operas.
Famous examples include:
- Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, the New World Symphony
- César Franck's Symphony in D minor (2nd movement)
- Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11 (4th movement)
- Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 (1st movement)
- Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 22, The Philosopher
- Jean Sibelius's Swan of Tuonela
- Jean Sibelius's Karelia Suite
- Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G (2nd movement)
- Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (2nd movement)
- Gioacchino Rossini's William Tell Overture
- Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (Act 3, Scene 1)
- Hector Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture and Harold in Italy
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (Love Theme, Exposition)
- Aaron Copland's Quiet City
- Vincenzo Bellini's "Il Pirata" (Act II: Introduzione)
- Alfred Reed's "Russian Christmas Music"
- Alexander Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia
- Jack Stamp's "Elegy for English Horn and Band"
In film scores, the cor anglais is heard as a solo instrument as frequently (if not more) than the oboe, most likely because of its rounder tone quality. In addition to classical music, the cor anglais has also been used by a few musicians as a jazz instrument; most prominent among these are Paul McCandless, Sonny Simmons, Vinny Golia, and Tom Christensen. Also Nancy Rumbel of Grammy winning Tingstad and Rumbel. The cor anglais also figures in the instrumental arrangements of several Carpenters songs, most notably "For All We Know" (1971). It has also made some appearances in pop music, such as in Lindisfarne's "Run For Home" and Randy Crawford's "One Day I'll Fly Away".