Saint-Saëns' French horn Romance in hand-free performance
photo by Maike Helbig
Camille Saint-Saëns was an anomaly among French composers of the 19th century due to his proficiency in writing for all genres, including opera, symphonies, concertos, songs, choral pieces, solo piano, and chamber music.
He composed his Horn Romances for the top two French horn players of the time: Opus 67 was intended for Henri Chaussier and Opus 36 – for Henri Garigue. Even though the scale of these musicians would normally imply something grand and complex, the romances are not virtuosic tunes at all but instead—as the romance genre suggests—brief 'songs without words' that fully embody the signature soft sound of the horn.
Today we have an amazing trumpeter who performs these romances quite gently, and his way of sound extraction is unique. Felix Klieser was born with no arms, so he uses his feet for everyday tasks, and that includes being a perfect French horn player.
Felix explains his technique:
"The instrument is on a stand. With my left foot, I press the keys which are known as valves. I use my right foot to move that in and out of the bell. When I started playing at age four, the horn was on the ground and I sat in front of it to play, my head level with the mouthpiece. But when I grew up, that was no longer possible, so I started to think about a stand. (...) If I want to play an emotion, I think of something, like being in a bath of warm water when it's raining outside. It's like when you speak and you are happy, you make a different sound to when you are sad."
Camille Saint-Saëns – Romanze F-Dur, Münchener Philharmoniker conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin: