The cor anglais (UK: /ˌkɔːr ˈɒŋɡleɪ/, US: /ˌkɔːr ɑːŋˈɡleɪ/ or original French: [kɔʁ ɑ̃ɡlɛ]) or English horn in North America, is a double-reed woodwind instrument in the oboe family. It is approximately one and a half times the length of an oboe.
The cor anglais is a transposing instrument pitched in F, a perfect fifth lower than the oboe (a C instrument). This means that music for the cor anglais is written a perfect fifth higher than the instrument actually sounds. The fingering and playing technique used for the cor anglais are essentially the same as those of the oboe and oboists typically double on the cor anglais when required. The cor anglais normally lacks the lowest B♭ key found on most oboes and so its sounding range stretches from E3 (written B natural) below middle C to C6 two octaves above middle C.
The pear-shaped bell of the cor anglais gives it a more covered timbre than the oboe, closer in tonal 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 tenor member of the family, and the oboe d’amore—pitched between the two in the key of A—as the alto member. The cor anglais is perceived to have a more mellow and 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. It is also much longer.
The cor anglais is usually notated in the treble clef, a perfect fifth higher than sounding. Some composers notated it in the bass clef, when the lower register was persistently used, and historically several other options were employed. Alto clef written at sounding pitch is occasionally used, even by as late a composer as Sergei Prokofiev. In late-18th and early-19th-century Italy, where the instrument was often played by bassoonists instead of oboists, it was notated in the bass clef an octave below sounding pitch (as found in Rossini’s Overture to William Tell). French operatic composers up to Fromental Halévy notated the instrument at sounding pitch in the mezzo-soprano clef, which enabled the player to read the part as if it were in the treble clef.
Although the instrument usually descends only to (written) low B♮, continental instruments with an extension to low B♭ (sounding E♭) have existed since early in the 19th century. Examples of works requiring this note (while acknowledging its exceptional nature) include Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder and Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Antonín Dvořák, in his Scherzo Capriccioso, even writes for the cor anglais down to low A, though it seems unlikely that such an extension ever existed.
Reeds used to play the cor anglais are similar to those used for an oboe, consisting of a piece of cane folded in two. While the cane on an oboe reed is mounted on a small metal tube (the staple) partially covered in cork, there is no such cork on a cor anglais reed, which fits directly on the bocal. The cane part of the reed is wider and longer than that of the oboe. Unlike American style oboe reeds, cor anglais reeds typically have wire at the base, approximately 5 millimeters from the top of the string used to attach the cane to the staple. This wire serves to hold the two blades of cane together and stabilize tone and pitch.
Perhaps the best-known makers of modern cors anglais are the French firms of F. Lorée, Marigaux and Rigoutat, the British firm of T. W. Howarth, and the American firm Fox Products. Instruments from smaller makers, such as A. Laubin, are also sought after. Instruments are usually made from African Blackwood (aka Grenadilla), although some makers offer instruments in a choice of alternative woods as well, such as cocobolo (Howarth) or violet wood (Lorée), which are said to alter the voice of the cor anglais slightly, reputedly making it even more mellow and warmer. Fox has recently made some instruments in plastic resin and in maple.
The term cor anglais is French for English horn, but the instrument is neither from England nor related to the various conical-bore brass instruments called „horns“, such as the French horn, the natural horn, the post horn, or the alto horn. The instrument originated in Silesia about 1720, when a bulb bell was fitted to a curved oboe da caccia-type body by the Weigel family of Breslau. The two-keyed, open-belled, straight tenor oboe (French taille de hautbois, „tenor oboe“), and more particularly the flare-belled oboe da caccia, resembled the horns played by angels in religious images of the Middle Ages. This gave rise in German-speaking central Europe to the Middle High German name engellisches Horn, meaning angelic horn. Because engellisch also meant English in the vernacular of the time, the „angelic horn“ became the „English horn.“ In the absence of any better alternative, the curved, bulb-belled tenor oboe then retained the name even after the oboe da caccia fell into disuse around 1760. The name first appeared on a regular basis in Italian, German, and Austrian scores from 1741 on, usually in the Italian form corno inglese.
The earliest known orchestral part specifically for the instrument is in the Vienna version of Niccolò Jommelli’s opera Ezio dating from 1749, where it was given the Italian name corno inglese. Gluck and Haydn followed suit in the 1750s, and the first English horn concertos were written in the 1770s. Considering the name „cor anglais,“ it is ironic that the instrument was not regularly used in France before about 1800 or in England before the 1830s. In the Penny Cyclopedia in 1838 („The English Horn, or Corno Inglese, is a deeper-toned oboe…“), while the first identified printed use of the term cor anglais in English was in 1870. In the UK the instrument is colloquially generally referred to as the „cor“. The local equivalent for „English horn“ is used in most other European languages, while a few languages use their equivalent of „alto oboe“.
Due to the earlier bowed or angular forms it took, the suggestion has been made that anglais might be a corruption of Middle French anglé (angular, or bent at an angle, angulaire in modern French), but this has been rejected on grounds that there is no evidence of the term cor anglé before it was offered as a possible origin of anglais in the late 19th century.
Until the 20th century, there were few solo pieces for the instrument with a large ensemble (such as orchestra or concert band). Important examples of such concertos and concertante works are:
† Though concertante in nature, these are just orchestral works featuring extensive solos, with the player seated within the orchestra
Better known chamber music for English horn includes:
The English horn’s timbre makes it well suited to the performance of expressive, melancholic solos in orchestral works (including film scores) as well as operas. Famous examples are:
Though primarily featured in classical music, the cor anglais has also been used by a few musicians as a jazz instrument; most prominent among these are Paul McCandless, Jean-Luc Fillon, Sonny Simmons, and Vinny Golia (see also Oboists performing primarily outside classical genres). From the mid-1930s, Mitch Miller played the instrument in popular radio orchestras and made a number of recordings with the instrument, notably solos on the albums Music Until Midnight (1954) and It’s So Peaceful In The Country (1956) with Percy Faith. Multi-instrumentalist Bill Page performed on the instrument with the Lawrence Welk band from 1951 until 1965. The cor anglais figures in the instrumental arrangements of several Carpenters songs. It has made some appearances in pop music, such as in Dream Academy’s „Life in a Northern Town“, King Crimson’s Dawn Song on their album Lizard, Lindisfarne’s Run For Home, Randy Crawford’s One Day I’ll Fly Away, Tanita Tikaram’s Twist in My Sobriety, Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By, and many (e.g., Judy Collins‘ and Barbra Streisand’s) versions of Send in the Clowns. The cor anglais is also featured in the Lionel Richie and Diana Ross version of Endless Love, and in Elton John’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Candle in the Wind 1997. The song A Mutual Friend by the band Wire from the album 154 uses a cor anglais. A cor anglais carries the opening of Fiddler on the Roof’s „Sabbath Prayer“.
In Britain, Tony Hatch’s theme tune to the long-running soap opera Emmerdale Farm was originally performed on the cor anglais, as was also the version of Harry South’s theme tune played at the end of each episode of The Sweeney. The instrument also features prominently in the theme music to the ITV productions of Brideshead Revisited and The Chief.
Paul McCartney holds a cor anglais on the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The instrument also features in the 2005 film American Pie Presents: Band Camp (referred to as an oboe). Kate St John of Dream Academy plays the cor anglais.