Horn 1: d - c#3
Horn 2: c - f#2
Horn 3: f# - a2
Horn 4: d - a2
Horn 5: d - a2
Horn 6: A - f2
Horn 7: A - f2
Horn 8: E - c#2
Rachmaninov's Symphony no.1 is an often overlooked work of the Russian symphonic tradition, very much in the line of Tchaikovsky and Borodin, however in the composer’s very own voice. Initially a failure with audiences due to various reasons, the work was rediscovered in 1944, and subsequently featured more often in concert performances as well as recordings.
The first movement consists of a brief introduction, which avid movie goers, or fans of film music will instantly recognise: it is James Horner’s infamous 4-note “danger” motif, a succession of two semitone upward steps, followed by a semitone step downwards. The mood is dark but fierce, very fitting for the following theme based on Dies irae. This also has become a favourite among film composers (for movies with apocalyptic religious background).
With an original duration of about 14 minutes and a somewhat repetitive movement, Usselmann opts for several major cuts, most notably omitting some of the larger tutti passages. This reduces the timing to about 6 minutes, which is easier to program, and more likely to hold the attention of the audience.
In terms of the usage of the voices, there are some curious differences to most other arrangers. Most of the piece is divided into 3-2-3 or 2-3-3, which creates an unusual fourth horn 4 part. In fact, as can be seen from the range indication above, horns 1-5 all operate within a similar range, with horns 1 and 4 containing most of the main melodic lines.
The key is original (D minor, meaning A minor in horn pitch), so the lack of accidentals in the key is correct. There are however a fair number of f, c and g sharps in the movement, as would be expected in a minor key (raised 6th and 7th, and a dominant with 3 sharps). In combination with the occasional high entry (around a2), this may put the arrangement beyond the reach of some intermediate ensembles, but as the voice leading is well done, it is recommended to at least give it a go.
It is interesting to see and hear works done by young and upcoming horn players and arrangers, and this arrangement is a very positive discovery of a new, promising name. While there are some curiosities in regards to arranging technique present in this work, there is no doubt Usselmann will refine his style further in the future, and contribute greatly to the repertoire available to horn ensembles around the world.