The baritone horn is a low-pitched brass instrument. It is a piston valve brass instrument with a predominantly cylindrical bore like the trumpet and uses a wide-rimmed cup mouthpiece like that of its peers the trombone and euphonium, for like the trombone and the euphonium, the baritone horn is pitched in B♭ one octave below the B♭ trumpet.
In the UK the baritone is frequently found in brass bands. The baritone horn in the United States is common in school and university bands, the baritones found in school inventories often being older models as the instrument over time is yielding in popularity to the euphonium. A person who plays a baritone horn is a baritone (horn) player or baritonist.
Construction and general characteristics
The baritone, like the trombone and euphonium is a nine-foot brass tube. Valves are most often piston-style. It is predominately of cylindrical bore, in contrast to the more conical bore of the euphonium, rendering its attack more distinct than the rounder attack of the euphonium.
The baritone is pitched in concert B♭ meaning that when no valves are in use the instrument will produce partials of the B♭ harmonic series. Music for the baritone horn can be written in either the bass clef or the treble lef. When reading from the bass clef, the baritone horn is a non-transposing instrument. However, when written in the treble clef it is often used as transposing instrument, transposing downwards a major ninth, so that written middle C for the baritone is concert B♭ below low C, with the fingerings thus matching those of the trumpet but sounding an octave lower. It is often used to play parts written for the similarly pitched tenor trombone or euphonium.
The baritone is part of the Tenor section of the band. Its second partial with no valves pressed is concert B♭ on the second line from the bottom of the bass clef. The eighth partial with no valves pressed is concert B♭ in the center of the treble clef. Experienced amateur players can often reach a fifth above that to the concert F at the top of the treble clef, with higher notes reachable by the virtuoso.
The slightly erroneous diagram at the right shows the range ascending from the first partial with all valves pressed, i.e., the lowest fundamental available being concert third low F. In reality, the lowest B♭ baritone fundamental with all valves pressed is concert third low E, a semitone below the note shown in the diagram.
The baritone sounds with a timbre between the brightness of the trombone and the more mellow tone of the euphonium.
Distinguishing the baritone horn from the euphonium
Although both baritone horn and euphonium produce partials of the B♭ harmonic series in the same range, and both have a nine-foot-long main tube, the baritone horn tends to have a smaller and more cylindrical bore than the euphonium. The baritone horn usually has a tighter wrap and a smaller bell, and is thus smaller and lighter overall, and produces a “lighter” sound versus the more solid, brassy timbre of the euphonium. There is some confusion of nomenclature in the United States due to the old practice of American euphonium manufacturers calling their professional models by their proper names, and branding entry-level student models as baritones. This practice has stopped.
Another common misconception is that the three-valve instrument is a baritone and that the four-valve instrument is a euphonium. Euphoniums often have a fourth valve as an alternate fingering for 1&3 split fingering with improved intonation. The fourth valve can also be viewed in the same way as an F trigger on trombone, repitching the instrument to expand the lower range. The fourth valve is less common to nearly nonexistent on baritones, but absence of a fourth valve is not a defining characteristic.
An “American baritone”, featuring three valves on the front of the instrument and a curved forward-pointing bell, was common in American school bands throughout most of the twentieth century. While this instrument is in reality a conical-cylindrical bore hybrid, neither truly euphonium nor baritone, it was almost universally labeled a “baritone” by both band directors and composers.
Marching baritone horn
Specially wrapped versions of the baritone horn have been created for use in marching bands and drum and bugle corps. They have 3 valves and a front-facing bell and are the tenor voice of a drum and bugle corps, below the soprano voice of the trumpet, the alto voice of alto horn or mellophone, and above the low tubas.
Some high school and college bands do not use marching baritones and continue to use upright-bell front baritone horns on the field, and some marching bands substitute a section of baritones for the trombone or euphonium section.
The baritone horn has largely receded into the background in the concert band world of today. Notable artists who are today referenced as great baritone horn and/or euphonium players include Mel Sykes, Simone Mantia, and Leonard Falcone. The Leonard Falcone International Tuba and Euphonium Festival is a notable venue for aspiring artists on euphonium, but its namesake played baritone horn on his many recordings. Trumpeter Maynard Ferguson used a baritone horn in the song “Gospel John” and in one of his three solos (the other two involving a valved trombone and a trumpet) in a live performance of one of his songs “Great Guns”. Japanese free-improvisation trumpeter Toshinori Kondo has played baritone horn on some dates and recordings.