Halali, or, The Kill

Laurence Osborn

  • Duration

    7 mins

  • Year of composition


  • Number of performers


  • First performance

    Ben Goldscheider, Smorgaschord Festival, Chapter House in Oxford, 17th June 2023

  • Commissioned by

    Smorgaschord Festival, with generous support from the Vaughan Williams Foundation


It was such a gift to be able to write this piece. Everything about the horn is extraordinary and fascinating. There is something prehistoric about the sound, as if it has erupted from the lungs of something long-extinct. I am not a physicist, and to me the mechanism of the instrument is pure sorcery, an enchanted tunnel that transforms the tiny vibrations of the lip into preternatural song. Even the look of the thing: tangled, overgrown, pulled from the viscera of an impossible mechanical animal. I love everything about it.

The horn begins as a signalling tool in hunting. This function permits it to enter art music through the back-door as a shorthand for the hunt in seventeenth-century opera. Consequently, the horn takes on various associations to do with heroism, conquest and militarism in the centuries that follow. Alongside the history of the instrument lies a parallel history of human bloodlust.

The ‘Halali’ in the title of this piece refers to a call that appears in numerous collections of hunting calls from seventeeth-century France. ‘Halali’ is called as the exhausted animal is surrounded and killed by huntsmen with knives. The reality of the hunt — ritualised slaughter with the veneer of nobility — is important to this piece. But so are the immediate, embodied aspects of horn-playing, the physical exertion that the music demands, and the progressive exhaustion written into the music’s incrementally flattening pedal tones.

Full Scoring:

Solo French Horn

To enquire about hiring the score and parts for Halali, or, The Kill, please complete the form below.