The English horn was a late – last third of the 19th century – addition to the woodwinds in the orchestra, when it took its place as the third voice in that section. Before then its striking and distinctive character meant that it had been used exclusively as a solo instrument to suggest pastoral moods (in Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, for instance, the English horn symbolizes a shepherd’s shawm) or to evoke feelings of nostalgia by playing elegiac cantilenas.
English horn + other woodwinds
The English horn provides a powerful and distinctive middle voice in the woodwind group.
English horn + oboe produce a homogeneous blend. Combinations with the other melody instruments (flute, clarinet) are also effective, the higher-pitched instruments often doubling the English horn an octave below. The English horn is also used in unison with the clarinet; when the bass clarinet is added an octave below, a substantial, somber composite sound emerges.
English horn + brass instruments
Combines well with the trumpets and especially the horns. The English horn lends the horns a more precise profile, the overall effect is mellow and full.
English horn + strings
Combines well with the strings. A blend is possible with the violas, which share some of the English horn’s dark and acerbic properties.