Actually, I have to partially disagree with this assertion.
Originally Posted by snorlax
A "Mellophone" is an instrument that looks remarkably similar to a french horn (similar shape and tubing wrap), except that it has piston valves and is played "backwards" -- fingered with the right hand, like most other piston valve instruments. Some equate the sound with a French Horn, but it has it's own unique sound and personality.
Now, the "Mellophonium" is a different beast entirely. Legend has it that it was created one night in a hotel room by Stan Kenton and Johnny Richards, with the help of a hacksaw and some liquor. Some dispute that claim, but in either event the Mellophonium looks a lot like a mellophone with the bell and leadpipe straightened out and the valves up. Stan Kenton incorporated them into his orchestra from 1960-1963 and produced several albums including his classic Christmas album, "A Merry Christmas" which was leter re-released as "Kenton's Christmas." It remains my all-time favorite instrumental Christmas album. The mellophonium section adds a rich smoothness unlike anything else. To many purists, it was a boomy, blatty sound that they didn't like... but of course opposition will always accompany change. The horns were a little challenging at times, heavy and oddly balanced things with notorious intonation problems that were probably linked to their size and unusual center of gravity. Thus was developed a couple of well-worn sayings from those who disliked the Mellophoniums:
"The cardinal rule about mellophioniums is that they are ALWAYS out of tune."
"Perfect Pitch: the ability to toss a Mellophonium into a toilet at 40 yards without hitting the lid."
But, what killed the Kenton Mellophonium section wasn't their struggle with intonation. It was mostly childish infighting within the band. Some of the Mellophonium players had joined the band with an eye toward graduating to the Trumpet section, thus creating tension between sections. The trombone section didn't like them "horning in" on the lower end of the band, and the trumpets saw them as competitors -- and it didn't help that Stan was focused on his new, experimental sound that made the Mellophoniums a focal point. The intonation issue was just the excuse to complain -- the real complaint was that the children didn't like daddy having a new favorite. Eventually, the infighting got bad enough that the experiment was abandoned and the mellophoniums sent to the storage closet.
The Conn 16E Mellophoniums used in the Kenton orchestra were sold for some time by Conn, and are often referred to as "marching french horns" when they show up on eBay. There is a more modern version used in many marching bands today that is more compact and has a better center of gravity, usually referred to as a "marching Mellophone."
The Mellophonium is far from "wretched." Challenging and misunderstood, yes... but not a bad horn in the right hands. Some of those old Kenton mellophonium era recordings are really wonderful things. As an aside, a couple of years ago The Capitol Bones released a Christmas album that contains many of the arrangements from Kenton's christmas album, played from the same charts an with the same instrumentation, including the mellophomium section. It's an outstanding recording, although it is at times a little too trombone-heavy (but then again, they aren't called The Capital Bones for nothing!)