Carl Geyer (1880-1973)
Carl Geyer hand-built horns in his Chicago shop. His distinctive horns, along with his repair service, made his shop the place to go for all instrument service. John Barrows remarked, "His horns embody the skill and inventiveness acquired over the years, the uncompromising integrity of workmanship, and above all, the element of concern and love that delineate the true creative genius."
Geyer was born in Germany in 1880 and became an apprentice instrument maker at age 15 in Markneukirchen, a town famous for its musical instrument industry. Geyer was an avid and award-winning bicyclist in Germany.
While working in a music store in 1903, he saw an advertisement in a Leipzig newspaper that Richard Wunderlich was seeking a horn maker because musicians in Chicago were forced to send their instruments to Germany for repairs. Geyer immigrated to the US and arrived in Chicago in 1904. He worked for Wunderlich until Wunderlich retired during World War I.
In 1920 Geyer opened his own workshop to help meet the great demand for American-made horns. His Chicago shop was widely known for both his distinctive horns and his repair service. In 1955, at age 75, he sold the business but continued working for the new owner until he was 90.
During this time, Geyer produced some of the finest horns in the world. His design was, and still is, copied by many makers and helped set one of the standards for modern horn crafting. With the Geyer wrap , the B-flat/F rotor is located after the three main valve rotors. The distinguishing feature of this design is that the B-flat change valve is aligned in the same plane as the primary valves, creating a much smoother transition between the two sides of the instrument.
One of the unique aspects of Geyer's genius was his ability to custom design a horn for the specific individual for whom he was building it. Geyer would appraise the individual's physical size and playing requirements, and then adjust the tapers, bell size, and metal thickness of the instrument to optimize the instrument to the players needs. He also designed and made many excellent mouthpieces for performers.
To quote Geyer, "I've made over 1400 horns. Each horn took between three or four weeks to make. I worked with brass and made the tubings just like a tailor would go out and get a bolt of cloth, then make a suit out of it." He never completed more than one instrument on a day, so he numbered his horns with the month, day, and year of completion.
Geyer was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1971.
Max Hess (1878-1975)
Max Hess played the obbligato horn part for the premiere of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, under the composer's direction, and he was the last living student of Friedrich Gumpert.
Hess was born in 1878 in Klingenthal, Saxony, Germany, the oldest of eleven children. His father wanted Hess to follow him into business, but Hess instead attended Leipzig Conservatory (1896-1899), studying with Gumpert. After graduation, he played first horn in the Rostock Opera for one season, performing an amazing number of operas, all on a single F horn and without an assistant. At one point, he played thirty-two nights in succession, including the entire Ring and Tristan und Isolde, plus sixteen rehearsals. The next year, he played first horn in the Cologne Opera. The following year, he won the first horn position in the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne, which included a teaching position at the Conservatory, where he stayed until 1905.
In 1905, Hess was offered positions at the Queen's Hall Orchestra, London and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He accepted the Boston job and was first horn until 1913, then, because of an accident to one of his front teeth, he moved to third horn until 1925. Also in Boston, he played the Mozart Quintet K407 in 1905 with the Hoffman Quartet and formed the Boston Symphonic Horn Quartet, which was active around the time of World War I.
In 1925, after having his broken tooth repaired, Hess moved to Cincinnati as first horn in the Cincinnati Symphony under Fritz Reiner and taught at the Cincinnati Conservatory. When he retired in 1938, he returned to Boston. He attended concerts at Symphony Hall and entertained horn sections of visiting orchestras. He was known throughout his life as one who enjoyed social life, fine restaurants, visiting with friends and (in his later life) his membership in Schlaraffia Bostonia.
Hess had a reputation as a very secure and accurate player. He started on hand horn, then played a single F Bopp until 1913 when he brought the first Alexander double horns to the US.
His recordings include a 1910 Edison cylinder of a cornet solo with horn quartet, a recording of a broadcast of Mozart's K447 with the Cincinnati Conservatory orchestra, and a private recording of the Strauss Concerto No. 1. While visiting Leipzig at age 91, he presented the Conservatory with a pair of new horns, and they gave him an inscribed medal with the likeness of Mendelssohn.
Hess was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1971.