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Fun story

15 years 1 month ago #241 by Dan Phillips
Fun story was created by Dan Phillips
LOUIS SPOHR as a horn player for NAPOLEON
(from: Louis Spohr. Autobiography. Translated from the German, London 1865.
Reprint: Da Capo Press, New York 1969; pages 117 - 119)

In the year 1808, took place the celebrated Congress of Sovereigns, an which occasion, Napoleon entertained his friend the Emperor Alexander, and the Kings and Princes of Germany his Allies. The lovers of sights and the curious of the whole country round, poured in to behold the magnificence which was there displayed. In the company of some of my pupils I also made a pedestrian excursion to Erfurt, less to see the Great Ones of the earth, than to see and admire the great ones of the French Stage, Talma, and Mars.

The Emperor had sent to Paris for his tragic performers, and every evening one of the classic works of Corneille or Racine was played. I and my companions had hoped to have been permitted to see one such representation, but unfortunately, I was informed that they took place for the Sovereigns and their suite only, and that everybody else was excluded from them. I now hoped, with the assistance of the musicians, to obtain places in the orchestra; but in this I also failed, for they had been
strictly forbidden to take any person in with them.

At length it occurred to me, that I and my three pupils, by taking the places of the same number of musicians who played between the acts, might then be enabled to remain during the performance. As we were willing to pay handsomely, and the musicians knew that their substitutes would fill their places in a satisfactory manner, they gave their consent.

But, now a new difficulty presented itself : three of us only could be introduced for the violins and the bass-viol; and as neither of us played any other orchestral-instrument but those, one of us of a necessity must remain excluded.

The thought then struck me, to try whether I could learn sufficient of the horn, by the evening, so as to be able to undertake the part of the second hornist. I immediately prevailed upon him whose place I wished to take, to yield his horn to me; and began my studies. At first I produced the most terrific tones from it; but after about an hour, I succeeded in bringing out the natural notes of the instrument.

After dinner, while my pupils went to walk, I recommenced my studies in the house of the "Stadt-Musicus" and although my lips pained me very much, yet I did not rest until I could play my horn-part, perfectly, in the certainly, very easy overture and "between acts" which were to be played in the evening.

Thus prepared, I and my pupils joined the other Musicians, and as each carried his instrument under his arm, we reached our places without opposition. We found the saloon in which the theatre had been erected, already brilliantly lit up, and filled with the numerous suite of the Sovereigns. The seats for Napoleon and his guests were close behind the orchestra. Shortly after the most able of my pupils to whom I had assigned the direction of the music, and under whose leadership I placed myself as a new fledged hornist, had tuned up the orchestra; the high personages made their appearance, and the overture began. The orchestra with their faces turned towards the stage, stood in a long row, and
each was strictly forbidden to turn round and look with curiosity at the Sovereigns.

As I had received notice of this beforehand, I had provided myself secretly with a small looking-glass, by the help of which as soon as the music was ended, I was enabled to obtain in succession a good view of those who directed the destinies of Europe. Nevertheless, I was soon so entirely engrossed with the magnificent acting of the tragic artistes, that I abandoned my looking-glass to my pupils, and directed my whole attention to the stage.

But at every succeeding "entre-acte", the pain of my lips increased, and at the close of the performance they had become so much swollen and so blistered, that in the evening, I could scarcely eat any supper. Even the next day, an my return to Gotha, they had a very swollen appearance, and my young wife was not a little alarmed when she saw me; but she was yet more nettled, when in a jesting tone I said: that it was from kissing to such excess the pretty Erfurt-women! When, however, I had related to her the history of my studies on the horn, she laughed heartily at my expense.

About that time, though I do not exactly remember whether it was an that journey to Erfurt, or upon a previous one, the Emperor Napoleon slept also once in the palace at Gotha, and an that account a Court-concert had been commanded the previous evening. I and my wife had the honor to play before the powerful man, and he addressed a few words to us. On the following evening also, we received our share of the "Gold Napoleons" which he had left as a present to the Court-orchestra.

[Louis Spohr was employed at this time as concert master and director of the orchestra of the Herzoglichen Kapelle in Gotha. In the Musikalischen Taschenbuch für 1803 the Herzogliche Kapelle in Gotha was ranked among the best orchestras in Germany.]

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