This month, we have the pleasure of listening in on a conversation between two of the greatest horn players of the 20th century. Dale Clevenger (who needs no introduction here) recently spoke with the legendary Austrian hornist Roland Berger, former solo horn of the Vienna Philharmonic, by telephone. The topic was Bruckner’s 4th Symphony, how it feels to perform it, the role of the conductor, as well as other insights into an illustrious career spanning decades. I’ve transcribed and translated the original interview for our December newsletter. (Yes, among his many talents, Maestro Clevenger speaks German!)

There’s a link at the bottom of the interview so you can hear his artistry for yourself. -Kristina Mascher-Turner


berger newsletter
Roland Berger in 1965

Dale Clevenger: In your career, you've played Bruckner 4 many times, with many different conductors. 

Roland Berger: Yes.

DC: Can you tell us how it is for you to play Bruckner 4 on the Vienna horn, and how it is with different conductors for rehearsals, concerts, for recordings, and tours? 

RB: The problem is always Bruckner 4, not the conductor. The conductor is immaterial. Bruckner 4 remains equally hard, no matter who's conducting.

I've played it with Knappertsbusch, with Böhm, with Karajan, with Maazel, with...

DC: With Solti?

RB: No. 

DC: No? Anyone else? 

RB: Hmmm, it's now difficult to say. No one comes to mind at the moment.

DC: So, with Vienna horn, what is different? Is it more difficult? 

RB: Well, I believe Bruckner 4 is a large task for any horn. It doesn't have anything specially to do with Vienna horn. 

DC: I think Vienna horn is much...

RB: Yes, everything is a little harder. 

DC: I think Vienna horn is much harder. 

RB: Once I played a series (of them)- I think in one season, I played Bruckner 4 13 or 15 times.

DC: Yes? 

RB: it gets much easier then. If you only play Bruckner 4 once every 5 years, it's always the same story - you have more tension. If you play something like this often, you think, yeah, it's generally gone well (in the past.) You have trust in yourself. Once on a tour through Germany, I had to play Bruckner 4 four times in a row. By the last of the four concerts, I was totally relaxed and calm. You get used to this, and when you're successful, you have more self-confidence. 

 

DC: So, do you think that Bruckner 4 is the hardest piece to play, or something requiring more technique? 

RB: Hmm….You have 2 bars rest, then it comes, and everything that's not technical is actually more difficult. With technique, you can do more...how shall I say? 

DC: For example, is Rosenkavalier more...?

RB: You can't compare any opera with such a symphony. We are (in Vienna) both an opera and symphony orchestra, opera of course much more, but opera is never as hard as Bruckner or Mahler symphonies. 

DC: We have a picture here of you playing Bruckner 4 with Kubelik. Do you remember? 

RB: Oh yes! I forgot, you see! (Laughs)

DC: There are probably many more conductors that you've forgotten! 

RB: Yes, it's possible that I've forgotten someone or other. 

DC: Who was your favorite conductor for Bruckner 4? 

RB: The time with Kubelik was super. Kubelik spoke with me and said, "I come in, give the cue for the strings, and you play when you want."

DC: Yes. 

RB: And so he was great. He never - he always tried to calm me down.

DC: I think there are a total of 35 horn solos in Bruckner 4. 

RB: You counted?!

DC: Yes! (Laughter) 35. Or more! 

RB: Yes, it's actually almost a horn concerto. 

DC: Exactly. 

RB: Whenever the flutes and clarinets have played, have entered softly, then a horn solo comes. 

DC: Yes, exactly. So, we have here, oh, 4 or 5 examples of you playing Bruckner 4. 

RB: Yes? 

DC: you were probably 35 or 40, I don't know how old. 

RB: The one with Kubelik was around 1971. January. That was the last millennium. 

DC: You were 35 then. 

RB: 34.

DC: Thankfully, we have examples of you playing many things - Rosenkavalier, Wagner, many Bruckner symphonies….It's very important for us, for these students at this (Indiana) University, to have several examples from different horn players and orchestras, for many symphonies. 

RB: Do you also have the Mahler symphonies with Lenny? 

DC: Yes.

RB: We played Beethoven with him often, but I've never seen one, except for Beethoven 9. 

DC: Yes, we have this too. How old were you when you got into the Vienna philharmonic? 

RB: 18. I was engaged at 18 years old. 1955. 

DC: That's so...

RB: Yes, 60 years ago! 

DC: I know! (Laughs)

RB: (Laughing) You're asking me about what happened back then. I've forgotten so much. 


You can listen to the legend yourself, in this historic live recording of Roland Berger with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Rafael Kubelik:

https://youtu.be/wCdql6Fd3mM