Angelika (or Tom?) was asking Alexander 103s, noting that although they are the standard orchestral horn in Germany and very popular in the UK, they are seldom seen in the States, especially in US professional orchestras. She/he wonders why this is so. Let me speak from the point of view of an active amateur.

The problem may be that Alexs vary so much from horn to horn, from the truly sublime to the utterly ridiculous. I've played at least 20 103s since the time I entered music school in 1972. Of those 20, I've only liked three or four. Of those three or four, two were (and are) absolutely superb instruments. I've owned them both. One is a wonderful 70 to 80 year old 103 that I still own and play in chamber settings and the other is excellent 103 built in the late 1960s (I sold it a few years ago to a good friend). I can't say enough good things about these two horns. They speak very easily--effortless pianissimos. Intonation is correct throughout the range. They produce liquid slurs and fluid legatos. They have that inimitable Alexander sound--how can I describe it? Velvety, full, a dark core with hints of brightness around the edges. Brighter as the volume increases, but never losing the velvety, dark center.

Well, that's the two that I've owned, leaving us with at least 18 other horns to consider. Several were OK--not good, not bad, not worth buying. The rest, it pains me to say, were pretty awful, conforming to two, three, four, or more of the negative stereotypes that we on this side of the Atlantic have all heard about Alexs--stuffy, out of tune, lacking a low range, unreliable in the high range, incapable of a true fortissimo, etc. and so on. I suspect that this is the way many Americans think about Alexs because they've never come across one of the good ones. (I have a horn tech friend who claims the Germans keep the good ones for themselves; the British get second choice; the Yanks get the runts of the litter.)

I know that every manufacturer produces horns that are better or worse than others of the same model. Yamaha 667s do not all play exactly alike, or Holton 179s, or Conn 8Ds, or Paxman 25s... Even Lawsons vary. But in my experience other horn makers turn out instruments that are much more consistent from horn to horn than Alexander does. It's odd, but I can honestly say that the best professional quality horn I've ever played and the worst were both Alex 103s.

I'm in the process of buying an old Alex 103 at the moment and as I've already told him, I've kind of fallen in love with it! My first teacher played on an Alex as well, so I learned to play in an 'Alex style'. They are great, with loads of little quirks and characteristics, like the upside down thumb valve, or the gap big enough to fit your leg through (well, almost!) below the third valve! Not only that, but they sound great and the one that I'm getting is bang in tune most of the time, with an equal tone in all of the ranges, which are firm and responsive. What can I say? It's cool!!
Could anybody tell me which model Alexander horn is the most popular in Germany (i.e., used by Berlin Philharmonic members, etc.) I'm looking into buying an Alex but don't know which model is which. Thanks in advance.
Ethan Bearman
I think that model 103 is the most popular in Germany. According to the catalog, Alexander made first instrument of this model in 1907 and patented the device of its rotary valve on 30 May 1909. Model 101 is similar design but has large bell. They also produce Knopf / Geyer wrap horns: models 1103, 1104(with gestopf key), 200(anniversary model) and 503(student horn).
Toru Ikeno
"I think that most British listers would agree that the Alexander 103 is considered THE classic horn over here. I gather that the first one imported into Britain in the early '30s was owned by Francis Bradley (son of Adolf Borsdorf)."

"Three cheers for Alexander!! I have been in love with their horns since my college days in the 1960's, but never had enough money to buy one. When I finally got one in a trade twenty years later (for a Finke Triple), it played well, but not as well as I remembered. A friend had just put a Lawson pipe on her Alexander, so I was able to try and buy her old Alex pipe. The horn now played great."

I studied with Francis Bradley at the G.S.M.in London in the early sixties and can confirm that the Alex 103 was THE horn of choice then. It was not considered a classic then even though it has been around for a long time in Germany - (it was patented in 1912, I believe). At that time there was a lot of experimenting with Bb/A and descant horns but this never replaced the trusty old double horn. Bb/A horns with an F extension were favoured by some players. James Diack former principal of the London Mozart Players had a Bb/A Alex with the short quick action valve levers which were very fast.

When I needed to upgrade my instrument Francis got me Patrick Strevens' 103 which was built in the late 40's. It was 12 years old and I paid 100 pounds for it. As Wilbert Kimple found, you can get great value if you are willing to wait for the right instrument and seek a little advice from your hornplaying friends.

I virtually wore out the lead pipe until it was almost paper thin and had to have a new one installed by Paxmans. Lead pipes just as bocals (crooks) in bassoons and cor anglais are very important to the tone and response of an instrument so dont mess with them unless you really have a problem. I have now virtually worn the bell out but it still plays beautifully. I think the hand engraved german silver caps are really what distinguishes the old 103's.

Before you all go rushing off to find old 103's remember that as with all handmade instruments each instrument will have its own characteristics so try them out before you invest. I believe someone on this list said that one of the best and one of the worst horns he had ever played was an Alexander. There are great makers and great horns - in the end its the horn that counts - given that the player is a constant :)

Regards to all

Francis Pau
"I think the hand engraved german silver caps are really what distinguishes the old 103's."

I own an Alex 103 built in the 60's. It has the hand engraved caps. I have a "94 catalog from Alexander which shows the engraved caps on the new models. I agree that it is a very distinguishing characteristic of the Alex horns. COOL!

Bill Ostler
Some years ago a teacher friend of mine brought his 103 to me together with 3 Lawson leadpipes and after a considerable amount of testing decided which one he wanted fitting. He also asked me if I could get a Conn 8D bell for him. It duly arrived from the USA and I cut it to make a screw bell and fitted it to the 103. The over all effect on the instrument was , well to quote the owner, 'Brilliant, just brilliant'. The inonation was great, especially in the upper register and the top Bb and B which were very bad on the original were both sound as a bell. The owner, Irvin Rosenthall, has since passed away but I know there were quite a number of horn players who wanted to get their hands on it. I tried the Alex leadpipe on my Yamaha 664 and found it opened up my top register, so if fitted it and its been there for 20 years. I hope some one finds these comments interesting.
Tony Crosse
(retired brass teacher and brass instrument repairer.)
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