(This fascinating article will also appear (in English) in the October 2021 Horn Call.)
Hornist, Teacher, Role Model
by Robert Freund
English Translation by Elisabeth Freund-Ducatez and Cecilia Cloughly
The following is an excerpt from the author’s new book on Gottfried von Freiberg, self-published in December 2020, and available from email@example.com.
Who was Gottfried von Freiberg?
Let me say it straightaway: Gottfried von Freiberg was my horn teacher, was our professor at the Academy, and a role model for an entire generation of horn players in Austria. To date, nothing has been written about him, except for a few scarce lines in encyclopedias, written in a very general and impersonal manner.
Therefore, in 2018-2019, I began to make notes and compile thoughts about his origins, his family, and his musical studies. I researched why he joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra for one season before returning to Nazi Vienna, and how he survived the war and the Nazi era. What were the circumstances of the world premiere of Richard Strauss’s Second Horn Concerto, with Freiberg as soloist in Salzburg in 1943? As the questions accumulated, I began to write down facts.
Career in the Interwar Period
Gottfried von Freiberg was born in Vienna on April 11, 1908, into the family of a senior civil servant. He studied horn at the Vienna Music Academy with the famous Karl Stiegler, solo horn of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, who happened to be his uncle. Freiberg’s career began in 1927 as the first horn in Karlsruhe (Germany), where the Viennese conductor Josef Krips was chief conductor. Only one year later, in 1928, Freiberg became assistant 1st horn at the Vienna Philharmonic, next to Stiegler. After Stiegler’s death in 1932, Freiberg took over the position as first solo horn at the age of 24 years, as well as his late uncle’s teaching position at the Vienna Music Academy.
In 1936, Freiberg moved to Boston for one season, where he played first horn with the BSO under conductors Sergei Koussevitzky and Pierre Monteux, sharing his orchestral duties with the local solo hornist Willem Valkenier. In my book, I describe in detail why Freiberg did not succeed in Boston and how he was, on the contrary, treated with hostility and suspicion. While he was in Boston, Freiberg knew, of course, that Nazis were already in charge in Austria, and, in particular, that Nazi sympathizers as well as members of the Nazi party (NSDAP) were filling the ranks of the Vienna Philharmonic. Nevertheless, Freiberg threw in the towel after ten months in Boston and returned from the USA. As of 1937, he was back again as first horn player of the Vienna Philharmonic as well as Professor at the Music Academy.
The Nazi Era
One should not make the mistake of considering the Nazi era in Austria as being only from the “Anschluss” in 1938 to the end of World War II. In Austria, the NS movement started well before the 1930s and lasted into the 1960s. Blacklists had long been prepared on opponents of the new system and of Jews. Meticulous records were kept about anyone in Austria of Jewish descent or even married to a Jew. It was a well-known fact that Freiberg not only strictly rejected Nazi ideas but was considered a “Mischling,” having a Jewish grandfather – a potential death sentence. Only a few days after the “Anschluss,” Freiberg came to know the new Hitler regime firsthand through two letters, one confirming his classification as a “quarter-Jew,” the other dismissing him from the Academy. Thanks to the support of the famous conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler in front of the highest Nazi authorities in Berlin, Freiberg and eight other “undesirable” members of the Vienna Philharmonic were allowed to remain in the orchestra. Thanks to this “special permit,” the Academy reversed its decision and rehired Freiberg. Many other “politically objectionable” members were immediately dismissed or had already fled. During the war, these nine members of the Philharmonic were miserable. Any decline in their artistic level, e.g. for health reasons, would have led to an immediate dismissal. Consequently, the pressure on Freiberg must have been immense!
Artistic Highlight in the Midst of the War
Ironically, in 1943, one of the highlights of Freiberg’s musical career fell into this politically perilous war period: the world premiere of Richard Strauss’s Second Horn Concerto, performed in Salzburg by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Karl Böhm with Freiberg as the soloist. The composer came from Bavaria to attend the first rehearsal, but he left before it was finished and did not show up two days later on August 11, 1943 for the premiere of his new composition. His absence raised questions and unresolved issues in the Central European musical landscape. Only recently – seven decades later – the German hornist Peter Damm was able to shed light on this mystery, as my book reports in detail. For Freiberg – as well as for his students – this famous world premiere of the Strauss Horn Concerto undoubtedly remains one of the artistic highlights of his life.
Chairman of the Orchestral Board after the War
When the war was over in 1945, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra urgently needed a non-Nazi-affiliated representative, since only an “unencumbered” member could successfully negotiate with the four Allied Forces: USA, Russia, France, England. These occupying forces controlled every aspect of life, even culture. Thus, Freiberg was elected chairman of the Orchestral Board – yet another highpoint of his life – from a social point of view. However, he was confronted with the Board’s irreconcilable differences and extreme tensions within the orchestra in the immediate post-war period. After only one year, Freiberg resigned from his position as chairman of the Board, justifying his decision in a well-reasoned “Memorandum” that is printed in full length in my book.
The difficult war-time period, the bombings, his concerns about his family, his demanding job at the State Opera and the Philharmonic Orchestra, numerous recordings, as well as his horn lessons at the Academy four days a week, his excessive smoking and consumption of coffee, plus the night-time scoring work – all this led to a series of heart attacks and – in 1962 – to Freiberg’s early death at the age of 54 years.
Freiberg as a Horn Teacher
I had played various brass instruments during my high school years in Switzerland. When I returned to Vienna in 1953, I definitely wanted to study music. When I asked people about career opportunities, I was told, “Are you crazy? And what are you going to live off?” I was well prepared for the entrance exam at the Academy of Music, yet Freiberg did not want to hear my etudes, but only politely asked me to play a C major scale. With a “Thank you, first year!” I was accepted at the famous Academy.
My horn lessons were always on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Freiberg and a few other teachers required all their students to be present at the beginning of their teaching classes at 1 p.m. The advanced students played first for the entire class, while the younger ones had to listen, in order to get to know the pieces and the common mistakes hornists made in them. We thought it was a good system – we younger pupils learned much without playing a single note, while the advanced ones had an audience.
Since I was one of the beginners and my lesson used to be late in the afternoon, Freiberg often talked to me after my lesson ended, before the beginning of his opera service an hour or so later. In the empty classroom, standing at the window overlooking the historic square Schwarzenbergplatz, he would smoke and talk about his life in the orchestra, about operas and conductors, even his work at the Musicians’ Union – and I would listen, thrilled.
Freiberg was very patient when students played, even if they were not well prepared. He was always friendly and spoke a fine Viennese dialect. Lessons usually lasted 20 to 30 minutes. This could change abruptly and take up to 40 or 50 minutes when a student had a problem, be it with his lips, tongue, breath, embouchure, mouthpiece, and so on. In such a case, he would dance around the student for almost an hour, until everything was perfectly in order again. That was Freiberg’s unique secret. He hardly ever played for the students. This might have been due to his playing after his lessons at the Opera one hour later. With exceptions: twice he played the big solo at the end of the first movement of Brahms’s Second Symphony for me.
After a heart attack, Freiberg was on medical leave from performing, but he was allowed to teach. After months of not playing at all a student asked him how to attack a high a♭". Freiberg grabbed the nearest F horn, fixed his mouthpiece carefully, and attacked this note wonderfully and softly. At his last New Year’s Eve party, he was asked by a friend, a bass trombonist, how low a horn player could play; he again grabbed a horn and attacked a contra A right away. Every horn player in the world understands what that means.
Freiberg’s greatest influence on my horn studies and my future life as a musician came not from talking, not from his teaching, but from setting an example as a human being and a musician. In every aspect, he was exactly the hornist I wanted to become. One day he asked me: “Freund, do you want to come to Brussels with me for three weeks?” It was the Brussels World Fair of 1958 – of course I did! Every day, I had public classes with my professor in Brussels.
That same year, tempted by the opportunity to earn money, I decided to accept my first orchestra job as a hornist with the Hungarian Refugee Orchestra, the Philharmonia Hungarica. Up to this day, I believe that Freiberg disagreed with my decision – although he never said a word. I continued attending class, but he died in 1962 before I could take my final exam.
Specifics from his Lessons
Freiberg’s way of teaching was quiet, friendly, helpful, and attentive to every detail. He always stood next to the grand piano and “watched over” the pupil’s playing. A tone had to be attacked clearly, not necessarily with a strong “ta,” but rather with a distinctive “da” – no sneaking into the note allowed. He often mentioned the unique dynamics of playing the Vienna F Horn. Of course, we all had to play this instrument. Freiberg accepted double horns only with students from abroad. It was very important to him that in playing with piano accompaniment the pupil didn’t just “play along,” but rather made music out of every note.
My book recounts some of the things that were of particular importance to Freiberg and his colleagues regarding the Viennese way of phrasing and articulating. Like many of his Philharmonic colleagues, he was convinced of the importance of upholding the Austrian tradition of playing music, based on the Method for Violin by Leopold Mozart. He himself observed this tradition in his own playing and, of course, he taught it to his students. Inexorably and persistently, he demanded a beautiful horn tone, clear articulation, a clean staccato, long upbeats, and even a certain length or shortness of notes – all according to Viennese tradition. Each tone, even the shortest staccato, had to be bell-shaped, not cut off by the tongue. Another imperative was his kind of Viennese slur: not just simply connecting one note to the next, as the instrument would allow it – he wanted to hear the slur itself.
I remember one exhausting lesson, after having been corrected at great length in Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 for half an hour, so that I did not know anymore what and how to play at all. (It did work out in the end.) For decades, I have been deeply grateful to Freiberg for having been so unrelenting in his teaching, for showing me the way to play Mozart.
Using a number of music excerpts in my book, I offer insights into the Viennese musical tradition – even for non-experts. Strong slurs and a certain articulation were certainly idiosyncratic in Freiberg’s playing. In these matters he – along with some Philharmonic colleagues – was unyielding. “Pushing“ in slurs, cutting off short staccato, and an uninspired, note-by-note performance were absolute no-gos for Freiberg.
Freiberg’s Library and Students
Gottfried von Freiberg succeeded his uncle, Karl Stiegler (1886-1932), at the Academy of Music in Vienna in the year 1932. He also took over the abundant library of horn scores and parts of Josef Schantl (1842-1902) and Stiegler, his predecessors at the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Academy of Music. Therefore, Freiberg was said to own the largest library of horn music in the world.
He taught horn for 30 years, until his early death in 1962, developing a whole generation of horn players in Austria. Since the students of Freiberg were a big part of his life – he looked after them not only in class, but, when appropriate, also personally, I dedicated an entire chapter of the book to them. His former students played in all of Austria’s orchestras and also abroad. Some of them became famous hornists, some succeeded in various other professions. In my book, I tried to mention each and every student and tell their stories.
Freiberg in Testimonials
In his memoirs, the Viennese former chief conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Josef Krips, an honorary citizen of San Francisco, mentioned the 18-year-old Freiberg as a wonderful young first hornist in Karlsruhe. My book cites twenty-four different statements and letters from contemporary witnesses – many of them from the Vienna Philharmonic – that offer insights into how colleagues and music enthusiasts saw and judged Freiberg.
Freiberg as an Author, Composer and on Recordings
Freiberg composed about fifty horn quartets and quintets, half of them for Christmas. He also wrote fanfares; one of them is still played at the opening of the annual ball of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Musikverein. These fanfares were also regularly played by the Vienna Horn Society (Wiener Waldhornverein). Let me also mention Freiberg’s arrangements of the Adagio of Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony for five and eight horns respectively, following the well-known example of Ferdinand Löwe (1863-1925) who had arranged music from Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. The scores and parts have recently been printed (2020) and are now available in Austria at lanolino.at/musikverlag.
In 1938, Freiberg was invited to write an entry about the horn for a new German Music Encyclopedia. He wrote about 20 pages, shedding light on historical and functional dimensions, transposition, embouchure, and the best age to start studying, published as “Das Horn.” The article is of great interest, and in my book I cite some excerpts from it in an abbreviated manner.
Recordings that include Freiberg’s solo playing exist until this day, among them Strauss’s Second Horn Concerto, which was produced in Vienna three months after the 1943 premiere in Salzburg with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karl Böhm. Some other recordings include Mozart’s Horn Quintet KV 407, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante KV 297b/App. I.9, Mozart’s Serenade in E-flat major, Schubert’s Octet for Strings and Winds, Haydn’s Octet for Winds in F major, Beethoven’s Sextet with String Quartet, the Notturno from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn, and Beethoven’s Octet.
Freiberg and the F Horn
In his time (1928-1962), Freiberg was the strongest advocate and guardian of the Vienna F Horn. He saw it as the only option and he ensured two things: that the instrument as such as well as the Viennese way to play it were retained. Putting down the double horn and using an F horn instead – that alone was not the Vienna Horn tradition!
Freiberg always maintained an interest in instruments. Unfortunately, no high-quality F Horns were produced in Vienna at the time, technically speaking. However, from the point of view of tone quality, they were fabulous! Freiberg also owned a double horn, made probably by Anton Cizek, Vienna, an F/high-F horn. He enjoyed it very much and showed it around to everybody interested in these types of instruments. He certainly used it for the Trio in Haydn’s Wind Octet and for other high parts. When he showed it to me, I remember him whispering to me: “Try attacking very softly; that works best.” Later I bought it from the family and felt the same pleasure in playing tricky high parts on it.
Although the Vienna Philharmonic continued to play exclusively on the F horn after World War II, other Viennese orchestras switched to double horns. Luckily, the Vienna F Horn improved technically, so that the other big orchestras of Vienna (Vienna Symphony, Volksoper, Tonkünstler Orchestra) do again play only the Vienna F horn. The Vienna Horn, as you can read in my book on Freiberg, means much more to us than just a necessity or a question of taste; it is an attitude of life, of musical belief. Our orchestras and their horn sections are convinced that the sound of Bruckner played on our F horns – matching the rest of the brass section – is closest to the Bruckner sound of 1890. And we are proud of that. I did not want to omit this Austrian peculiarity in my book about Freiberg.
Some things we shall never know, such as how Freiberg’s horn playing was perceived (or rejected) by American listeners and colleagues in Boston in 1936. Every man has his secrets!
Robert Freund, born in 1932 in Vienna, was sent to Switzerland in the post-war period by the Swiss Red Cross, children’s aid, spent his high school years at the seminary school in Engelberg (1946-53), where he learned to play several brass instruments. Upon his return to Vienna, he graduated from the Vienna School of Hotel Management and studied Interpreting at Vienna University. Beginning in 1955, he studied horn with Gottfried von Freiberg at the Vienna Academy of Music. He played first horn at the Philharmonia Hungarica, the Tonkünstler Orchestra (in Vienna) and solo horn at the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Besides his soloist activity, he was a passionate chamber musician (Wiener Bläserquintett) and toured Europe, the Middle East, the USA and Canada as well as Japan. During his entire professional career he taught horn (at University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz, among others) and wrote a French Horn Method for Young Beginners published by Doblinger.
Robert Freund is married and has three adult children. He continues to this day to be a fervent defender of the F horn and the Viennese musical tradition. His biography of Gottfried von Freiberg was self-published in December 2020, and is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.