Joseph Singer (1909-1978)

singer
photo by Sedge Le Blang, courtesy of
the New York Philharmonic.

Joseph Singer was principal horn of the New York Philharmonic (1943-1974) and taught at Juilliard (1970-1974), but he is also known for his book Embouchure Building for French Horn. He was an influential player and teacher. His tenure of 31 years as solo horn is a record for the New York Philharmonic. He was a cousin of Arnold Jacobs.

Singer was born in Philadelphia and started on violin at age six, changing to viola at age 15. He began his musical career as a viola player with the Detroit Symphony (1927-1933). He started playing the horn while in Detroit, playing extra with the symphony just a year and a half after taking it up, and later studied with Bruno Jaenicke, Walter Macdonald, and Joseph Franzl. He started in the Boston Symphony as seventh horn in 1933, then became third and alternate first horn and continued under Koussevitzky until 1943, when he was appointed principal horn of the New York Philharmonic under Artur Rodziński. Over his long career in New York, he performed a number times as soloist with the orchestra and was also active in chamber music ensembles.

Before becoming a member of the Juilliard faculty, Singer taught at the New York College of Music, the Mannes College of Music, and (as guest faculty) Brigham Young University.

Singer had absolute pitch and exactness for rhythmical subdivision. His years of playing viola in Detroit provided insights for analytical teaching. He continued to play viola occasionally and believed that his experience as a string player proved a good foundation for the horn. He taught concertos and orchestral excerpts, but no etudes; he said, "Practice them at home if you like, but don’t bring them to the lesson!" He instructed his students to check scores to correct notes or articulations that were incorrect in the current excerpt books. He played a Wunderlich double horn, and also a Paxman.

Singer was a Class "A" amateur ham radio operator and built his own radio-phonograph. He repaired electronic equipment and was interested in traveling, photography, and cars.

Dale Whitman wrote a tribute to Singer for the April 1979 issue of The Horn Call. Other material was generously shared by the New York Philharmonic Archives. The photo is by Sedge Le Blang, courtesy of the New York Philharmonic.

A.E. Brain (1860-1929)

ae.brain
A.E. Brain (near camera) recording for Edison Bell in 1925

Alfred Edwin Brain (known later in life as A.E. Senior) was the father of Alfred Edwin Junior and Aubrey Brain, grandfather of Dennis Brain, and great-grandfather of Tina Brain – all horn players. He was the first horn player in the Brain family who achieved distinction as an orchestral horn player and soloist.

A.E. Senior was born in Turnham Green to William Brain and Sarah Ellen (Brown) Brain. He began his musical training in the Scots Guards in 1872 at the age of 12. When he left the military, he had achieved the rank of Corporal. Perhaps as a result of his military training, A.E. was known to be strict with his sons.

A.E. normally played fourth horn; occasionally, second or third. He was a member of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood, then, beginning in 1904, with the London Symphony Orchestra. The LSO horn section is listed as Borsdorf, Busby, A E Brain, and van der Meerschen. A.E. also played for the Royal Philharmonic Society, the Royal Opera Orchestra (Covent Garden), and for the Coronation of George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

He also played chamber music, including the Brahms Trio, the Beethoven Sextet Op. 81,b and the Thuille Sextette in 1896, and the Beethoven Sextet and Septet in 1906. He was engaged by the Royal Academy of Music to play concerts and “practice” sessions in 1893.

In addition to his famous sons Alfred Junior and Aubrey, another son, Arthur, played horn for a few years before becoming a police officer. His daughter Rebecca played bass with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Helena performed on the long F trumpet, and Letitia (named after her mother) played violin.

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