The Reiter Brothers
The Reiter brothers, Xaver (left) and Josef
The Reiter brothers, Josef (1848-1921) and Franz Xaver (1856-1938), were true heroes of the horn, having filled solo positions in the Munich Opera, other European orchestras in Sondershausen, Hannover, Karlsruhe, and the Bayreuth Festival, before coming to America in the latter half of the 1880s.
In the US they were solo horns of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Symphony with Damrosch, Scheel's Orchestra of San Francisco, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the first season of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and finally the New York Philharmonic with Gustav Mahler and Josef Stransky.
Both brothers studied with Franz Strauss, and they preferred single B-flat horns to F horns. On one occasion, a critic excoriated a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, blaming the conductor, Artur Nikisch, for "hoarse blasts" from the horns and surmising, correctly, that Xaver played a B-flat horn (as had his teacher).
Xaver left Boston shortly after this contretemps (his brother taking over his position for the following season), but the critical review is only one of several possible explanations for his departure. He apparently at the same time had difficulties with his first wife (she was suing him for separate support), and he was arrested for bathing, along with his two Russian wolfhounds, in a fountain on Boston Common.
The brothers appeared as soloists with several orchestras in which they were members and performed much chamber music, notably the Brahms Trio and a composition by Josef for horn and piano, or orchestra, called Mephisto, a copy of which has not yet been found. Josef also composed or arranged many pieces for 1 to 12 horns. After his time with the Philharmonic, Xaver played solo horn with the State Symphony Orchestra (NY), toured all over the US with the German Grand Opera Company, and was known for his wonderful playing of the famous Siegfried Call.
The older brother, Josef, returned to Munich in 1909, but Xaver, with his hair down to his shoulders, lived on in Valhalla, New York, an unincorporated village in the town of Mount Pleasant, until 1938. Xaver is said to have suggested the name Valhalla for the village due to his association with the Wagner Ring cycle and his performances of the Siegfried Horn Call. He was a real character to the end of his life!
For a complete biography, see Norman Schweikert’s book, The Horns of Valhalla: Saga of the Reiter Brothers, published by Windsong Press.
Willi Aebi (1901-1986)
Dr. Willi Aebi was a Swiss engineer, businessman, politician, amateur horn player, and supporter of art and music. The Aebi manufacturing business pioneered advanced designs of agricultural machinery, becoming a multi-national holding company with headquarters in Burgdorf, Switzerland. In politics, he concerned himself primarily with finance, taxes, and budget development.
Aebi was an art collector, maintaining friendships with the artists and sharing his knowledge and treasures with reproductions in company calendars. He and his family donated stained-glass windows in the Bergdorf Stadtkirche.
Aebi was one of the best amateur hornists in Switzerland, and in his student days substituted in the Tonhallé Orchestra and Zürich Municipal Theater. He commissioned a concerto from Othmar Schoek (1886-1957), his Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra, op. 65, completed in 1951 and premiered by Hans Will in 1952 with the Winterthur City Orchestra conducted by Victor Desarzens.
About 1965 Aebi gave Hermann Baumann an alphorn, sparking Baumann's interest in natural horn and the unaltered natural overtone series. Around 1970 Baumann acquired a Kruspe Wendler model horn from Aebi.
Aebi had a straight horn constructed to permit measurements of physical-acoustical behaviour inside the tube to understand varying tone colors. He wrote a treatise based on his research, Das Horn und seine innere Akustik, published in 1969 by Buchdruck in Zurich, and a version in English, The Horn and Its Inner Acoustics, transcribed from a lecture at the 1970 IHS International Workshop in Tallahassee, Florida, published by Schilke in 1971. His article on "Stopped Horn" appeared in the Spring 1974 and May 1976 issues of The Horn Call.
Dr. Aebi was respected and admired by all who knew him and particularly appreciated for his interest in and support of the horn community and the IHS.
Appreciations of Willi Aebi's life from his son Franz Aebi and former Horn Call editor James Winter appear in the October 1987 issue of The Horn Call.
The Berv Brothers
The brothers' father, Samuel Borovokunkin, emigrated from Belarus to Warsaw, where he married Pearl Newmark and where the three oldest boys were born. The family then moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, acquiring the shorter surname Berv at Ellis Island. Harry was born in New Jersey, and because of his respiratory problems, on their doctor's advice the family moved to Chisholm, Minnesota in the Mesabi Iron Range for "clean air."
All four boys showed musical talent, and the school music teacher started Henry on violin, Arthur on trumpet, Jack on cello, and Harry on piano. When the teacher told their parents that the boys had outgrown his capabilities, the family moved back to Philadelphia, considered the center for classical music at the time. The boys became successful musicians already in their teens.
Arthur changed to horn at age 14 or 15 and studied with Anton Horner, becoming Horner's assistant in the Philadelphia Orchestra and eventually principal horn himself. Jack and Harry entered Curtis, Jack having played horn for only a few months. The two moved to New York City in 1935 and struggled to find work. When the NBC Symphony was formed, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra horn section played the first season. Jack and Harry were hired to play Wagner tubas; Toscanini liked their playing and asked them to join the orchestra. Arthur was offered the principal horn position, which he accepted as the pay was much higher than in Philadelphia and he did not like playing for Ormandy. The three brothers remained at NBC through Toscanini's tenure and a few years more with its successor, Symphony of the Air.
Arthur and Jack remained on the NBC staff and played on the Tonight Show with Steve Allen under music director Skitch Henderson. All three brothers became studio musicians and played Broadway shows and recording engagements, including the sound track for the films done in the new technique "Cinerama" with music by composer Dmitri Tiomkin, and for the TV series Victory at Sea, with a soundtrack by Richard Rogers. The original Star Trek TV theme also featured Arthur and Harry, and Harry played with Frank Sinatra. Apparently the Bervs had many, if not most, of the freelance horn gigs in the 1950s and 1960s, even into the early 1970s. They were usually hired as a threesome. They were featured on the CBS TV program Omnibus in a horn demonstration, and in another Omnibus episode with Leonard Bernstein discussing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony that included a shot of Arthur standing on a huge score on the floor and playing the introductory motive.
Arthur taught at Manhattan, Harry at Juilliard, and Jack at Yale. Harry also taught in Montreal, taking the train there once a week, and commuted to Nashville, where he played in recording sessions. Jack founded a youth orchestra on Long Island and participated in summer music festivals.
The Conn Corporation asked the brothers in 1938 to advise in designing a horn. Harry and Jack went to Elkhart, Indiana with a silver Kruspe and helped with the development of the 8D. They were offered either a royalty on every Conn that was sold, or two new horns. They each took two horns, later acknowledging that the decision had been a mistake.
Aside from the standard long tones, scales, and traditional etudes (Kopprasch, Kling, Gallay, Bellolli, Maxime Alphonse), the brothers did not use the strenuous exercises so prevalent later. Whatever repertoire they were playing on a concert, they would find an etude or musical passage that would reinforce the relevant techniques. Even their practice sessions were expressive and musical, rather than concentrating on lip strength and technique. They advocated memorizing excerpts, especially those with tricky transpositions.
Arthur spoke of how Jack was "the best second horn player" he ever worked with. For a player to have Jack's security, ability, and desire to listen and blend, as well as to be supportive in the best sense, was of immense help to the principal player. Jack's ability to play interval studies and passages, in particular second horn duet parts with rapid intervals, was thrilling. Jack felt that he did not have the endurance to practice and then play rehearsals and concerts, so when he was an active performer he did not practice much. Arthur and Harry were different from Jack, as Arthur used to get up at 5 a.m. daily to play long tones and warm up and Harry practiced all the time.
What made these brothers special was not just their dominance in the New York horn world, but a combination of accuracy, technique, sound (the "Berv" sound), musicality, and an ability to blend and help each other as needed. The sound was not "big" or "booming," words often used today to refer to the New York 8D tone. On the contrary, it was of a medium size but also complex with all the harmonics of the wide bore Conn and a flexibility of sound, which varied according to the key and the music.
Arthur participated in the first horn workshop in Tallahassee and was enthusiastic about the proposal to form a horn society.
Richard Chenoweth's two-part series on the Berv brothers, from which this material was taken, appeared in the May 2012 and May 2013 issues of The Horn Call.
Joseph Eger (1920-2013)
Joseph Eger was a well-known horn soloist – perhaps the first American horn soloist – but also a conductor (serving under Leopold Stokowski with the American Symphony Orchestra) and founder of ensembles to advance social causes. He founded the Symphony for United Nations in New York in 1974. The New York Times called him "one of the greatest French horn players alive" in November 1957.
Joseph was born in Connecticut to an Orthodox Jewish family that had left Romania to escape persecution. Joseph grew up in western Pennsylvania, where he started playing clarinet but soon switched to horn. After high school, he lived with a brother in Connecticut, working at a jewelry store and taking lessons with the principal horn of the Hartford Symphony, where he played his first professional concert. The brothers moved back to Pittsburgh, then Joseph was accepted at Curtis, where Mason Jones, James Chambers, and Ward Fearn were already students. He studied with Anton Horner, a Nazi sympathizer who baited Joseph, perhaps influencing him in his later social activism.
Joseph completed his course work by the end of his third year at Curtis, was already playing in the National Youth Administration Orchestra, and won a position as principal horn of the National Symphony. But then came World War II, and Joseph joined the Army Air Force Band, which included John Barrows and Arthur, Harry, and Jack Berv. After returning from his posting in Europe, Joseph settled in New York City, playing in Broadway shows and Claude Thornhill's big band and subbing in the New York Philharmonic with Joseph Singer, whose warm-up routine he used for the rest of his career. He played associate principal horn in the NY Philharmonic for part of a season and then was invited by Alfred Wallenstein to be principal horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In Los Angeles, Joseph was also principal horn in the Hollywood Bowl Symphony and eventually replaced Alfred Brain as first horn at 20th Century Fox. He also played an increasing amount of chamber music and eventually established a "concertizing" career as soloist and with his chamber music group, the Eger Players. He was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951, where he refused to name any names. The next year he accepted Leonard Bernstein's invitation to play and coach with the Israel Philharmonic, afterwards returning to his solo and chamber music career. He was coached by Benjamin Britten in Canticle III during one of his tours to England. He also taught at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore; students included Christopher Leuba, Thomas Howell, and A. Robert Johnson.
Conducting took over in the 1960s as a result of a dentist's slip (jabbing his lip) and a summer at Pierre Monteux's conducting seminar in Hancock, Maine. Joseph established the West Side Symphony and also conducted the New York Orchestral Society, the Camera Concerti Chamber Orchestra, and the New York Symphony, which he also founded. He went on to blend classical music with rock and roll and jazz in various venues. The Symphony for United Nations took part in concerts and festivals that focused attention or raised funds for a variety of social causes.
Recordings include chamber works and a solo album, Around the Horn (1957). He wrote an article, also titled "Around the Horn," for Courier magazine, a book, Einstein's Violin (2005), about string theory and its potential connection with music, and transcriptions for horn. He also worked with composers in the creation of new pieces for the horn.
This information is taken from Kate Pritchett's article about Eger's life and career in the October 2009 issue of The Horn Call.
Dennis Brain (1921-1957)
Dennis Brain, through his concerts, broadcasts, and recordings, brought the horn into prominence as a solo instrument and became an inspiration to many for his technical and musical excellence on the horn. He was the son of Aubrey Brain, nephew of Alfred Brain, Junior, and grandson of A.E. Brain, Senior.
Dennis was born in London in 1921. His father, Aubrey Brain, was third horn in the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras at the time. His mother, Marion Beeley, was a contralto who sang at Covent Garden and for whom Sir Edward Elgar wrote the aria “Hail, Immemorial Ind!” in his opera The Crown of India.
Dennis attended Richmond Hill Preparatory School, St. Paul School, London (where he sang in the choir), and the Royal Academy of Music, where his father taught horn. In addition to horn lessons with his father, Dennis also studied piano and organ, playing organ in public occasionally over the years. He started playing horn professionally while still at school and astounded his school mates with his incredibly fast, articulate playing.
When war broke out in September 1939, both Dennis and his brother, oboist Leonard Brain, and some of their friends cut short their studies at the Royal Academy and joined the Royal Air Force, where they played in, first, the RAF Central Band at Uxbridge, and then, for the remainder of the seven-year hitch, the RAF Symphony Orchestra. During all this time, Dennis and the others also took jobs in outside ensembles (London Wind Players, London Baroque Ensemble, etc.). The orchestra toured the US in 1944; when the tour took them to Los Angeles, the Brain brothers stayed with their uncle, Alfred Junior (known as Alf), who played principal horn in the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
The RAF orchestra played for a series of broadcasts to America called An American in England, for which Benjamin Britten was the composer. Dennis demonstrated what he could do on the horn, which inspired Britten to write the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings for Dennis and tenor Peter Pears.
Dennis began the Dennis Brain Wind Quintet while still in the RAF, and later expanded it to the Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble. He was principal horn in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra starting with its founding in 1946 and including a tour of the US in 1950, but his obligations to the Philharmonia Orchestra, formed in 1945, resulted in fewer and fewer services with the RPO. The Philharmonia toured the US East Coast in 1955.
Dennis kept an amazingly busy schedule, often driving from one engagement to another. He loved his cars and was known for having automobile magazines on his music stand during rehearsals, even when he was the soloist. He made an incredible number of broadcasts with the BBC and recordings in addition to concerts. His recording of the four Mozart horn concertos has never been out of print.
His supreme artistry inspired many composers to write new works for the horn, including (in addition to Benjamin Britten) Paul Hindemith, Malcom Arnold, Sir Lennox Berkeley, York Bowen, G. Bryan, Peter Racine Fricker, Gordon Jacob, and Elisabeth Lutyens.
Dennis played a Raoux single F horn at first, gradually moving to an Alexander single B-flat horn. He also experimented with a number of other horns, including five-valve horns. His uncle Alf gave him a small mouth that he used for the rest of his life.
As a teacher, Dennis generally demonstrated but, because he was such a natural player, had difficulty explaining how he did things or how to solve students’ problems. He developed lecture/demonstrations on “The Early Horn” and “Talking about the Instrument: The Horn” for the BBC and wrote articles on “French Horn Playing” and “About the French Horn” for various journals.
Toward the end of his life, Dennis showed interest in conducting more and in playing horn less. He was killed in a car accident on September 1, 1957 while driving back to London from Edinburgh, where he had just played in several concerts at the Edinburgh Festival.
Michael Meckna, “The Legacy of Dennis Brain,” The Horn Call, April 1991
John C. Dressler, “A Seventieth-Birthday Tribute,” The Horn Call, October 1991
John C. Dressler, “A Bibliography,” The Horn Call, October 1991
Stephen Pettitt, Dennis Brain: A Biography, second edition (London: Hale, 1989)
Stephen Gamble and William Lynch, Dennis Brain: A Life in Music (Denton: UNT Press, 2011)
Robert L. Marshall, Dennis Brain on Record: A Comprehensive Discography of his Solo, Chamber and Orchestral Recordings, 4th edition (Newton MA: Margun Music, 1996) (download link below)
Friedrich Adolph Borsdorf (1854-1923)
Part of what was later known as "God's own [horn] quartet," Borsdorf, along with 40 other members, helped to found the London Symphony Orchestra.
With a very high standard of playing, he revolutionized horn teaching in England; among his pupils were Alfred and Aubrey Brain, and Frank Probyn.
Friedrich Gumpert (1841-1906)
First Horn in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and professor at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1864 to 1898. All of his publications give his name as "Gumbert" but the proper spelling of his name is Gumpert, as his actual signature and other documents show.
From his teaching studio came three students that later had a major influence in the American school of Horn playing: Anton Horner (First Horn Pittsburgh & Philadelphia orchestras), Max Hess (First Horn Cologne, Gürzenich, Boston & Cincinnati orchestras) and Max Pottag (member of Hamburg & Chicago orchestras).
His major publications include twelve volumes of orchestral excerpt books that are still available today, a horn method, and many arrangements for horn and piano.
Joseph Ignaz Leutgeb (1732-1811)
Because of many written sarcastic remarks by his good friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it has been assumed that Ignaz Leutgeb was "slow of wit." Whether or not this is true is not certain, however Leutgeb was without doubt a fine horn player. Many critics of the time wrote about his superior musical and technical abilities.
In 1773, after playing first horn in the band of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg and touring various European cities, he settled in Vienna. With a loan from Leopold Mozart he opened a small cheese shop and in time, he became a very successful merchant.
Vol. V No. 2 & Vol. XI, No. 1.