Notes from Abe Kniaz on Playing the Horn

Collected by Thom Gustafson; edited by Marilyn Bone Kloss

Abe Kniaz was my teacher, colleague, and friend. His accomplishments were considerable, but I discovered them mostly by listening to recordings of his performances because he was also modest. He did not publish any pedagogical theories, but he left notes on his thoughts about teaching horn playing. This is a distillation of his notes, organized into categories.

Perhaps one reason he didn't publish his theories was that he never thought he had all the answers. One of his strengths was that he was willing to change when his approach was not working or when he saw a better way. Another friend of Abe's, A. Robert Johnson, wrote in The Horn Call (October 2007) about his experience playing second to Abe in the National Symphony:

Abe's was not a natural gift, and he made no secret of that. His was not a “natural” embouchure. He learned how to make it conform to his will by sheer effort and endless experimentation. And he succeeded. Colleagues in the brass section let it be known that for a season or two his tenure was in doubt because he hadn’t yet mastered the idiosyncrasies of the instrument across the spectrum of demand made on the first horn. It is fair to say that this combination of will and uncertainty were one story of his life in music. The main one however, was his consummate musicianship. Anyone of my acquaintance who heard him from the audience confirms that he made a beautiful case for the horn in the orchestra by the way its voice was heard while in his hands.

Stephen Lawlis, who studied with Abe at Indiana University, wrote:

Abe had quite a reputation during his years at Indiana University for changing embouchures. While there was some truth to this, in general, he would patiently demonstrate his own way of playing through lip and mouthpiece buzzing. This often resulted in the students themselves wanting to make the change, particularly after discovering that this change could help correct an existing weakness.

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The contents of this section can be downloaded in a single pdf if desired: pdf Notes from Abe Kniaz on playing the horn

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Édith Bédard for making Abe’s notes available, to Marilyn Bone Kloss for editing the material, and to Steven Ovitsky for the audio restoration of the orchestral excerpt recordings.

About the Author

Thom Gustavson studied horn with Abe Kniaz at Indiana University and later at Univérsite Laval in Québec City. He has played fourth horn in the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec for 39 years.

Abe always wanted to write a book about horn playing and left copious notes, which Thom categorized after Abe’s death. The long friendship Thom shared with Abe over the years inspired the effort to publish this book.