James Chambers (1920-1989)
James Chambers was known for his magnificent orchestral playing, intense 45-minute lessons, strong views, and orchestra repertoire classes.
Chambers was born in Trenton NJ in 1920 into a musical family. His parents were amateur musicians, a grandfather was an organist and teacher, and one brother was a trumpet player and teacher. Chambers started playing horn at age ten, making his debut with the Trenton Symphony Orchestra at age 15. He attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied with Anton Horner (1938-1941). "I picked the horn because I felt there were fewer good horn players than there were good violinists and pianists. It was a pragmatic decision born out of hard economic times," he said in an interview. While at Curtis, Chambers obtained a new Conn 8D from a local music store, one of the first run of 8Ds. He played the same horn until he retired from horn playing.
Chambers played with the Pittsburg Symphony under Fritz Reiner for one year after his graduation in 1941, then became solo horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1942-1946), and finally was solo horn of the New York Philharmonic (1946-1969). After retiring from horn playing because of his health, Chambers continued to be orchestra manager (1969-1986). He also was a guest artist with other orchestras, including the Longines Symphonette Radio Orchestra, and at many music festivals. He played with such artists as Mitch Miller, John Barrows, Jimmy Buffington, Tony Miranda, Clark Terry, and Bernie Glow. He enjoyed commercial recordings and preferred playing fourth horn on them.
''He founded a style of horn playing based on a rich, dark sound and had a fearless approach,'' said Philip Myers, a successor as first horn in the New York Philharmonic. Conductor Leonard Bernstein said, "He played solo horn on all my early Mahler recordings - to say nothing of Beethoven, Brahms and the rest - and always magnificently.'' In fact, Chambers recorded Mahler's Fifth Symphony with Bruno Walter and Dimitri Mitropoulos as well as Bernstein.
Chambers taught at the Curtis Institute while he was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, then at the Juilliard School for 42 years, still on the faculty when he died. His orchestral repertory class for wind instruments became one of the most sought-after instrumental experiences at Juilliard for over a generation. Chambers often included selections from the Philharmonic programs in the class. "I have great enthusiasm over this class. It is very challenging simulating a conductor – differing the interpretations and pointing out the pitfalls."
Chambers said, "We only have one thing to sell on the horn: the unique and beautiful sound which is particularly the horn. Anything else we try to do there are countless other instruments that can do it more easily and more securely without the difficulties of the horn." He was adamant about not switching to the B-flat horn below the written C-sharp. "My usual advice is don't discard the F horn so easily. Use the B-flat horn as insurance. But even in what I consider basic F horn territory there are many exceptions. Technical problems or jumping in and out of a register may require you to play on the B-flat or to mix the two. What I am trying to express is flexibility. Try to have all the options at your disposal."
Students respected Chambers' teaching methodology and discipline. He presented material in a carefully thought-out order and packed much into his 45-minute lessons. He was demanding of students but prepared them thoroughly. He said, "Anyone can blow through a pipe," implying that only a few can make music doing so.
Chambers' publications include a series of orchestral excerpts books and numerous editions of etude and solo works. Composer William Schuman said Chambers was also a scholar who brought a researcher's discipline and a performer's insights to the literature of the horn.
Chambers was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1979.
Alan Civil (1929-1989)
Alan Civil was larger than life, both as a horn player and as a personality. He was known for spectacular playing ("beautifully focused"), huge horn choir arrangements, and quick wit and bonhomie. He wasn't afraid to express his less-than-respectful opinions of conductors. He was perhaps most famous for his high obbligato solo on the Beatles song "For No One."
Alan was born in 1929 in Northampton, England to a family of brass instrument players. He started playing horn at age nine; on leaving school during wartime, he joined the Royal Artillery Band. During this time, showing the kind of initiative that characterized his career, he persuaded Aubrey Brain to give him lessons, which required a 120-mile round-trip journey. Later he traveled to Hamburg, Germany to study with Willy von Stemm.
After his military service, in 1953 Alan joined Dennis Brain in the Royal Philharmonic as second horn and took over as principal when Dennis moved to the Philharmonia. In 1955, Alan joined the Philharmonia on tour and then stayed on as co-principal to Dennis. When Dennis died in 1957, Alan took over as principal. In 1964, he was the first non-German to be approached by the Berlin Philharmonic, but he decided to stay with the Philharmonia, which was reorganizing as a self-governing entity. In 1966, he left to join the BBC Symphony Orchestra, where he stayed until retirement in 1988. During this time, he also became a professor at the Royal College of Music, played with several chamber ensembles (including the Alan Civil Trio), and toured as a soloist.
He played an Alexander double horn for orchestral work, an Alexander single B-flat horn for solos, and had a collection of natural horns for early music (a special interest).
Alan's compositions include a symphony for brass and percussion, a wind quintet and octet, a horn trio, a suite for two horns, and innumerable arrangements and transcriptions for horn ensembles (some now lost). Many horn players have thrilled to his transcription of Beethoven's Egmont Overture at horn workshops.
Alan recorded most of the major horn works, including three recordings of the Mozart concertos: Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The last recording, with a lighter orchestra and brighter tempos, shows off a variety of tone, attacks, and phrasing and Alan's own cadenzas. His recording of the Britten Serenade with tenor Robert Tear and the Northern Sinfonia is particularly well-regarded.
Known for his quick wit, Civil once metaphorically quipped that you "really have to be sitting on the edge of your seat for pretty well all your life, otherwise you won't be able to play the horn." He had many stories to tell, and was the subject of many more. He enjoyed good food and wine and pubs, radio dance bands and comedy shows. He often tried to dissuade students from making a career of the horn, telling them about the nitty-gritty of the profession.
Alan was a frequent artist at horn workshops. He served on the IHS Advisory Council (1974-81) and as first president of the British Horn Society from 1979. He was awarded an OBE in 1985 and elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1989.
Tributes to Alan appear in the October 1989 issue of The Horn Call and a retrospective in the April 1992 issue.
Philip F. Farkas (1914-1992)
Philip Francis Farkas was a legendary principal orchestra player, a leading teacher, author of a book known as the Bible for horn players, and a co-founder of the IHS.
Farkas was born in 1914 in Chicago. His parents were not musically inclined, but his mother thought piano lessons were important. At age twelve, Farkas joined the Boy Scouts. The troop needed a bugler, so Farkas volunteered and remained a bugler until age fourteen.
At about that time, Farkas started to show signs of asthma, and his parents thought that playing a wind instrument in the school band would help. Farkas selected the tuba. He took the streetcar to school until one day the streetcar conductor refused to let him on with the tuba. Farkas asked what instrument would be allowed, and the conductor pointed to a horn case. Farkas and his father went to Chicago and rented a Schmidt horn for $3 a month. Farkas loved it immediately, and at that point Farkas decided he wanted to become a professional horn player. The year was 1927.
Farkas' first horn teacher was Earl Stricker. In 1930, Farkas became a student at Calumet High School and played in the band and orchestra there, as well as in the All-Chicago High School Orchestra. He began studying privately with Louis Dufrasne, a great horn artist of the time, and playing with the Chicago Civic Orchestra.
Farkas began his career as first horn player in the newly formed Kansas City Philharmonic, not having finished high school, in 1933. In 1936, he became first horn in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the youngest member of the orchestra, until 1941. Then in succession, he played first horn with the Cleveland Orchestra (1941-1945), the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1945-1946), back to Cleveland (1946-1947), and finally back to Chicago (1948-1960).
During this time, Farkas taught horn privately and at the Kansas City Conservatory, Cleveland Institute, DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Northwestern University, and finally, after leaving the Chicago Symphony in 1960, at Indiana University. After so many years of orchestral playing, he said, "I would rather quit several years too soon than 10 minutes too late." During his time at Indiana, Farkas played and toured with the American Woodwind Quintet and during the summers played in the Aspen Festival Orchestra.
Farkas had a significant reputation as a teacher when he moved to Indiana University. A few years before, he had published The Art of French Horn Playing, which became known as the Bible for horn players and is a fixture in almost every horn player's library. His next major publication, The Art of Brass Playing, Farkas published himself and established Wind Music, Inc. to distribute it. Farkas believed that to be successful, horn players needed technique, musicianship, and the courage to play in public. He advocated knowing their weaknesses and working to make them strengths; i.e., "Take the problem and practice it to the extreme."
In addition to the many orchestral recordings in which Farkas can be heard, he made a few solo and chamber recordings and can be heard in advertising jingles and in Nat King Cole's Portrait of Jenny.
Among Farkas' other accomplishments was designing the Farkas Model horn and mouthpiece. He experimented his entire life with horn and mouthpiece design. In 1947 he and trumpeter Renold Schilke founded a business called Music Products, Inc. to produce and market mouthpieces. After beginning his collaboration with Holton and moving to Indiana University, he sold his share of the business to Schilke, and then helped design a collection of mouthpieces for Holton.
Farkas was a co-founder of the IHS, and in 1978, he was elected an IHS Honorary Member. He was awarded an honorary doctorate at Eastern Michigan University, also in 1978. After retiring from Indiana University in 1982, Farkas continued to perform and give clinics. The annual Philip Farkas Horn Competition started in 1992 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest.
Books about Farkas:
Stewart, M. Dee, Philip Farkas: The Legacy of a Master, The Instrumentalist, Northfield IL, ©1990.
Fako, Nancy Jordan, Philip Farkas and His Horn: A Happy, Worthwhile Life, Crescent Park Music Publications, Elmhurst IL, ©1998.
Major publications by Farkas:
The Art of French Horn Playing: A Treatise on the Problems and Techniques of French Horn Playing. C. F. Summy, Chicago, ©1956.
The Art of Brass Playing: A Treatise on the Formation and Use of the Brass Player's Embouchure. Wind Music, Bloomington IN, ©1962.
A Photographic Study of 40 Virtuoso Horn Players' Embouchures. Wind Music, Bloomington IN, ©1970.
The Art of Musicianship: A Treatise on the Skills, Knowledge, and Sensitivity Needed by the Mature Musician to Perform in an Artistic and Professional Manner. Wind Music, Bloomington IN, ©1976.
"Reflections of a Longtime Musician." The Instrumentalist 42, no. 2 (September 1987): pp. 20-26.
Holger Fransman (1909-1997)
Holger Fransman is regarded as the father of the Finnish school of horn playing. He was the last pupil of Karl Steigler in Vienna. He joined the Helsinki Philharmonic as the third hornist in 1932, and was principal horn from 1937 until 1967. He was one of the most outstanding Finnish orchestral musicians, but perhaps even more influential as a teacher at the Sibelius Academy (1931-1973).
Fransman put horn playing in Finland on the map internationally. His legacy is preserved by at least four generations of pupils and the pupils of pupils. He was the first Finn to go abroad to study with international greats, in the 1930s. While studying in Vienna, he lived with Steigler's nephew, Gottfried von Freiberg, who succeeded Steigler as principal horn of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1932.
"There's no doubt that the Viennese ideals that Frani brought back with him are still maintained here," writes Markus Maskuniitty. "For instance, the fact that we play a good deal on the horn in F, whereas elsewhere in Europe they primarily use the B-flat horn. We go more for that dark, rounded sound and pay particular attention to the roundedness and softness of legato technique."
Esa-Pekka Salonen studied horn with Fransman, starting at age 11 and working up to the Oscar Franz Concert Études. He revered Fransman, hoping that one day he would be a great horn player, worthy of his teacher, and they remained close friends even after Salonen went on to become a conductor and composer. "When I was asked to write a piece for solo horn for the International Holger Fransman Memorial Competition (commissioned by the Lieksa Brass Week, Finland, July 2000)," writes Salonen, "I agreed right away. I decided to write my own Concert Étude, and thus create a little homage to my teacher, who in fact was like a grandfather to me. In this piece I treat the horn as a virtuoso instrument, capable of acrobatics as well as the idiomatic melodic expression. In a way, I wrote the piece for the great horn player I never became."
Another student was Olavi Vikman (1931-2006), a recipient of the IHS Punto Award in 2002.
Fransman wrote about the brass band tradition in Finland for Brass Bulletin and the Historic Brass Society Journal.
The Finnish Horn Club honored Holger Fransman with a "Maestro Del Corno" record that includes horn music arranged, conducted, and commissioned by Fransman. Fransman was the first Honorary Member of the Finnish Horn Club (1973). He was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1978.
Carl Geyer (1880-1973)
Carl Geyer hand-built horns in his Chicago shop. His distinctive horns, along with his repair service, made his shop the place to go for all instrument service. John Barrows remarked, "His horns embody the skill and inventiveness acquired over the years, the uncompromising integrity of workmanship, and above all, the element of concern and love that delineate the true creative genius."
Geyer was born in Germany in 1880 and became an apprentice instrument maker at age 15 in Markneukirchen, a town famous for its musical instrument industry. Geyer was an avid and award-winning bicyclist in Germany.
While working in a music store in 1903, he saw an advertisement in a Leipzig newspaper that Richard Wunderlich was seeking a horn maker because musicians in Chicago were forced to send their instruments to Germany for repairs. Geyer immigrated to the US and arrived in Chicago in 1904. He worked for Wunderlich until Wunderlich retired during World War I.
In 1920 Geyer opened his own workshop to help meet the great demand for American-made horns. His Chicago shop was widely known for both his distinctive horns and his repair service. In 1955, at age 75, he sold the business but continued working for the new owner until he was 90.
During this time, Geyer produced some of the finest horns in the world. His design was, and still is, copied by many makers and helped set one of the standards for modern horn crafting. With the Geyer wrap , the B-flat/F rotor is located after the three main valve rotors. The distinguishing feature of this design is that the B-flat change valve is aligned in the same plane as the primary valves, creating a much smoother transition between the two sides of the instrument.
One of the unique aspects of Geyer's genius was his ability to custom design a horn for the specific individual for whom he was building it. Geyer would appraise the individual's physical size and playing requirements, and then adjust the tapers, bell size, and metal thickness of the instrument to optimize the instrument to the players needs. He also designed and made many excellent mouthpieces for performers.
To quote Geyer, "I've made over 1400 horns. Each horn took between three or four weeks to make. I worked with brass and made the tubings just like a tailor would go out and get a bolt of cloth, then make a suit out of it." He never completed more than one instrument on a day, so he numbered his horns with the month, day, and year of completion.
Geyer was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1971.
Max Hess (1878-1975)
Max Hess played the obbligato horn part for the premiere of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, under the composer's direction, and he was the last living student of Friedrich Gumpert.
Hess was born in 1878 in Klingenthal, Saxony, Germany, the oldest of eleven children. His father wanted Hess to follow him into business, but Hess instead attended Leipzig Conservatory (1896-1899), studying with Gumpert. After graduation, he played first horn in the Rostock Opera for one season, performing an amazing number of operas, all on a single F horn and without an assistant. At one point, he played thirty-two nights in succession, including the entire Ring and Tristan und Isolde, plus sixteen rehearsals. The next year, he played first horn in the Cologne Opera. The following year, he won the first horn position in the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne, which included a teaching position at the Conservatory, where he stayed until 1905.
In 1905, Hess was offered positions at the Queen's Hall Orchestra, London and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He accepted the Boston job and was first horn until 1913, then, because of an accident to one of his front teeth, he moved to third horn until 1925. Also in Boston, he played the Mozart Quintet K407 in 1905 with the Hoffman Quartet and formed the Boston Symphonic Horn Quartet, which was active around the time of World War I.
In 1925, after having his broken tooth repaired, Hess moved to Cincinnati as first horn in the Cincinnati Symphony under Fritz Reiner and taught at the Cincinnati Conservatory. When he retired in 1938, he returned to Boston. He attended concerts at Symphony Hall and entertained horn sections of visiting orchestras. He was known throughout his life as one who enjoyed social life, fine restaurants, visiting with friends and (in his later life) his membership in Schlaraffia Bostonia.
Hess had a reputation as a very secure and accurate player. He started on hand horn, then played a single F Bopp until 1913 when he brought the first Alexander double horns to the US.
His recordings include a 1910 Edison cylinder of a cornet solo with horn quartet, a recording of a broadcast of Mozart's K447 with the Cincinnati Conservatory orchestra, and a private recording of the Strauss Concerto No. 1. While visiting Leipzig at age 91, he presented the Conservatory with a pair of new horns, and they gave him an inscribed medal with the likeness of Mendelssohn.
Hess was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1971.
Herbert Holtz (1894-1980)
Herbert Holtz devoted his life to music and teaching, and to his native Hartford CT. He is remembered as a gentle and modest man who was also a hornist of the highest quality. He came out of retirement to play the obbligato part in Mahler's Fifth Symphony.
At age 15, Holtz played trumpet in the governor's Foot Guard Band, but switched to horn because he was told the opportunities would be greater. He studied horn with Joseph Franzl, who traveled from New York to play with the Hartford Symphony (then called the Hartford Philharmonic).
A superb pianist, Holtz first earned his living playing for silent movies and teaching piano. Later he became principal horn in the Hartford, Springfield, and New Haven symphony orchestras. He was principal horn when the Harford Symphony Society launched the orchestra's first season in 1938, one of the musicians who offered their services gratis for a year to help the newly-formed orchestra get off the ground.
In the early 1940s, Holtz played extra horn with the Boston Symphony. He passed up an opportunity to play full time with the orchestra because he preferred his native Hartford. He taught horn at the Harford Conservatory and Hartt College and gave piano lessons into his retirement.
Holtz had a beautiful liquid tone, and his intonation, accuracy, and musicianship were always of the highest standards.
He retired from playing in 1967, but returned to play the obbligato part of Mahler's 5th Symphony with the Hartford Symphony - and impeccable performance and just months before his 74th birthday.
Holtz was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 1974. A tribute appears in the April 1981 issue of The Horn Call.
Anton Horner (1877-1971)
Anton Horner founded a distinctively American style of horn playing, and his impact is still with us today. He is credited with having introduced the double horn in the US and having introduced the use of an assistant first horn. He is quoted as saying, "God made some people Horn players; others are not so fortunate."
Horner was born in Austria in 1877; in 1885 he immigrated with his family to the US and settled in Philadelphia. His father was a violinist, and Horner studied violin with him from age 8 to 13. After his father died in 1890, the family returned to Austria. In 1891 he entered the Leipzig Conservatory as a violin student. At the insistence of his great uncle, Josef Semmler, a hornist and music teacher, he took on the horn as his second instrument, studying with Friedrich Gumpert. After a year, he made horn his primary instrument.
Horner returned to Philadelphia upon graduation in 1894 and worked in the Walnut Street Theater and various other jobs. In 1899 Victor Herbert appointed him first horn of the Pittsburgh Orchestra. In the 1900 summer season he played on a European tour with Pittsburgh, and in 1901 as first horn of the Sousa Band. In 1901 he was joined by his brother, Joseph (1882-1944), who had played the previous season as the original second horn of the new Philadelphia Orchestra.
Horner auditioned for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1902 and was appointed first horn by Fritz Scheel. He was joined again by his brother, who remained second horn until his retirement in 1938. Horner appeared as soloist with the orchestra a number of times; his last solo appearance was in 1928 in the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante. During his years with the Philadelphia Orchestra, he also played with a number of other chamber groups and orchestras, including the Bethlehem Bach Festival and the Baltimore Symphony's first series of concerts. Horner shared first horn duties during the 1929-30 season, and the following season moved to third horn, where he remained until his retirement in 1946.
Horner taught at the Curtis Institute of Music from its founding in 1924 until 1942, and his students (James Chambers, Marc Fischer, Mason Jones, Arthur and Harry Berv, and many others) have performed in orchestras worldwide. In the first years, the faculty played the principal parts in the school orchestra, so students heard and watched their teachers. Horner had his students stand in their lessons to aid breathing. He would sing rather than play to demonstrate, saving his embouchure for evening concerts.
While still at the Pittsburgh Symphony, Horner saw an advertisement for the Kruspe double horn and ordered one, beginning a long association with Kruspe. This first instrument was the Gumpert model double (designed by Edmund Gumpert, Friedrich's nephew). Starting in 1902, Horner had horns built to his specifications (the Horner Model), which he imported and sold until World War II. This design was copied by several other makers, the most notable being the Conn 8D.
Horner's major publication (still available today) is Primary Studies for the French Horn.
Horner was an original member of the IHS, and was elected an Honorary Member in 1971. A tribute appears in the May 1972 issue of The Horn Call and a reminiscence by one of his students in the April 1990 issue.
photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association Archives and John Collins