The following biography is taken from the Memoriam to Mr. Hess by Harold Meek:
He was born in Klingenthal, Saxony (Germany), the oldest of eleven children. His father wanted him
to become a business man because he himself was a manufacturer and wished his eldest to follow the
same path. But young Max had other ambitions and won out in that difference of opinion. He
instead went to the Leipzig Conservatory on a scholarship from 1896-1899. There he was in the
horn class of Friedrich Gumpert, where, for his graduation recital in February 1899 he played the
First Strauss Concerto for horn and orchestra. This was to be the first of many occasions he
appeared as soloist. Following his graduation from the Conservatory he took the first horn
position at the Opera in Rostock where he remained one season, 1899-1900. The number of operas
he performed there is amazing, when we of today consider that they were played on a single F horn -
and without an assistant to help. His own diary records thirty-two nights in succession, orchestral
and opera which included the entire "Ring" and Tristan, plus sixteen rehearsals.
From Rostock he went to Frankfort-am-Main, again in the Opera as first horn where he again remained
one year, 1900-1901. But in the fall of 1901 he auditioned for the solo horn position in Cologne
and teacher in its Conservatory, against 14 or 15 other players. Hess won out, and was to remain
there until 1905. He again appeared as soloist in the First Strauss, on July 28, 1902, Wilhelm
After his first season in Cologne he returned to Leipzig to visit his old teacher, Gumpert. It was
at this time that Hess realized he had left Leipzig too soon after his graduation. Gumpert told
him only then that he had had plans for Hess to have become his successor in the Gewandhaus
Orchestra following his own retirement from there. However Hess, later in his life, expressed
satisfaction that he had not been offered that job for fear of possible criticism which might
have come about as a result of the teacher-pupil relationship between him and Gumpert.
In 1905, he was offered two positions, one in Queen's Hall Orchestra, London, the other in the
Boston Symphony Orchestra, both as first horn. He chose the latter and remained first horn from
1905 until 1913. Because of an accident to one of his front teeth he resigned as first horn and
instead played third horn in that orchestra until his final resignation in 1925. He played as
soloist with the Hoffman Quartet on November 28, 1905, performing the Mozart Horn Quintet; in
addition he formed the Boston Symphonic Horn Quartet which was active around World War I.
His reputation as a very secure and very accurate player followed him all his life. For many years
he played a Bopp, single F horn but later came to depend on a fine instrument he had built to his
specifications, a 5-valve B-flat by Schmidt. He played the Bopp horn until 1913 when he brought the
first Alexander double horn to the United States. At that time he gave one to Bruno Jaenicke (also
in the Boston Symphony as this time) and Janicke became an Alexander devotee, becoming the United
States agent for them.
Following repair to his broken tooth, in 1925 Hess went to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as
first horn with Fritz Reiner. Reiner thought very highly of him and autographed a photo to him
with praise for his many impeccable performances of the Beethoven Pastorale Sympnony.
This photograph remained a cherished possession.
During his thirteen years in Cincinnati he taught at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He also
greatly enjoyed the social life that city offered its artists, particularly the many fine
restaurants where he enjoyed taking his friends.
In 1938 he retired and returned to Boston. There was never a visiting orchestra in the city when
Max did not wine and dine its horn section. Nor was there ever a "heavy" horn program of
the Boston Symphony when he was not in attendance in Symphony Hall. People and the horn were his
The Fifth Symphony of Mahler had it's first performance in Cologne with Hess playing the
obligato horn part under the composer's direction. Many other "firsts" dotted his
career. His recordings include a 1910 Edison cylinder of "Post in the Forest", a cornet solo with
horn quartet, a recording of a broadcast of Mozart K. 447 with the Cincinnati Conservatory of
Music orchestra, and a private recording of the Strauss First Concerto. At the age of 91 he
made his farewell trip to Germany following the death of his second wife. His first wife had died
three weeks following the birth of their only child, Lydia. He was playing the "Liebestod"
from Tristan und Isolde the night his wife died. While in Leipzig this time he presented the
Conservatory a new pair of horns, and they in turn gave him an inscribed medal with the likeness
of Mendelssohn on it.