Max Hess (1878 - 1975)

Max Hess in Boston, ca. 1914


Max Gustav Hess (1878 - 1975) was born March 1, 1878 in Klingenthal, Germany. He studied horn with Friedrich Gumpert at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1896 to 1899. Following those studies, Hess served as first horn with the Operas at Rostock and Frankfurt-am-Main, before joining the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne. It was with this orchestra that he performed the premier performance of the Fifth Symphony by Gustav Mahler, under the composer' direction on October 18, 1904.The symphony is a tour-de-force for the horn section and features the now well-known third movement (Scherzo) obligato for solo horn. Mahler said of it "The Scherzo is a devil of a movement! What a long and painful history awaits it!" At that time Hess was playing a single horn by August Bopp. A year later, Hess arrived in the United States on October 3, 1905 to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra by invitation. That first season with the BSO he again played Mahler's Fifth Symphony with the BSO in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, in February, 1906. Hess was still using the Bopp single horn which he continued to play until about 1913, when he changed to an Alexander double horn.
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 Muehldorfer conducting.
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 life.
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.


de La Grange, Henri-Louis, Gustav Mahler, Vienna: Triumph and Disillusion (1904-1907), Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1999

Larkey, Amy, "Gustav Heim and the Waldhorn Quartette", The Horn Call, v.VII, n.1, p.34ff, The International Horn Society, November, 1976

Meek, Harold, "In Memoriam, Max Gustav Hess...", The Horn Call, v.V, n.1, p.40ff, The International Horn Society, Autumn, 1974

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