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My "horn heroes" – part I

In this series I will write about the horn-players that have consistently inspired me for several years. The ones that I keep returning to – whose recordings I somehow can't shake. Obviously there are others I admire as well, and I do believe that there is an element of chance in how one's heroes are selected.

My first horn-hero was Hermann Baumann. When I was a teenager, he was at the height of his recording days, and especially the series of recordings that he put out on the Phillips label looked incredibly stylish. These were my first encounters with Strauss Second Concerto, Weber Concertino, Saint-Saëns Morceau, and Glière Concerto. While I never had the opportunity to hear Baumann live, I played these records over and over. I even transferred them to tapes so I could play them (anytime, anywhere) on my "walkman".

I idolized Baumann; wondering if it was necessary to stop shaving right below the bottom lip in order to become a great horn player, trying to figure out how to do the multi-phonics that sounded so great in his Weber Concertino. The repertoire on those Phillips records became in my mind the undisputed core concerto repertoire – even the Dukas (which it took me longer to get into...) and the Chabrier.

At that time of my life, I don't believe I was listening in a very analytical manner. I was not necessarily judging Mr. Baumann's sound or phrasing but rather just taking it in. For that reason everything about these recordings seem "just right" to me. (Although I do remember being asked to write a review of a record for my high school paper and wanting to use the expression "mit geballtem Kraft" as something I wished for a little more of in Baumann's Strauss #1 – the review never got written...)

When I was a serious student of the horn, I was talking to my teacher about Hermann Baumann. He told me of how he had heard him play the Glière concerto in a live performance, except that he couldn't really hear him because he was not loud enough for the orchestra, and that he played most of the concerto "on his knees" ("He was probably nervous"). It made me a little sad to hear someone talk about my hero this way, but I realize that this was coming from one of his "peers" and a contemporary who most likely had some envy issues.

While I've had several envy issues of my own, they never extended as far as to Hermann Baumann – or my other horn heroes. And this is in a sense what makes them heroes: Accomplishments and artistry that somehow seems unattainable without inspiring envy.

When I revisit Baumann's recordings today, I find it's like coming home: It's the ideal horn sound of my formative years. The ease of production and the lightly singing style is still "just right" and of course his command of all aspects of the instrument is astonishing.

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