Hornmasters: Berv on Building Endurance

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Following up on the post from yesterday, I really do find the “response” of Harry Berv to The Art of French Horn Playing interesting. I would propose that most books written about the horn after 1956 are in one way or another a response to Farkas. Berv in his A Creative Approach to the French Horn feels that mouthpiece pressure has much to do with endurance. “The more you relax mouthpiece pressure, the greater your endurance will be.” To build endurance he suggests taking

…the eight Belloli Etudes and play them all in succession—resting when necessary, but not for too long a period. When finally, after days of practice, I am ready to play all eight etudes within a period of fifty minutes I know that I am ready for the heaviest orchestral playing. Another method of building up endurance is to play the Strauss First Concerto, for example, repeating it in its entirety without too much of a break. Eventually it should be possible to play it through four times…..

Always remember the more you relax mouthpiece pressure and tension the longer your endurance will be.

You will find that after you are able to repeat a solo many times, once or twice through will not tax your endurance at all. Once you have acquired strength and endurance, your overall playing will sound and be very secure. It is gratifying when you walk out on stage and you know you have more than sufficient strength for the performance.

Be forewarned: there are no easy routes to endurance. There is indeed only one—concentrated and intelligent practice with constant discipline and patience.

Sounds a little extreme at first—kind of the “tough guy” approach to building up the embouchure–but really, you need that kind of endurance to sell a full recital. Also, to offer a little more context, Berv also suggests never warming up over fifteen minutes with that including only ten minutes of actual playing. It wasn’t like he is suggesting dong the “heavy routine” out of the Singer book right before playing all eight Belloli etudes in a row! I have not tried it yet, actually I am taking some time off from playing for a change and I am working on a large writing project. More on that another day. But I would be curious to hear from anyone who had worked with Harry Berv directly, as to how closely his publication mirrors his teaching.

To offer brief background on his endurance, it must have been good! Berv performed under Toscanini in the NBC Symphony orchestra. The horn section was Arthur Berv, Principal, Jack Berv, Second, Harry Berv, Third, and Arturo Cerino, Fourth.

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