Review: The Horns of Valhalla – Saga of the Reiter Brothers by Norman Schweickert


In a recent article where I featured a photo of hornist Xavier (Xaver) Reiter I noted that a new book was out by Norman Schweikert on the topic of the Reiter brothers. I have now had my copy of this book for several weeks and in short, for anyone interested in horn history this is a must-have publication.

The sales description from the publisher WindSong Press gives these introductory details to the topic.

The Reiter brothers, Josef and Xaver, were true heroes of the horn, having filled solo positions in the Munich Opera, other European orchestras in Sondershausen, Hannover, Karlsruhe and the Bayreuth Festival, before coming to America in the latter half of the 1880s. Here they were solo horns of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Symphony with Damrosch, Scheel’s Orchestra of San Francisco, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the first season of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and finally the New York Philharmonic with Gustav Mahler and Josef Stransky. They appeared as soloists with several of these orchestras. The older brother, Josef, returned to Munich and left us rather early in 1909, but Xaver, with his hair down to his shoulders, lived on in Valhalla, New York, until 1938, a real character to the end of his life!

The publication is over 200 pages long and is full of details on the careers of these important figures of the horn world. In the preface Schweikert explains that as a young professional hornist

…my plan was to write a history of professional horn players in the United States from Colonial times to the present. However, as the years went by and I became busy with my performing and teaching career, I did not pursue research on American hornists with quite the same vigor as before. After joining the Chicago Symphony in 1971, my interests expanded to collecting information on all American symphony and opera instrumentalists….

Moving ahead to 1985, Schweikert explains that he was contacted by Hans Pizka who was “asking for information about various horn players who had careers in the United States, including the Reiters.” This led to a second look at the information he had on the Reiters which soon led to extensive contact with the family including four of the children of Xaver.

As a result this new book, published in 2012, is full of interesting information based on interviews and extensive examination of memorabilia including “photograph albums, newspaper clippings, documents, and all of Josef’s surviving original compositions.” Picking just one quote to highlight from the book is difficult, but for some flavor I would offer this from page 106, from a 1922 concert review of a performance of the Brahms Trio in The New York Times.

The tone of the French horn when it is so finely played as it was by Mr. Reiter last evening mingles enchantingly with those of the other instruments and imparts a color and a character of great beauty; a color and a character for which Brahms’s music was most sympathetically conceived, not only in the first movement and the adagio, but equally in a more brilliant manner in the scherzo and the finale. Mr. Reiter’s feeling for the right balance of tone was unfailing. It is not every horn player who produces so beautiful a piano and pianissimo, who phrases so musically, who obtains so convincing a portamento.

The publication is well organized and a great read! Everything is documented extremely well, and clearly the Reiters were colorful and memorable people of our horn world. The book itself is bound and printed beautifully and is frankly a huge bargain at the price of $24.95 compared to all the effort and care taken to bring it to print.

Again, the link to purchase the book is here, and congratulations to Norman Schweikert and WindSong press for this very remarkable horn publication.

University of Horn Matters