Horn History Update: The Real Story on Joseph Leitgeb

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A recent link on Facebook pointed me to a great article, “A Little Leitgeb Research” by Michael Lorenz. One thing I have been very aware of for years is that there is a lot that needs to be questioned in older sources of horn information. Lorenz moves the topic forward quite a ways with regard to Joseph Leitgeb. His article begins,

Owing to the wonderful pieces Mozart wrote for him, the hornist Joseph Leitgeb (1732-1811) ranks among the most widely known wind players of the classical era. And yet Leitgeb’s published biography is rife with gaps and misinformation which is not only caused by a number of misunderstandings and the scarcity of 18th-century sources, but possibly also by the fact that horn players not always make the best biographers of long deceased hornists.

Mozart-1-2-snipThe article is framed in such a way as to correct the many factual errors in the entry on Leutgeb written by Reginald Morley-Pegge in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Such as that New Grove has his first name wrong, the story about the cheese shop is a total myth, etc., backed up with great research from original source documents.

In preparing this article I sent the link to a trusted source and he had the same reaction as me, that the horn world needs real musicologists who can dig through libraries and archives to straighten out horn history. What makes it worse is that it is the New Grove article we are talking about and the author is an icon among horn historians. Morley-Pegge influenced many later sources, with for example the short article on Leutgeb in the IHS website at present repeating basically every factual error. People tend to take the words they read in sources as facts, but facts are facts and much published information in the older horn history literature needs corrected.

This portion of his concluding paragraph in particular gives important insight and general context.

Our modern day image of musicians as highly educated and well-read artists has little to do with orchestra musicians of Mozart’s time, who although ranking among the greatest virtuosi of their days, by no means were educated and highly cultured individuals. They much more resembled extremely skilled craftsmen, sometimes akin to savants, than what we nowadays consider musical artists. The general lack of education and the very limited writing skills of Viennese orchestra musicians, who in their level of education are comparable to excellent handymen, are the reason for the complete lack of contemporary reports and statements from a musician’s perspective on Mozart’s music. Viennese orchestra musicians rarely left handwritten personal documents and Leitgeb was no exception. This guy was a one-track specialist of horn playing who certainly excelled in no other skill such as cheese making. Mozart’s making fun of him may well have been related to Leitgeb’s complete lack of extramusical education.

Have things really changed? It could still be argued that many horn players more resemble “extremely skilled craftsmen,” and don’t strive to be much more than “a one-track specialist of horn playing.”

At the very end of the article Lorenz notes that “This blog post presents only a small fraction of my research on Mozart’s favorite horn player. A much more detailed publication will have to appear in print.” I for one very anxiously await that publication; so much horn history needs revisited, older sources such as Morley-Pegge and Fitzpatrick are seriously out of date and chock full of inaccuracies and simplifications. Again, read his article in full for much more (link below).

University of Horn Matters