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Friday, May 22, 2009

More about cousin Louis

I've already written about my cousin Louis who played French horn in the New York Philharmonic from 1917 to 1962,

but new information surfaces all the time. He was known to my family as Lui-Jean.

In the book "Philharmonic: A History of New York's Orchestra" by Howard Shanet (1975), I found the following photo...

The man sitting facing the camera with the French horn in the upper front left side of this historic photo really looks like it could be Louis. The photo of a recording session is dated from about 1925.

Here is a recording (Columbia A6070) made during one of the NY Philharmonic's first recording sessions in February of 1918. That would have been Louis' second year with the orchestra in the Principal horn seat. The French horns are featured in the Waltz of The Flowers from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker - perhaps the first time the classic work was ever recorded.

Louis would have played under some renowned (mostly European) Music Directors and guest conductors:

Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Willem Mengelberg, Bruno Walter, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir John Barbirolli, Fritz Reiner, Leonard Bernstein, Wilhelm Steinberg, Pierre Monteux, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski, Charles Munch, Max Rudolf, Georg Solti, Rafael Kubelik, Ernest Ansermet, Thomas Schippers, Serge Koussevitzky, Jean Morel, Hans Rosbaud, Karl Böhm, Skitch Henderson (aka "Mitch Miller," known for his popular TV program "Sing Along with Mitch"), a 26 year-old wunderkind named Seiji Ozawa in 1961, Nadia Boulanger in 1962, and composer-conductors Igor Stravinsky, Lukas Foss, Paul Hindemith, Carlos Chavez, and Aaron Copland. He also performed under guest conductor Lorin Maazel who returned in recent years as the NY Philharmonic Music Director, although Maazel will retire at the end of the current season.

Perhaps the most demanding and forward looking of these great conductors was Dimitri Mitropoulos. Mitropoulos was a champion of modern music, and put the NY Philharmonic on the map with world and American premieres of some seminal new works. One of his performances with the NY Philharmonic has been immortalized in a 1951 live recording at Carnegie Hall. It is of Alban Berg's opera "Wozzeck" and the orchestral song of "Erwartung" Op. 17 by Schoenberg. It was performed on April 12, 13th, and 15th, and recorded for Columbia Masterworks on LP. The recording has been digitally remastered and was recently reissued on Compact Disk (Sony MH2K 62759).

This particular recording of "Wozzeck" has been hailed by experts such as Milton Babbitt as the gold standard of performances. Echoing that sentiment, Tufts University composer and musicologist Mark DeVoto wrote in "The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera" (1993) "...this live concert recording remains, in its remarkable expressive and dramatic qualities, the standard against which all subsequent recordings must be measured."

Knowing most of the commercial recordings of Berg's fist opera that have been released, I agree with this assessment. I'm also proud that my cousin Louis participated in such a historic performance by playing Assistant First Horn. I will listen to it with new ears.

Here is an excerpt of the Berg recording from YouTube. It's the orchestral interlude of Act III (The Adagio at m320 on page 465 of the full orchestral score). You can clearly hear the four French horns of the NY Philharmonic play at 2'00" and 2'47" points in the video.

In a previous post on this blog you can find an audio link to a performance by the NY Philharmonic of Mahler with cousin Louis playing Das Lied von der Erde conducted by Bruno Walter. Louis joined the NY Philharmonic just a few years after Gustav Mahler resigned as Music Director and died from his heart ailment.

Louis would have also performed in the NY Philharmonic Mahler festival of 1959-60, which was led by Bernstein and Walter with the blessing of Alma Mahler and has been credited for launching the symphonies of Gustav into the foreground of public consciousness. Ever since then, Mahler has been an orchestral obsession and a mainstay of symphonic programming.

To conclude our sampling of musical examples, here is a fine recording of Toscanini conducting the Overture to Rossini's Semiramide at Carnegie Hall in 1936 with the NY Philharmonic. At 37 seconds into the recording the French horns have a beautiful solo, and it is said on the web (by Abbedd) that Louis Ricci is playing First horn. You can hear my cousin Lui-Jean's pitch-perfect high notes in this recording. (Other wind prinicpals are: John Amans, flute; Bruno Labate, oboe; Simeon Bellison, clarinet; Benjamin Kohon, bassoon; Harry Glantz, trumpet; Mario Falcone, trombone). It is scored for four horns in "D" but Abbedd has a note that Louis is performing with a horn in "A."

You can follow along with the music when the Andantino (section B) begins at 37 seconds into the recording. The first horn is playing the top line of the 4-voice texture.

Below is a clip from the NY Times announcing Louis' retirement from the NY Philharmonic after 45 years of service. It's dated 5/18/1962. His last official concert would have been with Leonard Bernstein conducting at Carnegie Hall on May 20th, 1962. On the program were works by Stravinsky: "Fireworks" Opus 4, "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra" (with Seymour Lipkin as the soloist) , and "Greeting Prelude." The Brahms Second Symphony in D Major ended the program.

Not surprisingly, Louis is a celebrity in the town of Cervinara (near Naples, Italy) where he was born. Below is a link to an web article by journalist Angelo Marchese summarizing his accomplishments. (scroll down to the bottom of the page).
Louis' brother Mario (who was also born in Cervinara) was also an excellent French hornist. Mario was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and lived in White Plains, NY with his wife Olga and children. There are many stories about Mario's visits with the family. Gunther Schuller, the American conductor, composer, and French hornist worked side-by-side with Mario in the orchestra pit for about 20 years.