36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 023: My new Alexander French horn


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 23 — My new Alexander French horn
25-August-1971 (Wed.)

Alexander natural horns


The Day I bought my
new horn (Alexander F/B-M103) from The Gebr. Alexander himself at his shop.

I arrived at the station around 7:00. Ate breakfast and went for the horn. Alexander was actually a music studio, but they also made horns. I met
Herr Alexander (middle-aged) himself and he showed me what horns I could buy. Even though my embouchure wasn’t good, I finally narrowed it down (from 5) to 2 horns. I wasn’t exactly sure which horn would be best. A first horn player from a Portuguese symphony orchestra suggested one. And I, with my other conclusions, chose that one. I hope it’s a good horn.

The Dollar.

When I bought my horn ($600 total), it was a little more expensive than I expected. I think that’s because the dollar wasn’t worth as much anymore—(Nixon; Aug. 22).

With the cost of the train, altogether I am not sure that I saved too much money. However, at least I went there, and also because of the 10% surcharge, I know I saved some money.

Mainz. Walked around. Mainz is industrial and also very commercial. Just like the States. Not much for tourists to see.

Frankfurt. Was here in afternoon, to catch the train. Very big, modern, and crowded city. Also industrial and commercial. Reminds me of NYC [New York City]. There are a few things for tourists to see but not too much. A lot of American soldiers around. I didn’t like the city because it had no charm at all. Vienna has charm.

Left on train that night—couchette to Wien.


Buying my new horn. Yay! I’m now the proud owner of a brand-new Alexander French horn. $600—36 years ago. I hate to think of what a new horn costs today. Many thousands of dollars.

[My first horn! I still have it, though I haven’t played it in about 15 years. It’s all frozen up and has a couple of dents. If I get some extra money, I’ll fix it up and maybe find a community orchestra to play in. I should.]

Alexander horn shop
Gebr. Alexander, Mainz. I was excited. To actually go to the place where they manufactured the Alexander horns was a wow factor. I admit that I was surprised to find out that the shop was actually a small shop. They did have new horns hanging up in the store, you just took them down and played them.

I needed to get a second opinion on the horn and so who better to assist me than a first horn player from a Portuguese symphony orchestra. He was good. I have trouble with the high notes—that is the main reason I always blame my embouchure (the formation of your lips on the mouthpiece). I actually had "embouchure picture books" and special mouthpiece devices to try and fix this problem.

Meeting Mr. Alexander. It was also very exciting to meet Mr. Alexander himself. Gebr. is not his name, just a German corporate prefix (I think). Meeting Mr. Alexander was a special surprise. I don’t know enough about the history of Alexander French Horns to know if Mr. Alexander was the original horn maker, or one of the descendants of the original person. They still make and sell Alexander horns today. They are beautiful horns.

Alexander French horns
Alexander horns. Alexander horns are highly respected horns and can be found in many professional orchestras, especially in Europe. The model that I bought was a double F/Bb horn (the most standard type) with a detachable bell. It’s a great horn.

I played this horn during this year in Vienna. In later years, I played in community orchestras when I was a teacher, during my graduate work at both Indiana University and The Ohio State University, and afterwards as well. Once I became less involved with performance, the playing gradually died off. Now, I’m sorry. I really should pick it back up again. (Where’s the time?)

Whether you are at a Mahler concert or listening to a John Williams film score, you know that nothing beats the sound of a French horn section majestically pounding out a great horn line. Yes!

Back to reality.

The U.S. Dollar. It’s the story of my life. I do something and something a little bit bad happens next. Here it is I’m in Europe, studying, buying a horn, and trying to live modestly. What happens? President Nixon devalues the U.S. dollar on August 22, and I immediately lose a fair portion of my fellowship stipend. He couldn’t wait until August 1972. No, he said “John’s in Vienna, let’s stick it to him.” This caused me to struggle for a number of months. Rotary International finally came through and provided me an adjustment that helped later in the year. Thank goodness. Of course, this devaluation hurt me on the purchase price of my horn. The dollar was suddenly less valuable. If I bought the horn a week earlier, my dollar would have been worth more. Bad luck.

Frankfurt or Mainz bridge I believe
Mainz and Frankfurt. To be fair to both these cities, once again, I was not playing tourist and I didn’t spend a lot of time in either city. My remarks were more general, remarking that they appeared to be normal commercial/industrial cities. Take a walk in a thousand towns in the U.S. and you will say the same thing. I remember walking around and seeing some gardens and so there are certainly some tourist spots. Hopefully, I’ll post some pictures.

Charm. Yes, Vienna has it. Charm means "old." It’s those old palaces and buildings. Any city with commercial buildings (like New York) has less charm. My apologies to Frankfurt. I'll come back and be charmed.

Back to Vienna on the train with my new French horn. A great day!


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