Here’s what Mahler’s principal horn sounded like

We have stumbled across a recording – possibly the oldest of any professional horn player – by Emil Wipperich, principal horn of the Vienna Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic from 1882 to 1914.

This is the origin of the Vienna horn sound, close to what Mahler had in mind in his many horn solos.

Wipperich died in 1917.


Listen to him here.


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  • That is beautiful playing….presumably on a single Vienna horn in F, which makes it even more impressive….and the tuba sounds pretty impressive too. Thanks for unearthing this one, Norman!

    • Thanks for posting it here — it was ‘unearthed’ by the Polish site waltornia.pi in 2006. The site also has a very good page on Dennis Brain. Credit where it is due and all that.

    • This is the legendary Long Call from Siegfried, one of the pinnacles of the horn literature, and a fearsome monument on which even the greatest players risk all. It couldn’t be more exposed- there is absolutely nowhere to hide- and it goes up to written high C [sounding F, because the part is written in F]. It requires absolute precision at high speed in the highest register. Today, everywhere except in Austria, it is played on a double F/B-flat horn, or even on a triple F/B-flat/high F horn, because on the B-flat and high-F instruments the upper harmonics are better separated, and therefore there is [slightly] less chance of hitting the wrong note. In Vienna and the rest of Austria, however, it is the tradition and custom to play the “Vienna Horn”, which is a single instrument, usually pitched in low F, with valves which are constructed on a different principle. It is argued that this gives a less brassy tone, but in any case it contributes to the distinctive tone, for example, of the Vienna Philharmonic horns. [Look at the horns when you watch this year’s New Years concert, and you’ll notice they don’t look quite the same…]. Playing this call on a single F horn, of any construction, is NOT for the faint of heart. That is why I find it so inspiring. For a terrific performance on a modern double horn [an Alexander 103] by the outstanding Annamia Larsson, watch here:

  • Wow. I think many of us have a bias that things have just gotten better and better in terms of instrumental execution. This is extraordinary playing.

  • Am wondering if anything more is known about the authenticity of this recording. How was it “unearthed”? There are some who have searched for a very long time for a recording of Wipperich. Thanks. (And thanks for the clip of me playing Mahler…)

    • Folks, in case you don’t know, Bob Ward is principal horn with San Francisco. I like this video performance better than the commercial release on the S.F. Symphony’s own label.

  • What a great player! Even through the limitations of the early recording, you can hear the quality of his tone and phrasing.
    I am not educated in “the Vienna horn sound”, but it seems to me that any orchestra nowadays would be happy to nail Emil down to a contract!

  • Can’t be right about the date of 1879….only 2 years after Edison invented the phonograph? I don’t think sound of this quality even cleaned up could be this clear.

  • You sure about the date ? It was 1877 that Edison recorded ‘Mary had a little lamb’. Was there really that much improvement in sound quality in just two years ? And would the technology even have left the US so quickly.

    As am ex-horn player am interested in this, but can’t help being suspicious

    • It appears that this recording is from 1904:

      If the excerpt on Waltornia is indeed genuine, it has almost certainly been restored digitally. There is a remarkable amount of information in some of those ancient recordings; it is only recently that technology has allowed the retrieval of that information.

        • You make a fair point. Well, if the recording in question is not of Wipperich, it would be interesting to discover who it actually is.

  • That may be his horn, the instrument he played, but that sure as hell isn’t an authentic recording of the artist. 1879 is impossible. The only phonograph in existence was tinfoil recordings which this clearly is not (virtually none exist and none sound as good or even playable). Furthermore there is audience coughing and rustling and an ambience impossible on such a recording. You’ve been had.

  • This is a very interesting recording that pretty certainly does not date back as far as Wipperich’s time. The playing is excellent and it may have been done on a Vienna horn, but it was clearly made in the era of electrical recording, which started in 1924. Though acoustic discs and cylinders can be cleaned up and de-clicked, you can still tell that they were acoustic. This also was clearly made during a live performance, with either audience or stage-hand noises audible. The entry of Fafner on the tuba at the end further shows that it wasn’t made simply as a demo of the hornist’s playing. I know about Lionel Mapleson and his cylinder recordings made from the wings at the Met in the first decade of the 20th century, but this does not resemble them in any way. I have had several audio engineers who have decades of experience working with recordings dating back as far as the the earliest Edison efforts in the 19th century listen to this, since I would love for it to be the real thing despite my doubts, and they are unanimous in rejecting the possibility of it being recorded during Wipperich’s lifetime. I have tried to get some information from the horn player who maintains the website that has the audio on it, but have gotten no response.

  • I don’t get it. The video shows MTT conducting what is clearly NOT the Vienna Phil. That isn’t a Viennese single F horn either. It’s a double horn in the style of the Geyer horns used in Chicago. When I go to the link that says, “listen to him here” (Wipperich), I hear nothing. There are many, many examples of a Viennese single F horn on Youtube.

  • If you want to hear great playing on a Wiener single F horn, check out Roland Berger. He was the principal horn of the VPO when Solti made his “Ring” and other legendary opera recordings for Decca. He’s also on many of the Mahler videos with Bernstein. For my money, Berger was the ideal orchestral player. He played with guts, but barely ever made a ‘clam’.

  • If the year was 1904, the fidelity of those old cylinders might easily have captured the overtones of a solo instrument such as a horn or trumpet. Compare the Wipperich recording to the trumpet solo in this ‘Niebelungen March’ recorded by the Edison Military Band in 1906 (0:22 to 0:34 and again at 0:55) from the University of California Santa Barbara collection:

    …or the sound of Mischa Elman’s violin in the ‘Prize Song’ on this 1910 recording from the (US) Library of Congress collection (ignoring the surface static):

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