Soft-spoken horn legend dies at 83

Soft-spoken horn legend dies at 83


norman lebrecht

July 09, 2020

Michael Hatfield, principal horn of the Cincinnati Symphony for 23 years and professor of horn at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, has died. A grateful student calls him ‘one of the finest gentlemen many of us have known’.


  • John Birge says:

    Mike was my teacher for three years in Cincinnati, and his considerable musicality was exceeded only by his humility and kindness. A true Mensch. Thank you for letting the world know about his gifts. Now go listen to him play Till Eulenspiegel w/ Schippers.

  • Rafael Enrique Irizarry says:

    I studied under Mr. Hatfield while getting my MM as a Performance Major in Indiana University. Had five teachers in four semesters, evidently not an ideal situation as I did not choose to do that and I do not think four consecutive teachers had any reason to dismiss me (hopefully?) Mr. Farkas had retired and there was an upheaval at the School of Music. I was not the best student Mr. Hatfield ever had, but I can certainly offer the highest possible praises to his teaching abilities. He was indeed a gentleman and I am absolutely confident that all his students and colleagues feel the same way.

  • Martha McQuaid says:

    For three years I was privileged to study with Mr. Hatfield. In later years, even after he asked me to call him Mike, I always respectfully addressed him as Mr. Hatfield. Hearing him play regularly with the Cincinnati Symphony, along my weekly lessons, was a great learning experience that prepared me for the career that lay ahead. The bigger lesson, and what I will remember the most about him, was the example he set of how to be a good person. He will always be remembered with loving gratitude.

  • Steven Gross says:

    Michael Hatfield (1936 – 2020)
    –Steven Gross

    The horn world has lost one of its leading figures in the passing of Mike Hatfield. He was a giant in our field. For me, I lost a teacher and mentor of 46 years. He was a second father to me, a feeling I’m sure others have had. I was privileged to be his colleague at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory for 8 years, and he helped me onsite to produce one of my solo and orchestra recordings. My son Mike, now 31, is named for him.

    The key to his tremendous impact was not only in his command of and knowledge of the horn, in all of its technical and musical aspects. It was also in his remarkable modesty and humility. For example, Michael Hatfield didn’t want a memorial service. It was typical of the man. “Why should anyone go out of his way for me,” was no doubt his thinking. Those who studied with him not only gained knowledge and improved. Rather, they often were in awe at how encouraging he was, and how he taught in such a positive way.

    Michael Hatfield’s performing career encompassed major positions as principal horn of the Cincinnati Symphony, assistant first and third horn in the Indianapolis Symphony, and summer posts in the Aspen Music School, Grand Teton Music Festival, and the Santa Fe Opera. He was twice a featured artist at International Horn Society Workshops.

    His most outstanding impact was as a teacher and mentor. While he was playing full-time principal horn with the Cincinnati Symphony, quite a few students studied with him at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he was also Chair of the Woodwinds, Brass and Percussion Department. Later, at Indiana University, he taught many others as Professor of Horn, and he additionally assumed the position of Chair of the Brass Department. Not least were those he taught during summers at Aspen, as well as at many horn workshops and symposia over the decades. His students occupied leading positions in orchestras, military bands, university professorships, chamber music ensembles, secondary and elementary schools, and other venues. This was recognized by the International Horn Society, who awarded him the Punto Award and elected him an Honorary Member.

    His encyclopedic knowledge of the horn reflected only one of the ways he taught. Often, he asked questions in order to stimulate a student’s thinking. I remember one of my first lessons with him, when he asked me how I thought I should phrase a certain passage in a Mahler symphony. I was dumbfounded – he was helping me understand music in a way that was broadening and thought-provoking. And, he was generous with his time. Students facing auditions had a selfless donation of his efforts outside of scheduled times. Plus, he taught extra lessons to help other teachers.

    In my life, Mike was a presence that I knew I could always rely on for continuous and rock-solid support and encouragement. He provided counsel and care for me in some of the darkest periods of my life. Such relationships are exceptional. I was not the only one who benefitted. There are reports of Mike going considerably out of his way to help people, including financial gifts, usually on an anonymous basis. He personally helped one individual I am aware of, who was in dire circumstances, to check into a hospital.
    Mike’s character displayed humor and understanding.

    Living in the frozen Midwest, he patiently put up with my Christmas calls, which I initiated after assuming my present position (since 1995) at the beachside campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. So, I asked, how is the swimming today? Any ice floes? Our diametrically opposed daily schedules were also a source of amusement. Upon occasion, I finished working at 3 am and called him, which was 6 am his time. Both of us were wide awake.

    Michael Hatfield had an acute and in-depth mind and ability to communicate concepts in a straightforward, positive and understandable way. It was sometimes accompanied by a wry sense of humor, for instance wondering about a specific individual who was fixated on using a certain valve. Mike quizzically, and quietly, wondered if this person should solder the valve in place.

    Importantly, he also thought about philosophical concepts at a deep level. When an orchestra he played in had experienced administrative and leadership disarray, he had the courage to volunteer to speak directly to the Board of Directors. He did so in a way that was straightforward and informed, but civil and reasoned. When important, he could incisively evaluate the moral and ethical concepts undergirding orchestra procedures, as well as at the university.

    With conductors and their ilk, he was wise and resourceful. When asked by a Music Director about firing members of the horn section, Mike politely referred to other ways to improve the orchestra. And, when this conductor told the horns they were too loud during a rehearsal, Mike and the section put their horns into playing position – and didn’t make a sound. The conductor went back into the audience seats to listen and was absolutely delighted at how well the horns supposedly followed his insightful and valuable (?) instructions.

    Michael Hatfield was a gentleman in the best sense of the word. While he could be visibly flustered and upset, he did not lose control of his emotions, and his language was always reasoned and temperate. I remember when, after hearing someone utter a string of profanities (not at him), he drily remarked that he wasn’t offended, since once upon a time or other he heard those words before. The very worst I ever heard him say about someone else was that this person’s antics had prompted some “sniggers and guffaws.” He could not be provoked into making personal attacks, and his relationships with people were considered and fair.

    Godspeed, Mr. Hatfield. You leave a large vacancy in our horn playing and lives. I’m sure there was a large crowd to meet you on the other side.

  • Steven Gross says:

    A correction – the sentence “Mike’s character displayed humor and understanding.” should start a new paragraph, instead of “Living in the frozen Midwest.” Thank you.

  • Asa Fradkin says:

    I studied with Mr Hatfield from 1999-2001. One of the kindest souls you will ever meet on this earth. May his memory be for a blessing