Orchestral notes: the legacy of the Berv brothers part II: reminiscences from Ken Berv and Louis Denaro.
Part II, based on information from Ken Berv, the son of Jack Berv, and Louis Denaro, a student of Jack Berv, recounts more about the lives and careers of these gifted brothers.
An interview with Harry Berv from the July/August 1998 issue of Allegro, the newspaper of Local 802, American Federation of Musicians (New York) is appended.
From Ken Berv Early Days
Samuel Berv came from Borovik, outside Slonim, between Minsk and Pinsk in Belarus, to Warsaw, on his way west to escape being either recruited as a soldier or becoming a victim of a pogrom. He was a Talmudic scholar in a long line of the same dating back to Vilna in the 18th century, and he claimed to be a relative of the leader of Judaism, Vilna Gaon. When Samuel arrived in Warsaw in the early twentieth century, he met and courted Pearl Newmark, the daughter and sister of a successful family of electrical engineers. She was cultured and assimilated and loved opera. Apparently, although she did not play an instrument or study singing, she "knew all the operas," and could sing many of the parts by ear. Samuel was a dash ing, handsome young man with goatee and mustache, and he convinced Pearl to marry him instead of her previous fiance, celebrated author Sholem Asch.
Their first child, Henry, was born around 1904. He became a fine violinist, and in his teens was the first violinist of a quartet with his younger brother Jack, who at age 12 was already playing cello. They won a competition in Philadelphia in 1920, beating a string quartet from the Philadelphia Orchestra.
When the four brothers traveled to Europe in the 1930s to shop and procure Kruspe horns, Henry met and subsequently married a Parisian and lived there until the war, when he rented a farm in Darien CT and claimed to have played briefly in the NBC Symphony. He moved back to Paris after the war and became an eminent luthier. Among his patrons were cellists Leonard Rose, Jules Eskin, and Ralph Kirshbaum. When he retired, he moved to Lourdes as his wife had tubercular meningitis, and with a marked change in fortune, they lived in a convent. He had a friend who was an organist with whom he played violin recitals well into his 80s, traveling in the Pyrenees. He died in the early 1990s.
Arthur was born in Warsaw in about 1906, and Jack in 1908. The family moved soon after that to New Brunswick, New Jersey. Although their last name was originally "Borovokunkin" (i.e. "coming from Borovik"), when they came through Ellis Island the family history tale was that the immigration officer said the name was too long, and thus it became Berv. "Borovik" is a kind of mushroom that grows on the side of large trees, and was not an uncommon name for villages outside cities in Poland.
Harry, born in 1911 in New Brunswick, was subject to respiratory problems and their doctor advised the family to move to the Midwest for "clean air." Since Samuel had a distant relative in Chisholm Minnesota, a town located in the Mesabi Iron Range, they family moved there. Samuel opened a small variety store and also worked as a ritual slaughterer (shochet). Although he and Pearl were not musicians, their four young boys showed precocious musical talent, and the music school teacher in their public elementary school noted those gifts and started Henry on violin, Arthur on trumpet, Jack on cello, and Harry on piano.
When Jack was young, he was so attracted to the sounds from a peripatetic organ grinder that he followed him, becoming lost, but was taken to the local police station and then home. The owners of the Iron Range provided well for the town and the schools, so the brothers had access to good quality musical instruments in the school music program.
Recognizing this precocious talent of his sons, Samuel moved the family back to Philadelphia, which was considered the center for classical music at the time. Their children continued their education and were quite successful as musicians, even in their teens.
Arthur switched to horn at age 14 or 15 and studied with Anton Horner, principal hornist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was so quick a study that he soon became Horner's assistant in the Philadelphia Orchestra when he was about 16 years old. Since Horner was thinking about leaving the principal position, and the Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Leopold Stokowski loved Arthur's sound and artistry, Arthur was sent to play in the Cleveland Orchestra under the leadership of Nicolai Sokoloff to gain experience before returning as co-principal in Philadelphia in 1922. He was later appointed principal horn in the Philadelphia Orchestra during the late 1920s where he remained until 1937. When Stokowski left for Hollywood and became involved in his work in the production of the Disney feature film Fantasia, Eugene Ormandy took over the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Arthur, who did not like Ormandy ("He was a phony") was offered a change in salary from $5,000 in Philadelphia to $20,000 a year to play in the newly-formed NBC Symphony, so he left to begin the second season of the NBC under Toscanini, having never attended music school.
At the same time, Jack was doing well on cello, and began to get jobs playing in orchestras for silent films. He played the Bruch's Kol Nidre at the intermission of the premier of the first film version of Ten Commandments in Philadelphia at age 12 and during the 1920s; he played chamber music, many different free-lance jobs, and silent film gigs.
Harry used to say he started horn in high school to avoid an English class, but it is uncertain what he did during the 1920s, although he continued studying piano and horn.
Jack and Harry attend Curtis
During the economic depression of the 1920s, Jack and Harry decided to emulate the success of their older brother on horn, so they auditioned for the Curtis Institute. Jack was also bothered by scoliosis when he played cello. Jack claimed he had some experience with brass instruments, as "there was always a trumpet or horn around the house growing up." However he also stated sincerely that he only studied horn seriously for six months before auditioning for the Curtis Institute and that, although he did well auditioning on horn, he could not play the B natural transposition horn part from the Brahms Second Symphony. While the committee wanted to reject him, William Kincaid, the renowned Principal Flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra stated, "This man plays so beautifully, if he could read this part he would not need to come to Curtis," so he was accepted. Both Jack and Harry attended Curtis from 1933 to 1935 while the eminent pianist Josef Hofmann was President of the school. Other renowned faculty at that time included Fritz Kreisler, while the student librarian was Samuel Barber.
The New York Years
When the brothers finished school, they occasionally played extra in the Philadelphia Orchestra horn section. However, they decided to move to New York City and took many auditions. Among these auditions was one for Eugene Ormandy, where they were ushered into a room without him, and asked to play excerpts. They heard a toilet flush, and then they heard Ormandy's voice saying, "That will be all, gentlemen."
Jack played in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra when it first opened, playing three shows a day and five shows on weekends. As a result, he lost 35 pounds, and quit after several months. After much frustration, at some point he and Arthur asked Arthur's friend Harry Glantz (at that time the principal trumpet in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra) what they should do, including asking him if they should they look for another career. He advised them to play for his teacher, Max Schlossberg, the acknowledged dean of brass players in the USA at that time. Schlossberg told them, "Keep playing--you boys will have a great future!"
They had auditioned for the newly forming NBC Symphony, but were told they were "too young and inexperienced," by Samuel Chotzinoff, who was in charge of auditions. The horn section of the Metropolitan Opera was used for the first season; however, Toscanini was dissatisfied with the Met horns. When Jack and Harry were hired to perform a few concerts with them on Wagner Tubas, the Maestro liked their playing and requested they join the orchestra. When Arthur became available, the three brothers became the mainstays of the section. Their first concert in October 1938 featured a performance of the Haydn "Horn Signal" Symphony, a performance that used to be available as an off-the-air recording on CD. They performed that piece on the nickel silver Kruspes they had purchased a few years before in Erfurt and received wonderful reviews.
Toscanini, whom they called "The Maestro," as did many who played for him, was infamous for his rage and terrible style of berating the musicians. When asked why he never yelled at the horns, he replied, "They are three brothers, they walk on together, they walk off together--I don't want to tangle with them."
They remained with the NBC Symphony with Arthur principal, Jack second, and Harry third until Toscanini retired in 1954, and continued to play for a few years in the reorganized orchestra without conductor that was known as Symphony of the Air.
The Conn 8D
With their success and celebrity in 1938, the brothers were asked by the Conn Corporation to develop a new horn and, as Arthur was very busy, Harry and Jack went to Elkhart, Indiana with a silver Kruspe, and helped advise the Conn Corporation in the development of the 8D. They were offered either a royalty on every Conn that was sold, or two new horns. Jack used to say, "When we saw those beautiful horns, we each took two. What a mistake!"
Free-lancing in New York
Although Arthur was offered the principal position with the Boston Symphony in 1954, he decided not to move and instead stayed in New York. He and Jack remained on the NBC staff and played in the original Tonight Show with Steve Allen and music director Skitch Henderson. The three brothers became studio musicians in NYC and played Broadway shows and high-profile recording engagements, including the sound track for the films done in the new technique "Cinerama" with music by composer Dmitri Tiomkin, and for the TV series Victory at Sea, with a soundtrack by Richard Rogers.
The original Star Trek TV theme also featured Arthur and Harry, and they can still be heard on every re-run of that series. During this time, Harry played some jobs and recordings with Frank Sinatra. Apparently the Bervs had many, if not most of the freelance horn gigs in the 1950s and 1960s, even into the early 1970s.They were usually hired as a threesome, and if a fourth was needed, it was often James Chambers, "who had the biggest sound I ever heard," said Jack--although not necessarily in a complimentary way. They were featured on the CBS network television program Omnibus in a horn demonstration, and also were in another Omnibus episode with Leonard Bernstein discussing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony that included a shot of Arthur standing on a huge score on the floor and playing the introductory motive.
Teaching Positions and Musical Influences
Arthur began teaching at Manhattan Music School, Harry at Juilliard, and Jack taught privately during the 1960s at Yale. Harry, from some time in the fifties into the late 1960s or early 1970s, commuted by train to the Montreal Conservatory where he was a Professor of Horn. At one time in the 1960s, Harry played the Strauss First Concerto with the Montreal Orchestra. [At this time, Harry was also commuting frequently to Nashville, where he played numerous recording sessions, including the jingle for Ajax Cleanser ("Stronger Than Dirt!" featuring a prominent horn theme. RC)]
Harry and Arthur regarded Jack as a supreme arbiter on musicianship, perhaps due to his cello background, and they often consulted him about phrasing and other musical issues. Harry came a few times to Jack's house before performing in Montreal to play the Strauss Concerto to consult with Jack and get his suggestions.
Jack founded a youth orchestra on Long Island near where he lived in Oceanside, an ensemble that was quite popular and successful. He also participated in summer music festivals as a coach and teacher in the US and Canada. Jack used to say that "hearing a C major scale" was all he really needed to assess an auditioner's ability, experience, and placement in a section. Arthur died in 1992, Jack in 1994, and Harry passed away at age 95 in 2006.
The Berv Legacy
What made these brothers very special, if not unique, was not just their dominance in the New York horn world, but a special combination of accuracy, technique, sound, (the "Berv" sound), musicality, and an ability to intuitively blend and help each other as needed. The sound was not "big" or "booming," words often used today to refer to the New York 8D tone. On the contrary, it was of a medium size but also complex with all the harmonics of the wide bore Conn and a flexibility of sound, which varied according to the key and the music.
Aside from the standard long tones, scales, and traditional etudes (Kopprasch, Kling, Gallay, Bellolli, Maxime Alphonse), they did not use the lip strenuous "weight-lifting" exercises so prevalent today. Whatever repertoire they were playing on a concert, they would find an etude or musical passage that would reinforce the relevant and required techniques. I wonder whether that may have been what contributed to the musicality of their performances. Even their practice sessions were expressive and musical, rather than concentrating on lip strength and technique.
Jack played with an "old-fashioned" moderate einsetzen embouchure, which, later in his life, he felt may have handicapped him in the upper register. This embouchure may have indeed have been useful in playing wide intervals and likely was responsible for his cello-like tone and expressivity. Both Arthur and Harry used the more common two-thirds upper lip, one third lower lip embouchure setting.
Harry had the most amazingly smooth sound I have ever heard--it was like running your hands over the finest satin and his feel for the music and expression was individual yet in the best taste.
While many performers now seem more concerned with getting the notes and the tempi correct, the Berv brothers always had the artistry and expressivity of the great string players, and the 8D allowed this flexibility.
I wonder whether growing up with Henry, a fine violinist, and Jack as a cellist, expanded the brothers' concept of brass playing. And perhaps that was one of the things Toscanini liked so much. In his letters, he writes (paraphrasing) in the spring of 1938, after a season with the Berv brothers (replacing the Met section), "I am so happy with the orchestra now, the horns are so much better." Many contemporary instruments, although a bit easier to articulate and play accurately, do not allow for that level of expression.
Jack's sound was larger than Arthur's and he expressed that it was for him in some ways easier to play with Albert Stagliano, who subbed for Arthur when he (Arthur) was in the Air Force Band in London, stationed there during the Blitz. Jack felt that Stagliano's sound was closer to his own in size. During WWII, Jack was also in the Air Force Band that was stationed at Bradley Field and later at Mitchell Field. A fellow band member was Martin Morris, who took lessons with Jack, and became second horn in the Cleveland Orchestra.
However, Arthur often spoke of how Jack was "the best second horn player" he ever worked with. For a player to have Jack's security, ability, and desire to listen and blend, as well as the desire to be supportive in the best sense, was of immense help to the principal player. Jack's ability to play interval studies and passages, in particular second horn duet parts with rapid intervals, was superhuman and thrilling. Jack, although a second horn player, had a wonderful high register when younger, and used to warm up at engagements starting with a very soft high C, partially to show off. At auditions, he would take the horn out of the case, and begin his warm-up right away with the opening excerpt of Heldenleben, which was a specialty of his. A music lover came up to him in the 1950s at a Tonight Show performance and told him that Jack's performance of the Brahms Trio that he had heard while Jack was a student at Curtis was the most memorable musical experience of his life. However, perhaps because he started playing the horn so late, Jack felt he did not have the endurance to practice and then play rehearsals and concerts, so when he was an active performer he did not practice much.
Arthur and Harry were quite different from Jack, as Arthur used to get up at 5 a.m. daily to play long tones, warm up, and walk the two Labs. Harry practiced all the time. In fact, an anecdote from one of his students about learning transposition was that Harry could take out a Maxime Alphonse Etude, and read it through, transposing each line in a different key as he did so. A current New York player said that as a teen he was in Giardinelli's music store trying out Conn 8Ds, and an older man started trying them too, playing the first and third parts of the Horn Signal Symphony, beautifully and perfectly. The student was bowled over. He said it was his first acquaintance with the name Harry Berv.
All three brothers were greatly loved and admired by their students, and many former students have shared stories about how generous they were with students who could not afford private lessons.
Jack also spoke of the wonderful lightness of their teacher Anton Horner's playing, which was mostly on the F side of the horn, of how Jack surreptitiously tried Mozart's clavichord in Salzburg, and how that affected his concept of lightness in all Mozart, and especially the concertos. The ability to use varied articulation as part of musical expression, and the clarity of such even on the 8D, was a feature of their playing. Rainer De Intinis, former third hornist of the New York Philharmonic once told me that the "young players all regarded Arthur as 'The King.'" When I said, "Yeah, he could play the Carnival of Venice on the horn," De Intinis said, "No, that's not what they were referring to; any kid can play that stuff now--it was his use of articulation and artistry that they worshipped."
From Louis Denaro
I started lessons with Jack Berv in the fourth grade and studied with him through high school (with one year off as he toured to lecture on Toscanini). The Berv family was well known in Oceanside School #8: Jack had substituted for our regular music teacher who had gone on sabbatical the year before and his wife taught in a classroom across from my homeroom (I was always more afraid of Mrs. Berv than Jack because I knew that Jack might get upset if I didn't practice but I learned the hard way that you could really get yourself in trouble teasing those girls across the hall in his wife's class). The school gave me a half scholarship and it was decided that I would carpool with faculty to my first lesson in the Berv home at the edge of town. After that he would come out to our house and we would set up in a back room while my family ate dinner. I believe the cost to my parents was $5 for every other half hour lesson (I remember the amount because I once attempted to pay him with rolls of pennies, nickels, and dimes) before transitioning full time to one hour lessons at a studio on the side of Jack's home that was filled with antique tin toys, music, horns, photos, and memorabili00a.
Even though Jack's playing days were over (he still taught privately and conducted the Nassau County Youth Orchestra), it was always impressed on me that I was on a very good path studying with him because of his ties to Toscanini's horn section --this was no small deal to my Italian-born parents who had just purchased an NBC Beethoven Symphony No. 9 recording for my birthday gift (I immediately recognized the second movement as the music from NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report).
Lessons and Development
Our first lessons were on rudiments--scales, long tones, and tunes; most material was played slowly with an emphasis on longer notes being held for their full values and also employment of a hammer-like tongue action for the shorter notes. When I started playing the double horn, I learned the Bb fingerings by playing the C Major scale three times daily on the Bb horn;' once these were learned and absorbed, Jack taught me to play mostly on the F side in the middle and lower registers but to use the Bb side on everything above second space a" and between low f through c# below the treble staff (as well as the corresponding pedal notes an octave below).
As time went on, he suggested fingerings that could be easily swapped about to suit the occasion on either side of the horn. Berv played a lot of low horn and was a great believer in using the B fingering for the low f beneath the staff throughout his playing career. By the time I was in middle school, my lessons included Pares scales, etudes, excerpts, and a solo piece.
Throughout our entire time together, Jack didn't stress things you might find via Caruso-type calisthenics or Breathing Gyms or even some of the development exercises in the Farkas book. In many ways his approach could be categorized as "If it ain't broke don't fix it." I found that methodology I acquired independently such as published breathing routines might get him really angry: "Stop that nonsense, ignore that crazy stuff they use to sell books and breathe in and out like a normal person." He preferred to disregard lip trills altogether, emphatically stating "My brother left the lip trills out of [whichever piece] and the next day the newspaper critic publicly stated he was glad he left them out because he didn't like them in there anyway!"
We never really worked on my embouchure--if he focused on the position of my lips at all he seemed more concerned with training me to breathe through my mouth by means of stretching the corners and snapping them tight. Real development was more about the fundamental aspects of playing: scales, long tones, etudes, and excerpts. I suppose he thought that enough technique would be attained by getting through all that Kopprasch, (and later Kling, Gallay, and Belloli) or via mastering the classic solos and excerpts (arpeggios via the Beethoven Sonata, lower octave intervals via the Schubert Octet). The advanced lessons were more about coaching and covering material with Jack listening for musicality and complementing mechanics that I handled correctly, while correcting things I was doing wrong.
Sometimes he would employ an "old school" tough love approach, telling me that I sounded like a trombone when I played crassly, or reminding me that he was a pro who had better things to do with his time if he felt that I hadn't practiced enough. On the other hand, if I did things correctly, I was told that I was "Philharmonic material" or my performance was "superior" (I think he got that phrase from his military service).
Excerpts and intervallic transposition were usually the biggest components of lessons. It took us four years of weekly lessons to work through the Gumbert Southern Music Company excerpt books. Jack edited and changed the written material to rework tempi and phrasing, sometimes exaggerating tenutos and staccatos (even on occasion swapping one for the other) and overstating dynamic contrasts in order to make a phrase come to life (he completely rewrote the solo in Rossini's Barber of Seville in this way).
Jack always tried to provide perspective when drilling excerpts. I remember being told to memorize the small but memorable horn solo in the Flotow opera overture to Marta because its deceptive transposition might trip me up later in life (to his credit, 20 years later I was able to nail it first time out sans rehearsal but have since witnessed three conservatory-trained colleagues flub this very same passage in live performance). Of course the famous excerpts and passages such as von Weber's Oberon and the solo passages in Liszt's Les Preludes had to be memorized as a matter of course, but more work might be involved in memorizing the William Tell excerpts in their entirety. He would advise me to play them through the first time on the open F horn with second valve depressed to gain the concept of how it was originally performed and then play it again with standard fingerings.
Anything involving multiple horns (Semiramide, Les Preludes, the Wagner operas) involved learning all the parts with Jack possibly reworking phrasing where necessary or providing analogies to convey performance details. For example, he felt that the attacks in the breakout parts in the Meistersinger quartet should resemble "elves beating little hammers on tiny anvils!" Musical settings were often emphasized. I particularly remember him describing the anxiety involved with the interminable wait before the B Minor Mass solo horn entrance and recalling the sublime beauty of the string texture during the moment when the Berv horn section set up their entrance in the Prelude to Lohengrin (that may also have been just have been another cello story, since Jack started on cello and was still fond of the instrument).
I'm sure Jack valued his years of actually performing this repertoire for a living and saw coaching as a priority in which context was everything, whether it involved matters that were personal, musical, or practical (and sometimes spiritual).
Context also applied to learning the solo literature. Jack had visited Mozart's home/museum and played his keyboard (and gotten in trouble for doing so) and insisted that a light touch akin to this particular instrument was always required in playing the Mozart Concerti. In regards to the solo literature, we tackled music in this order: Mozart Concerti 1, 3, 2, 4, Mozart Horn Quintet, Beethoven Horn Quintet, Strauss 1, Beethoven Horn Sonata, Strauss 2, Gliere--and that was it! I may have queried him about the two Haydns and stuff on Dennis Brain records, but these he deemed to be relatively in significant. Solo pieces that regularly get performed at conferences (such as Bozza's En Foret) were never even mentioned. I don't think this was due to an agenda toward a particular school or repertoire, Jack certainly admired Dennis Brain (who recorded in something Jack referred to as "the steel barn") and Barry Tuckwell and could speak at length of Valery Polekh's legacy (he mentioned his "sax-like vibrato and playing principal in several orchestras at once" as well as Gliere composing his Horn Concerto for Polekh who assisted with writing the cadenza), but the truth is that Jack was Horner schooled and Toscanini driven and so I suppose he didn't feel that repertoire that he or his brothers hadn't been asked to play (such as the Mahler Symphonies) was really very important.
In lessons, Jack spent time reminiscing about the NBC Symphony, relating musical hijinks such as the time a pedal note wouldn't speak and Polisi took the note on his bassoon hoping that the Maestro would neither notice nor care (they got away with it). Later on I pressed him on the musical legacies of others, and Jack had only had positive things to say about people like Sol Goodman, Bill Bell, Nat Prager, Bill Vacchiano, and especially Harry Glantz and (surprisingly) Doc Severinsen. But mostly it was Toscanini stories--he described the infamous Szell rehearsal in vivid detail (taking pains to relate Toscanini pacing in the gallery and the eventual confrontation along with the exact words "You are ruining my orchestra") and the idea that Toscanini (first i short as in "ninny") didn't interfere with the horns too much and would barely glance in their direction and immediately look the other way after cueing them in rehearsals and performances.
Other stories concerned the greatness of conductor Guido Cantelli and how no one had the fortitude to tell the Maestro that his beloved pupil had been killed in a plane crash. Jack also thought highly of Stokowski, and that George Szell was an extreme taskmaster. Jack was happy to talk about other facets of his career such as playing in the service band during World War II ("We enlisted because we figured it would be better to blow our brains out in the band as opposed to having our brains blown out in the infantry," the agonies of blending with saxes ("horns and saxophones should never be allowed to play in unison ... they don't blend ... the saxophone is a bastard instrument"), as well as experiences in the Band of America and the Tonight Show Orchestra, at the time comedian Steve Allen was hosting the program. In this regard I was turned into his messenger on two occasions: he made sure that I returned Paul Lavalle's big hello when he conducted a master class I attended in New York and also told me to inform Skitch Henderson when Skitch conducted our All County Festival that "the Steve Allen Show was the best job I ever had."
His enthusiasm tempered by realism, Jack maintained that one reason his career lasted as long as it did was because "no one wanted my job" since it meant losing out on lucrative commercial work and dealing with a stressful work environment. He frequently encouraged me become a doctor or obtain some other profession as his sons were doing or get an advanced teaching degree as his brothers had done.
The Conn 8D
Custom horns were not plentiful back then, and I suspect my collector's mentality is influenced by Jack, who early in my career lent me his single Alexander F (he stated that "Alexanders are world famous and can be great horns, although a lot of them are tight"), and a King Schmidt copy ("good horns, my brother sometimes played a Schmidt"). He often described the elusive Kruspe (pronounced "Krispy") of our dreams, telling me "Lou boy, if you can, one day you need to find yourself a really good Krispy!" and later "Maybe it's time to have your own custom mouthpiece built for you like this one that was built for me" (a Dell'Osa which in fact Dave Houser copied for Ken Berv and me 30 years later). More than once he placed his Elkhart Conn in my hands (the throat seemed enormous and somewhat elliptical) and told me this story: "Lou boy, this is called the Berv horn, after we went to the factory, my brothers had the first and third ever built, I got the second one, straight from the factory, boy, if we had a nickel for every one of these that were sold" (he nearly did except for the fact that the Bervs took a flat consulting fee instead, a big mistake). I don't think he foresaw that in my teens I'd confuse everyone I met going on about this "Berv Horn" until the day I realized it was more commonly referred to as the Conn 8D (everyone knew what that was!).
It wasn't until years after I had studied with Jack that I met his brother Harry. The occasion was a lecture about Arturo Toscanini at Hofstra University. An administrator dragged me out of the Music Library with words to the effect: "There's this French Horn player outside, things weren't set up for him very well and he's a little upset, could you spend some time with him and see if you can calm him down until things get sorted out?" I found Harry appearing very much the gentleman in a pinstripe suit with carnation standing very erect and looking like an old school movie star (he reminded me of the actor William Holden). I told him I studied with his brother for many years and that I had just been listening to NBC Symphony recordings in our Music Library and of course his first question was "What did you think of our horn section?" He saw me choke a little (unfortunately, in the NBC Don Juan recording I had just been listening to someone had missed the upward slur on the second call), and that was the only thing that marred our pleasant walk around the campus.
At the lecture he talked about commercial work "alone in a studio, just a microphone and a music stand, they told me to play three notes and that turned into EAT-AL-PO!" and the fact that his current big claim to fame among his Juilliard students was that he played on the Star Trek TV show. Things heated up a little later when he played a recording of a Toscanini rehearsal. Toscanini was berating the orchestra and I understood enough Italian to giggle at one point or another which prompted Harry to pull the needle and launch into a speech that "We were men being treated like children by this tyrant" which I'm now sure is exactly the way he saw things so many years later considering the abuse he said he received at the hands of the Maestro.
Ken Berv is a graduate of Oceanside High School, Yale College, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he did his internship in medicine, neurology, and psychiatry. He has been a Research Associate at the National Institutes of Health in Neuropsychopharmacology, held a Residency in Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, and served on the Clinical Faculty at the Yale School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry from 1976-2006. He also has a solo practice of Psychiatry from 1976 to the present. As a musician, he studied with his father, Jack, played duets and trios with both his father and uncle Harry, and presented a solo recital at Yale. He has performed with, among others, the Yale Concert Band, the New Haven Symphony, Schubert Theater pre-Broadway shows, the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, the Harvard Bach Society, Boston Medical Chamber Orchestra, and the Norwalk CT Symphony. He is the proud owner of pre-letter series 8D from Jack, his own H series (selected by Jack and Harry), and Arthur's brass Kruspe, vintage 1950's.
Louis Denaro is a freelance hornist who regularly performs on Long Island and in the New York Metropolitan area. His eclectic CV includes a 10-year period where he amplified his horn to play in underground bands on Manhattan's Lower East Side before moving towards more conventional jazz, symphonic, opera, chamber, and recital work. He is presently restoring his C.F. Schmidt collection as well as a vintage Geyer Single B^ and an original Kruspe double horn design from 1902. Many of these horns are profiled at rjmartz.com/Horns.
Allegro Interview with Harry Berv The Horn Section in Toscanini's NBC Symphony was a Family Affair
by Erwin L. Price
French horn player Harry Berv's more than 50-year career has included long stints as a symphony, studio, freelance and recording musician, and as a teacher. But he is probably best known as one of the Berv brothers, who made up three-fourths of the horn section at the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini.
The Berv family came from Poland, where Harry's three older brothers were born. After a brief stay in New Brunswick NJ, (where Harry was born) the family moved to a small town in Minnesota, population 1,500. The brothers began studying music with a local teacher: Arthur on the trumpet, Jack on the cello, Harry on the piano and Henry, the oldest, on the violin. But after five or six years their teacher told their parents that the boys had outgrown his capabilities. So the family moved to Philadelphia and Harry, then 12, was accepted at the Curtis Institute as a horn student. Jack and Arthur had already switched to the French horn.
After studying in Philadelphia with Anton Horner, Arthur and Jack joined the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch. Then they came back to play in the Philadelphia Orchestra, Arthur as solo horn. At the age of 15 Harry, too, began playing in the Philadelphia Orchestra--first as an extra, and then as a regular member. Leopold Stokowski was the conductor and Harry remembers him as "an amazing man and a great conductor. The orchestra had a wonderful, dark emotional sound. I can't remember any orchestra since then projecting that marvelous emotional quality."
In the middle 1930s David Sarnoff formed the NBC Symphony, with Arturo Toscanini as conductor. Samuel Chotzinoff, Sarnoff's music consultant and head of NBC's music department, personally hand-picked all the musicians for this elite orchestra. In 1938, when the orchestra had been in existence for one year, Chotzinoff came to Philadelphia and signed the three Berv brothers for the French horn section. The NBC Symphony was a 52-week-a-year job, whereas the Philadelphia Orchestra was only 30 weeks each year, with a short summer concert season at the Robin Hood Dell.
The Bervs moved to New York and settled in to a tworoom suite at the Park Central Hotel. They soon became friends with their next-door neighbor, Jackie Gleason, then a struggling young actor-comedian.
Harry vividly recalls his first encounter with Toscanini. The orchestra had been working for two and a half months with the rehearsal conductor, William Steinberg (who later became conductor in Buffalo and then with the Pittsburgh Symphony), preparing the repertoire. Finally, the first rehearsal with Toscanini took place. The maestro mounted the podium and, with no hello and no greeting, raised his baton. "We couldn't have gone past seven bars when he asked, 'What idiot rehearsed you?' Then he broke the baton and walked off the stage. I looked at Arthur and said, 'Let's go back to Philadelphia; at least it's peaceful there.'
"Every rehearsal after that was more difficult," Harry recalls. "Toscanini was not an easy man to work for. He was very, very demanding. But we all survived, because he didn't bother us much. He really liked us, and he liked the orchestra. But if you did something that was wrong, he was murder." The Berv brothers practiced together every day and went over the repertoire, so they were always ready for orchestra rehearsals. The fourth horn of the section was Arthur Cerino, who played throughout the Bervs' tenure. Among assistant first horn players who worked with the section were Forrest Standley, Arthur Holmes, Tony Miranda, and Billy Brown.
During Harry's 16 years at NBC he worked with 62 different conductors. A few stand out as really tops: Bruno Walter, Toscanini, Stokowski, and Pierre Monteux. "And of all the conductors that I've worked with, the nicest one was Bruno Walter. He was a great conductor and a gentleman."
A guest conductor he recalls with less warmth was George Szell. Harry described Szell's rehearsal of the Schubert Seventh Symphony (now the Ninth), which opens up with horns. "When we started to play the opening, he stopped. 'Da capo, beginning!' We started over maybe four times. Finally I asked, 'Maestro, what do you want us to do?' He said, 'I used to be a horn player, and I know what I want!' So I said, 'Look, here's my horn. You sit down here and I'll go up there and conduct; and you show me what you want.' Toscanini, meantime, was observing from the balcony. "He came down and said, 'Szell, these are my men. You'll never come back here again.' And that was his finish. That's a true story."
While on the NBC staff Harry and his brothers played in a wide range of programs, including the Cities Service Hour conducted by Frank Black. The personnel manager was Leopold Spitalny, whose brother Phil led the so-called "all girl" orchestra. Later, Dr. Roy Shields came from Chicago to take charge of personnel. "His job was to see that the right musicians were in the right place at the right time. The staffs consisted of 60, 70, and sometimes more musicians playing all kinds of programs." Harry remained on the NBC staff after the symphony ended, playing on the Steve Allen Show with Skitch Henderson as music director. "Skitch was very partial to the symphony musicians and he used many of them in his orchestra."
He did a lot of recording work, especially at the Columbia Records studio in the converted church on East 30th Street near Third Avenue. "I made a number of albums with Andre Kostelanetz. One of the best series of recordings was made while I was at NBC, and that was the sound track for a television series called Victory at Sea. It had a marvelous score by Richard Rogers, and was arranged and conducted by Robert Russell Bennett."
Harry also had a busy freelance career, and he taught for many years. One of the more unusual arrangements developed when Wilfred Pelletier, director of the Montreal Conservatory, invited him to teach in Canada. It worked out because Harry had two days off every week. "I would take a Pullman Sleeper train overnight to Montreal, teach all day, catch the train back, and arrive in New York in time for a Tuesday rehearsal. After the first year Pelletier asked if I'd like to continue. I said yes and he said, 'There's another school opening up in Quebec City; could you go there and teach a half a day?' So I left, I taught a day in Montreal, half a day in Quebec, and took the train back to New York. That went on for 23 years." Harry also taught at New York University, then at the Juilliard, and at Columbia. "And many of my students from those days are still playing, in many symphony orchestras."
From the July/August 1998 Allegro, journal of the NYC Musicians's Union (AFM Local 802). reprinted with permission.
A review from a 1938 Musical America
It used to be the Three B's. Now I understand that it's the three Bervs. If you don't know what a Berv is you could never have an I.Q. worthy of mention, over NBC way. In the orchestra over which Toscanini now waves his magical (or is it necromantic? Or thaumanturgic?) wand, the Bervs represent one, or rather three, of the important changes since last year. They are connected with French horns and if you will listen closely when you tune in on the next broadcast of the NBC Symphony you certainly should be able to detect the berving that goes on in that section of the ensemble. Arthur I. Berv is the solo first horn. He held the same post with Philadelphia Orchestra before emigrating from the Schulykill. Harry Berv and Jack Berv are his brothers and fellow hornists. As a family it would appear the Bervs are noted for their "lip."
Nothing quite like the collective embouchure of their brotherly art has come out of the city Brotherly Love and Lip since the justly revered Benjamin Franklin stopped talking about musical glasses. Quite possibly they will put a new term into our musical dictionaries. The day may come when to play the French horn will be to Berv. It's a good word, at that. Come to think of it, I have been hearing French horns berving all my life. What the horns berving all my life? What the listeners to NBC broadcasts get is berving de luxe. One would think that it might be hard on the Philadelphians to lose all their berv. But nothing daunted nomenclature of music whereby it may also be designated as a berv. (Mephisto)
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|Publication:||The Horn Call|
|Date:||May 1, 2013|
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