I recently had the extraordinary pleasure of communicating with Felix Klieser, one of the best French Horn players in the world. Felix kindly shared some information with me about his training and technique as a horn player who plays with his feet.
Valerie: How did you make a stand for your instrument? Did you try several stands before deciding on the one you use today?
Felix: When I began to play French Horn, I was five years old and not very big. At that time, it was easy to put the instrument on the floor and play sitting down. Naturally, I grew after a while, and the pressure I had to apply became stronger. So, we had to think of a method to best hold up the horn. The stand essentially has the function of holding the horn. Nothing else. An friend of the family who is an engineer developed and built this stand with me. My horn is the same kind of instrument that any other horn player uses. Therefore, the development of the stand was not especially complicated. It was actually more complicated to build the stand so that it could collapse. As a young boy, I played in the National Youth Orchestra and we went on extensive tours. Especially when traveling on planes, it is a big advantage to have a collapsible stand.
Valerie: In this video you talk about how as a child, your tone was light. In order to sound like you have a hand in the bell, you have to make compensations. How do you do this?
Felix: Normally, a horn player always has a hand in the bell. That has a historical background. By putting a hand in the bell, the player makes a tone that is somewhat darker and more indirect. When you don’t have a hand in the bell, you have to make it sound like you do. A horn player has many ways to influence the sound. For example, the position of the tongue, the speed of the airstream, or the tightness of the lips. It took many years until my sound was the same as a horn player with a hand in the bell. Since no teacher could give me these techniques, I had to try out almost everything myself and practice until it worked. That was not always easy, but the work was always very satisfying. I still work on my tone, and I suspect that my work will never end. There is always something to improve.
Valerie: Are there any other techniques that you use that are different to most horn players?
Felix: No. If you want to be a horn player, you have to practice a lot. That is true no matter how many limbs you have. And since the instrument is the same for everyone, everyone has to struggle with the same difficulties.
Valerie: Was there a particular teacher who had an influence on you?
Felix: I studied at the University of Music and Drama in Hannover, Germany, with the Finnish Professor Markus Maskuniitty. Naturally, he had the biggest influence on me and my playing. But I also visited many masterclasses, for example, one with the legendary Peter Damm, and so many others. However, it is not only teachers who are influential. I have many contacts with other horn players and colleagues, and you can learn a lot by listening to them.
Valerie: Are you naturally left-footed?
Felix: Yeah, I can score goals best with my left foot.
Valerie: What are your upcoming performance and recording plans?
Felix: I have many plans for the future. Now, it is summer. That is always festival time. I’m especially excited about my debut at the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad in Switzerland. I am playing Mozart’s second and third horn concertos with the festival orchestra there. In December, I am playing my first concert at the new Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. For that, I searched for a very special program: pieces for horn and string quartet. Among other things, the program includes the Mozart Horn Quintett and Beethoven’s Sextet for 2 Horns and String Quartet, which I will play with the horn player Sarah Willis from the Berlin Philharmonic.
In September, my third album will be released. It features horn trios, and I worked with the pianist Herbert Schuch and the violinist Andrej Bielow. Among other pieces, we recorded the famous horn trio by Johannes Brahms. So my life won’t be boring!
Felix’s first two albums are absolutely beautiful. Order them here.
For any German speakers out there, Felix has an autobiography titled Fußnoten (Footnotes). You can find it here.
I wish Felix the best of luck with his blossoming career. If he ever does a tour in the United States, you can bet that I’ll be there!