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The Reiter brothers, Xaver (left) and Josef

The Reiter brothers, Josef (1848-1921) and Franz Xaver (1856-1938), were true heroes of the horn, having filled solo positions in the Munich Opera, other European orchestras in Sondershausen, Hannover, Karlsruhe, and the Bayreuth Festival, before coming to America in the latter half of the 1880s.

In the US they were solo horns of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Symphony with Damrosch, Scheel's Orchestra of San Francisco, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the first season of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and finally the New York Philharmonic with Gustav Mahler and Josef Stransky.

Both brothers studied with Franz Strauss, and they preferred single B-flat horns to F horns. On one occasion, a critic excoriated a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, blaming the conductor, Artur Nikisch, for "hoarse blasts" from the horns and surmising, correctly, that Xaver played a B-flat horn (as had his teacher).

Xaver left Boston shortly after this contretemps (his brother taking over his position for the following season), but the critical review is only one of several possible explanations for his departure. He apparently at the same time had difficulties with his first wife (she was suing him for separate support), and he was arrested for bathing, along with his two Russian wolfhounds, in a fountain on Boston Common.

The brothers appeared as soloists with several orchestras in which they were members and performed much chamber music, notably the Brahms Trio and a composition by Josef for horn and piano, or orchestra, called Mephisto, a copy of which has not yet been found. Josef also composed or arranged many pieces for 1 to 12 horns. After his time with the Philharmonic, Xaver played solo horn with the State Symphony Orchestra (NY), toured all over the US with the German Grand Opera Company, and was known for his wonderful playing of the famous Siegfried Call.

The older brother, Josef, returned to Munich in 1909, but Xaver, with his hair down to his shoulders, lived on in Valhalla, New York, an unincorporated village in the town of Mount Pleasant, until 1938. Xaver is said to have suggested the name Valhalla for the village due to his association with the Wagner Ring cycle and his performances of the Siegfried Horn Call. He was a real character to the end of his life!

For a complete biography, see Norman Schweikert’s book, The Horns of Valhalla: Saga of the Reiter Brothers, published by Windsong Press.