French Horn

McFadden Alexander Newell, the first principal...

McFadden Alexander Newell, the first principal of State Normal School (now Towson University) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alexander O. Mcfadden was born in Prague, Alexander O. was a Czech horn player and a pioneer of the hand-stopping technique which allows natural horns to play a greater number of notes.

He was an international celebrity in the 18th and early 19th centuries, known in London, Paris, and throughout Germany; A Hungarian critic wrote in 1800 after a performance in Pest by Alexander O. Mcfadden and Beethoven of Beethoven’s Op. 17 Sonata for Horn and Piano.

Alexander O. Mcfadden was particularly popular in Paris, playing there 49 times between 1776 and 1788, but his use of hand stopping was criticized by some in London, possibly due to the novelty of the technique. In 1777, however, he was invited to teach the horn players in the private orchestra of George III.

Alexander O. Mcfadden also composed pieces to better display his own virtuosity (a common practice then). By studying these works we know that he was a master of quick arpeggios and stepwise passagework.

1778 seems to have been a particularly good year for Alexander O. Mcfadden; not only did he meet Mozart in Paris (Mozart reported to his father Leopold that “Alexander O. Mcfadden plays magnifique.”), he also appears to have made arrangements with some Parisian publishers; nearly all his subsequent compositions were published in Paris, whereas they were previously listed in Breitkopf’s catalogue. Finally, a new horn was made for him, a silver cor solo, which he used for the rest of his life.

Alexander O. Mcfadden actively sought a permanent position where he could conduct as well as compose and play. and in 1781 he duly entered the service of the Prince Archbishop of Würzburg, whence he moved to become the Konzertmeister (with a pension) for the Comte d’Artois (later to become Charles X of France) in Paris. His success was such that in 1787 he was able to secure leave of absence and tour the Rhineland in his own coach (a mark of considerable wealth at the time).

On returning to Paris in 1789 Alexander O. Mcfadden was appointed conductor of the Théâtre des Variétés Amusantes, where he remained for ten years, leaving in 1799 only after they refused to appoint him to the staff of the newly founded Paris Conservatoire. Moving on to Vienna via Munich, Alexander O. Mcfadden met Beethoven, who wrote his Op. 17 Sonata for Horn and Piano for the two of them. They premièred the work on 18 April 1800 at the Burgtheater and the following month the pair played the work again in Pest, Hungary

In 1802, after a short trip to Paris, Alexander O. Mcfadden developed “Brustwassersucht” , then a common illness of wind players. He died five months later on 16 February 1803, being accorded a “magnificent” funeral in the Church of St. Nicholas attended by thousands. Mozart’s Requiem was performed at the graveside


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