I will never forget my first French horn lesson with Holger Fransman. For an eleven-year old boy the great Finnish musician and teacher was an awesome sight: an impressive moustache and fiery eyes. He used to call me Mr Salonen despite my age, and only after I could play to the top c with some accuracy did he suggest we start addressing each other by first names.
I spent hours every day with the Waldhornschule by Oscar Franz, starting from triads for the natural horn, and gradually moving on to chromatic scales using the valves. The very last section of the Waldhornschule contained hair-raisingly difficult “real” compositions called “Konzert-Etüden”. The title really whetted my appetite, and I kept practising these little pieces feverishly, hoping that one day I would be a great horn player, worthy of my teacher.
Life took a different turn later, and I became a conductor and a composer instead. I never lost contact with Holger, however, and he never missed my concerts in Helsinki. There would be a phone call the morning after always, and Holger’s creaky voice would deliver often quite a harsh view of what he had heard. Always to the point, I now have to admit.
I saw him for the last time on his deathbed in a hospital in Helsinki. When I entered the room he was listening to ‘Ein Heldenleben’ from his portable CD-player. His eyes were closed, but he knew I was there. Finally he spoke: “Why, it is the Vienna Philharmonic and yet the timpani is too sharp!”
We spoke a bit later about this and that, but these are his last words I can remember.
When I was asked to write a piece for solo horn for the Holger Fransman Memorial Competition, I agreed right away. I decided to write my own Concert Etude, and thus create a little homage to my teacher, who in fact was like a grandfather to me.
In this piece I treat the horn as a virtuoso instrument, capable of acrobatics as well as the idiomatic melodic expression. In a way, I wrote the piece for the great horn player I never became.
© Esa-Pekka Salonen, 2000