Adolph Herseth and the Chicago Sound

Adolph “Bud” Herseth, the longtime principal trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony passed away in April, 2013.

Herseth’s 53-year association with the Chicago Symphony began in 1948 when conductor Artur Rodzinski invited him to audition for the CSO’s principal trumpet position. Herseth will forever be associated with the distinct sound of the Chicago Symphony brass section, which developed in the 1950s and 60s during Fritz Reiner’s tenure as music director and flourished during Georg Solti’s tenure in the 70s and 80s. It was a uniquely American style of playing, celebrated for its power, precision, and brilliance.

Numerous recordings showcase Herseth’s solo playing, from this performance of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto to this 1966 concert recording of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. But, as he acknowledged in this profile, the core orchestral repertoire remained his true passion.

Perhaps no piece showcases the brilliance of Herseth’s playing more powerfully than Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. The first movement, a solemn funeral march, opens with the solo trumpet playing a military bugle call. This opening motive suggests the “short, short, short, long” motive which opens Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. A stormy second movement gives way to the sunny optimism of the Scherzo, the famous harp and string Adagietto fourth movement, and a euphoric fifth movement. The Symphony moves from an opening in C-sharp minor to a triumphant conclusion in D major.

Georg Solti made two recordings of Mahler’s Fifth twenty years apart with the Chicago Symphony. I grew up listening to the 1970 studio recording. I think it may have been the first compact disc my parents owned. Many listeners think that Solti’s interpretation deepened when he re-recorded the work in 1990, and I’m inclined to agree. You can listen to both, below.

the original 1970 studio recording:

the 1990 concert recording:

Christopher Martin, who currently holds the Chicago Symphony’s Adolph Herseth Principal Trumpet Chair, posted this tribute on his Facebook page:

On this day of mourning, I know I speak for the members of the CSO trumpet section in offering our deepest condolences to the family of Adolph Herseth.

Bud’s impact on the music world was so monumental that every brass player alive surely has heard his brilliant, clear, inimitable tone and been changed by its clarion beauty. The astounding longevity of Bud’s 56 year career is only surpassed by the unfailingly high standard he upheld each and every day in the CSO. He was, as Daniel Barenboim aptly named him, a “pillar” of the CSO because his standard was not limited to merely equaling what he had done before but spurred on by the ideal of the excellence he could imagine. Bud combined that imagination with an unquestioning, unrelenting work ethic to do whatever it took to achieve his highest aspirations, and we have all been the fortunate beneficiaries over these 65 years.

Through his thousands of concerts, multitude of iconic recordings, and innumerable lessons and coachings, Bud had something else to teach us. It is a lesson he rarely spoke of but lived everyday: courageous sacrifice. Courage to go beyond the obvious requirements of what is expected, even if it’s more work for yourself and those around you, and a willingness to sacrifice what is comfortable and safe for something higher and perhaps unattainable. For Bud, of course, so much was attained and, in turn, given back to all.

And perhaps this is one of Bud’s most important lessons: that in the end after so much work, after endless hours honing that perfect sonic blend of strength and beauty, after countless life-changing concerts, ovations, accolades and adulations, what mattered most was the simple act of giving. Giving of his best self, his wisdom, and his heart through music. Bud spent his life in pursuit of a visionary level of trumpet artistry no one before him imagined existed and in so doing changed the course of music history.

Bud said at the end of his career that he would have started it all over again if he could. The wonderful thing about the gift of music is that he can and he does. Each time a young trumpeter hears the Reiner Zarathustra or a Solti Pictures or Mahler 5 for the first time and realizes the expressive power of a trumpet, Bud starts over again. Each time the four of us in the CSO, or in any orchestral section, or in a military band, or in a brass quintet, or in a classroom of students decides to “give it our best every time we have the chance,” Bud starts over again.

I know the CSO trumpet section feels, as Bud did, that we are all “lucky to be here,” and we share in the responsibility to try our best to uphold his legacy for the next generation.

Additional Recordings

  • Symphony No. 5, Gustav Mahler: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti’s 1970 studio recording (featured above) iTunes, Amazon
  • Symphony No. 5, Gustav Mahler: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti’s 1990 concert recording (featured above) iTunes, Amazon
  • Also Sprach ZarathustraRichard Strauss: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti
  • Pictures at an ExhibitionModest Mussorgsky (orchestrated by Maurice Ravel): Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti
  • a 1997 radio profile of Adolph Herseth

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

9 thoughts on “Adolph Herseth and the Chicago Sound”

  1. I’m thrilled, as a longtime fan of Bud’s, that you posted this, Tim!

    St Louis Assoc Princ Horn
    PS Hate to do this, but you can’t believe everything you read online (he died in 2013). : )

  2. I assume this is an old post being re-packaged. Adolph Herseth died in 2013.

    I agree, his Mahler 5 intro stands apart from all the rest.

  3. Sometimes when I want to hear something achingly beautiful, I put on the first movement of Das Lied von der Erde, the Reiner CSO recording. The beautiful, lyrical trumpet solo played by Mr. Herseth is one of my favorite all time moments in recorded music.

  4. An aside…. One of my best friends growing up in my teens was Adolf’s son. We spent many an afternoon listening to him (Adolf) warm up in the basement of his home In Oak Park IL before a performance with CSO.

    A privilege I will never forget. Adolf was a truly gracious man and a consummate artist. To listen to him perform solo without an audience with only his family and his son’s clueless friends was amazing.

    A memory I cherish to this day.

  5. Starting back in 1966 when I was a trumpet major at the SUNY Crane School of Music I soon became a diehard Adolph Herseth fan after listening to “Pictures” and Scheherazade” and thus began my life long collection of recordings and many, many live stereo radio broadcasts ( when they were readily available) of CSO’s weekly concerts. I am now in my late 70’s and want to either sell or at least make sure that this extensive collection of special recordings end up somewhere useful. I have ( with few exceptions) almost every commercial CSO recording from Kubelik through Barenboim. Any suggestions.

  6. Hello. I just happened to run into this when I saw the name Adolph Herseth, whose work as a trumpeter was close to my heart. My father was a trumpet/cornet player who studied with Ernest S. Williams. I’m sure you know of his “method.” I could go on and on, but I collect trumpet records with great enthusiasm and do a weekly radio broadcast making tribute to past and present performing artists as I have done since 1968 (Binghamton NY area). I have a massive 72,000 LP collection and wish to dispense with it at my present age. Have you had any luck in trying to find someone take up your recordings? Would like to hear from you.
    —Lance G. Hill, Apil 8, 2004


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