I’ve been rereading Nancy Jordan Fako’s wonderful biography of Philip Farkas, titled Philip Farkas & His Horn: A Happy Worthwhile Life, and every time I read it I find something new and interesting. What caught my interest this time was some correspondence near the end of Farkas’s life concerning the latest Farkas model horn from Holton. This horn came to be known as the “Ultra-Farkas” model, the H-109. Although I never met Philip Farkas, I am continually amazed and inspired by his work ethic and devotion to horn playing. Even after retiring from long and illustrious orchestral and teaching careers, he was always looking for ways to improve both horns and horn playing. In the following letter from April of 1991, quoted on page 278 of Philip Farkas & His Horn, Farkas discusses ideas for the Ultra-Farkas Model with Vito Pascucci of the G. Leblanc Corporation (G. Leblanc had purchased a controlling interest in Frank Holton & Company in 1964).
I think you have an excellent idea in making a super Farkas-model horn with extra features. We could add a palm brace (very popular just now), an adjustable left little finger hook (something that has been badly needed for the entire history of the horn), a deluxe case, two mouthpieces for different playing conditions, a compact fit-in-the-horn-case tool kit with emergency essentials such as springs, screws, corks, etc. I will continue to think about the possibilities and give you a report when I have some concrete ideas. (p. 278)
Another letter to V. Pascucci from late 1991 relates some more ideas about the Ultra- Farkas model, as well as demonstrating Farkas’s characteristic modesty and intense interest in improving horn design.
Thanks for the always upbeat and encouraging letter. Yes, I think that “Ultra-Farkas” might be a good name for the deluxe model horn we are planning. Although the word “Ultra” is a little bit embarrassing if applied to me, I can take it since we are referring to the horn as ultra.
I am giving a lot of thought to this ultra horn and am keeping in touch with Larry [Larry Ramirez, instrument designer for Holton] concerning it. Over the years little, and very minor, things have crept into the production of my horns and perhaps Larry and I should get together and clear them up all at one time. The problems are small, but in the aggregate they do total up. (quoted on p. 281)
Fako notes that the Ultra-Farkas became available in late 1991, and that Farkas was very pleased with the horn. The last correspondence from Farkas regarding the new horn is from an October, 1992 letter to Larry Ramirez. Though pleased, Farkas is ever the perfectionist, noting slight improvements which might be made to the instrument.
The new H-109 arrived yesterday and I think we have a winner here. It plays beautifully and I find everything to be excellent. However, I have one reservation as follows:
The new gold plated keys are very attractive. And the very ingenious and extremely clever idea of having the key-arm dip lower in regard to where the string crosses the axle housing in a very simple way of avoiding the string crossing itself looks great until a problem came up. [He then explains the problem and his suggested solution.]
I think the new keys are very attractive with their gold plating. And if the design can be slightly altered to achieve the angle-splitting I think the above drawing illustrates we will solve a small but important problem. (quoted on p. 288)
Having never played an Ultra-Farkas model Holton, I can only assume the instrument was very fine indeed to earn such high praise from someone as meticulous as Farkas. I’m not sure exactly when the instrument went out of production, but I would love to try a used one sometime. Interestingly, I don’t see them on the used market very often, not nearly as much as the H-104 “Tuckwell” model. Perhaps someone out there can offer further information as to why this seemingly very fine instrument went out of production. I have an old Woodwind and Brasswind catalog from Spring 1997 which still lists the horn for sale at $4,395.00, so it was at least in production from 1991-1997, and perhaps longer. For a closer look at the horn click on the included picture above, taken from the November, 1993 issue of The Horn Call. Apparently, not all of Farkas’s suggestions were put into production, as the instrument pictured does not have a left hand support or an adjustable pinky hook.