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Bassoon Makers


Woodcut by Weigel (1698)




Heckel Biebrich

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Heckel Biebrich, originally called "Almenrader und Heckel", was founded in 1831 in Wiesbaden, Germany and is one of the oldest surviving workshops for constructing musical instruments. The founder of the company, Johann Adam Heckel, aged 18 at the time, joined with the musician and composer of the Court of the Dukes of Nassau in Biebrich, Karl Almenrader, to start the company.

After a quarrel in 1838 the partnership was dissolved and Johann Adam Heckel managed the company on his own. He eventually partnered with his son, Wilhelm Heckel, when he came of age.

Johann Adam Heckel was appointed instrument manufacturer of the Court of the Dukes of Nassau in 1845. Then after his death in 1887, his son, Wilhelm Heckel continued running the company under the name, "Wilhelm Heckel Biebrich".

Johann Adam and Wilhelm experimented and developed many new woodwind instruments and continued to improve on the sound and pitch in the construction of existing instruments. An example of a new instrument is the Heckelphone which Wilhelm Heckel developed and built based on discussions with Richard Wagner who was working on "Der Meistersinger" at the time. Here is an interesting quote by Wilhelm Heckel concerning the development of the Heckelphone:

    "In 1879 I was called to Bayreuth to settle this question [ ... ] and with improvements to the double bassoon now completed - [ ... ] - he told me that this issue had now been solved but that a tonal factor was still absent in the family of double reed instruments, sounding an octave lower than the oboe; such an instrument would have to combine the character of the oboe with the mellow yet powerful tone of the Alpine horn [ ... .] - The barytone oboe now known to exist for quite some time and occasionally referred to as the bass or basset oboe, has never succeeded in really becoming accepted although pitched one octave lower than the oboe. This is because it represents nothing more than the timbre of an English horn [cor anglais] extended downwards in pitch and as such produces only a thin, imperceptible tone incapable of standing out much at all in the orchestra. Naturally it would probably not serve as a basis for a new design; instead a completely new type of instrument was needed. Together with my two sons, Wilhelm and August, I set about working out most suitable calculations for the construction of such an instrument and built the prototype. This instrument which has already encountered enthusiasm on the part of maestro Richard Wagner has now emerged in the form of the 'Heckelphone'." (Source: Gunther Joppig)

The official presentation of the Heckelphone was at the Wahnfried Villa in Bayreuth on August 11,1904 and it was used for the first time in the opera Salome by Richard Strauss in December 1905.

The company remains in the family today and is currently held and managed by Wilhelm Heckel's granddaughter, Edith Reiter, her daughter, Angelika Luerchetta, and son, Ralf Reiter. Over the more than 175 year history of the company, Heckel has produced not only bassoons, contrabassoons and Heckelphones, but other woodwind instruments such as clarinets, clarins, Heckelphon-clarinets, basset horns, saxophones, flutes, oboes, oboe d'amores and English horns.

The Heckel bassoon is considered to be one of the best designs produced today with its rich and sonorous sound, good response and stable scale. It is prized by symphony musicians worldwide and is the standard that is copied most by other instrument makers.