Heckelphone    [Instrument]    [List]    [Music]    [Players]    [Other]    [Blog]    [About]

About the heckelphone

A relative of the oboe, the heckelphone is a double reed instrument invented in the early 1900s by German instrument maker Wilhelm Heckel. It was intended to fill the gap between the cor anglais (English horn) and the bassoon. The development of heckelphone was suggested in 1879 by Richard Wagner, who sought a baritone instrument for the oboe family that would combine "the character of the oboe with the mellow but powerful sound of the alphorn". Since its introduction in 1904, just over 170 instruments have been produced by the Heckel company (with some uncertainty as to the precise number; additional information on these instruments can be found here), the only maker of the heckelphone. The last instrument has been completed in 2012 (#5023); I've recently learned that two more are currently under construction and will be delivered between 2025 and 2026, and that any order placed now will take 12 years to fulfil.

The heckelphone is not to be confused with the so-called bass oboe and the more recently developed lupophone. Two smaller variants of the heckelphone, the piccolo heckelphone and the "terzheckelphone", have been developed and produced in very small numbers. There is also some evidence that further members of a heckelphone family had been planned at some time, but remained unrealised. (This evidence includes the fact that the heckelphone part of Richard Strauss's Alpensinfonie contains notes that are too low to be played on the standard heckelphone; more on this can be found in this interesting article).

All but the earliest heckelphones have mechanics closely resembling those of the oboe's conservatoire system, while the reed is similar to that of a bassoon. As a result, the heckelphone is played by oboists and, in our time a little less frequently, by bassoonists (see also my - rather incomplete - list of heckelphonists). Interestingly, one of the most ardent supporters of the instrument during its early years was, in fact, a bassoonist, Emil Sehnert, as is at least one of the most notable contemporary players, Arthur Grossman.

An excellent introduction to the instrument (in German), including a nice excerpt from Salome by Richard Strauss, can be found in this video by the Staatsorchester Stuttgart (Germany), featuring Katrin Stüble. Another interesting video, by the New York Philharmonic, featuring John Upton playing a few excerpts from the Alpine Symphony on heckelphone #25 can be found here. Norman Kuhnert, principal bassoonist of the Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie Chemnitz (Germany), gives another nice introduction to the heckelphone (in German), with excerpts from the Alpine Symphony.

Additional information about the heckelphone can be found here:

There is a also a sizeable body of scholarly work and historical writing on the heckelphone, including the following:

Finally, there is my own comprehensive list of all the heckelphones ever made, and Peter Hurd's extensive repertoire collection at repertoire.heckelphone.org - both works in progress that draw from several other sources and an increasing amount of information kindly provided by heckelphone players, owners and experts around the world.