Renaissance for Heckelphone

Decades ago, bassoonist Frederick Dutton played the Heckelphone part to Aaron Copland’s "Short Symphony" under the direction of the composer.  During a break in the rehearsal, Fred approached Mr. Copland and asked "Why did you score for Heckelphone?"  The maestro replied (without missing a beat) "Because that is what I wanted!"
In the past few years, the Heckelphone seems to be enjoying a renaissance in composition, orchestral performance, chamber music, and in the film industry (bassoonist Charlie Gould pioneered the Heckelphone at M.G.M.).  Increasingly, conductors are requesting that the Heckelphone part in orchestral scores be played on the instrument intended, rather than substitution by bass clarinet or bassoon  (The San Francisco Symphony for instance purchased a new Heckelphone in 1992, and the Cleveland orchestra borrows an instrument when called for). 
There is speculation on the part of some prominent double reed players who believe that Wagner’s Ring should be played on the Heckelphone instead of the English horn.  Rumors persist that Richard Wagner indicated a desire for a powerful baritone voice for the wind section which allegedly inspired development of the Heckelphone.  In fact, there is at least one edition of the Ring cycle which indicates in a footnote to the instrumentation that the Heckelphone should be employed in place of the English horn, because the English horn lacks sufficient power to carry the part.
In the U.S., several  composers are actively writing parts and solo pieces for the Heckelphone, such as Eric Ewazen at Juilliard, Dorothy Pappadakis (N.Y.), Tibor Pusztai (Hartford), and Walter S. Hartley.  Mark Perchanok of N.Y. has come to the fore as a leading virtuoso on the Heckelphone in recent years, premiering the Eric Ewazen "Quintet for Heckelphone and Strings", Paul Winter’s "Prayer for the Wild Things", and all of Dorothy Pappadakis’ works.  (John Ellis’ recording of the Hindemith Trio for Heckelphone, Viola, and Piano is also a display of sublime artistry).
About one hundred bass Heckelphones have been made to date (plus or minus - a persistent legend involves an irate spouse ramming the top joint of a Heckelphone into a running garbage disposal) with about twenty-four residing in North America.  Only about one instrument in four are conservatory system (Models 36K, 36 cons, and 36 voll. cons).
Oboe maker Tom Hiniker is currently doing experiments with Heckelphone bocals (he has made about a dozen so far, some with parabolic curves incorporated, rather than the usual true conical section) and he is also making his own design of brass staple (Heckel also makes a new pattern staple).  Tom's bocals enable the Heckelphone to produce a tone similar to that of the bass oboe.
Instrument maker Guntram Wolf is  introducing a  new concept of bass oboe, having a bore dimension greater than that of the usual bass oboe, but less than the Heckelphone.  It is constructed of black maple, descends to low  Bb, and is played with a (small) bassoon-type reed.
The list of Heckelphone and bass oboe music printed here is a work in progress.  Additions, corrections, and comments will be warmly welcomed, as well as any publishing information - for instance, how can a player ever find the Genzmer, Mielanz or Weissensteiner pieces?  Readers should feel free to contact the author ( or the editor (
Thanks for help in researching Heckelphone and bass oboe  goes to Edith Reiter at Heckel, Arthur Grossman, Frederick Dutton, Robert Howe, Mark Perchanok, Dorothy Pappadakis, Charlie Gould, Titan Rodick, Dan Stolper, Gerald Corey, Janice Knight, Jonathan Price, Don Christlieb and Ed Matthews at G. Schirmer, Inc., N.Y.


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Copyright © 2000 by Peter Hurd