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Founder of the Bassoon Factory

On 11 March 1831, Johann Adam Heckel and Carl Almenräder founded the J. A. Heckel and Carl Almenräder bassoon factory. The two founders first met in 1829 at the Mainz Music Publishing House, Schott. The first bassoons by Heckel and Almenräder were also made for Schott and therefore were stamped with B. Schott Fils à Mayence.

Contract between Johann Adam Heckel and Carl Almenräder

Great Exhibition, London

In 1851, Johann Adam Heckel visited the first World’s Fair in London, the Great Exhibition. Here he made important business contacts and received his first diploma.

Invitation to participate in the Great Exhibition in London

Exhibition at the Académie Nationale

In 1852 he participated in the exhibition at the Académie Nationale in Paris. At this exhibition, Johann Adam Heckel received his second diploma.

Diploma of the Académie Nationale

Connection to the composer Richard Wagner

In 1862 the composer Richard Wagner was in Biebrich, where he lived in a villa on the Rhine while working on his opera Die Meistersinger. Johann Adam Heckel took advantage of this opportunity to introduce Wagner to his instruments. Wagner’s visit to Johann Adam’s workshop marked the beginning of a close connection between Wagner and the Heckel family.

Number #3001 and the smallest contrabassoon

In 1877, Wilhelm Heckel first began to number the Heckel instruments, the first numbered bassoon was #3001. Wilhelm surpassed the number of instruments produced by Heckel by this time, which amounted to around 3000 pieces.

In 1877, Wilhelm Heckel and his workshop master, Friedrich Stritter, succeeded in building the smallest contrabassoon to date. This instrument was characterised by its low height and weight. Therefore, it was very well suited to marching and so was predestined for military music. Wilhelm Heckel patented the redesign of the contrabassoon in the same year.

Patent for the wooden contrabassoon
Patent for the wooden contrabassoon
Patent for the wooden contrabassoon

Development of the Heckelphone

In October 1879, Wilhelm Heckel was appointed to Bayreuth at the instigation of the Viennese Court Chapel Master, Wilhelm Jahn. There he met with Richard Wagner to present to him his newly constructed bassoon and, for the first time, his newly constructed contrabassoon. Richard Wagner, who was enthusiastic about the Heckel instruments, mentioned at this meeting that he was still missing a final element within the double-reed instruments. He longed for an instrument whose tone lay one octave lower than the oboe and at the same time had the soft and powerful sound of the Alpenhorn. Wilhelm Heckel and his sons then set to work to develop an instrument with such a sound and developed the heckelphone in 1904.

Wagner on Wilhelm Heckel's newly constructed contrabassoon.

Predicate of a royal court instrument maker

In 1881, Wilhelm Heckel received the award of the royal court instrument maker from the King of Prussia.

Predicate of the royal court instrument maker

Patent application

In 1889, Wilhelm Heckel filed for another patent, which was for one of the most important inventions in the field of bassoons. At that time, a common problem with woodwind instruments was that the moisture generated during play penetrated the pores of the wood and gradually destroyed the bore of an instrument. Wilhelm Heckel counteracted this by lining those parts that were most affected by moisture. For the first time he began lining the wing joint and narrow bore of the boot joint with a rot-resistant material, natural rubber. Natural rubber was ideally suited to this purpose, because it created a mirror-smooth and pore-proof inner wall, which in turn meant a simple response and a brilliant tone could be generated.

In the same year, Wilhelm Heckel also patented the arrangement of octave keys on the contrabassoon. Thus, the sounds from the upper D upwards could also be reached, which made it easier for the musician to play faster passages.

Patent deed: Arrangement of octave keys
Patent deed: lining with natural rubber

On 18 December 1889, the patent application of the Heckel clarina was made. The instrument, which was developed by Wilhelm Heckel and his son Wilhelm Hermann, unfortunately did not prevail. There- fore, only a small number of about 130-150 were sold.

Advertisement for the Heckel clarina from 1891

Connection to the composer Richard Strauss

On 25 August 1900, the composer Richard Strauss visited the Heckel company for the first time. From this point, a lively exchange of ideas between Strauss and Heckel began and was never broken off. The redesign of the piccolo heckelphone and, later, the terz heckelphone was developed together with Richard Strauss.

Advertising publication for piccolo heckelphone 1905

Production and Orders

By 1900, Heckel had produced around 4.000 bassoons and 3.000 other woodwind instruments. With the exception of minor changes to the bore and key mechanism, no significant changes have been made to the instruments. In particular, a consistent fingering was very much in the spirit of musicians and used to promote a worldwide distribution of Heckel instruments.

Overview of Heckel Instruments
Overview of Heckel Instruments

1902 saw the first major contract for the Heckel company from Japan. A total of 54 Heckel instruments were ordered to equip the imperial court orchestra in Tokyo.

Major order from Tokyo
Major order from Tokyo

Brass Instruments

Around 1900, Heckel began producing brass instruments for the first time. Thus, Heckel’s product range no longer only included woodwind instruments, but also a multitude of different trumpets and trom-bones, as well as old horns, flugel horns, French horns, cornets, tubas and tambour whistles.

Heckel Brass Instruments
Brass Workshop 1931

Presentation of the Heckelphone

In September 1904, after a long time in development, the latest invention of Wilhelm Heckel, the heckelphone, was presented for the first time. This instrument represented Wilhelm’s most successful achievement. The development of the heckelphone went back to the suggestion of the composer Richard Wagner. In 1879, at a meeting with Wilhelm Heckel, he longed for a double-reed instrument that sounded one octave lower than the oboe and at the same time had the soft, yet powerful sound of the Alpenhorn.

Unfortunately, Richard Wagner did not live to see the final completion of this instrument. Since there were no compositions for the heckelphone in the beginning, composers now had to be found who were interested in the instrument and who would create new works for it. Here, good contacts with important artists paid off. For example, the instrument was used by Richard Strauss in Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909), and also in pieces by Paul Hindemith and Max von Schillings.

Praise for the Heckelphone

75th Anniversary of the Company

1906 the celebration of the company’s 75th anniversary, which was accompanied by a big festival concert, took place. This was played almost exclusively by the company’s own band, which consisted of employees of Heckel.

Invitation to the 75th company anniversary

Heckel Bassoon Number #5000

In 1911 the Heckel bassoon number #5000 went into production. This instrument was sold to the Royal Court Theatre in Dresden for the bassoonist W. Knochenhauer.

Advertising leaflet for the Heckel Bassoon Number #5000

Craft and Trade Show

In 1926 the Heckel company presented its products at the craft and trade show at Biebrich Palace. Here, the company presented a selection of 40 antique Heckel instruments, as well as a variety of other Heckel products. Among the exhibited instruments were not only bassoons, contrabassoons and various heckelphones, but also oboes, clarinets, flutes and much more.

In addition, the individual production stages of a Heckel instrument, from the wood selected to the fin- ished product, were presented with the help of vivid woodcuts, drawings and diagrams.

Craft and Trade Show at Biebrich Palace

Cross section of a boot joint

Cross section of a heckelphone bell


International Exhibition Music in the Life of Nations

In the summer of 1927, the international exhibition Music in the Life of Nations took place in Frankfurt am Main. Wilhelm Hermann Heckel received the honorary predicate of the Reich Association of German Musicians and Music Teachers for his artistic collaboration and practical presentation of the development of woodwind instruments. At that time, the honorary chairmanship of the association was led by Max von Schillings.

Wilhelm Hermann received the German Reichs-Honour Prize, the Golden State Medal, for the new instruments he exhibited. This was the highest accolade for musical instrument makers.

Certificate of the Golden State Medal

100th Anniversary of the Company

In 1931, the 100th anniversary of the Heckel company took place. Franz Groffy developed a variety of useful mechanisms for Heckel instruments, which he published in a self-created catalogue on the occasion of the company’s 100th anniversary.

Catalogue for the 100th anniversary of the company

Heckelphone CD with Wolfgang Schottstädt

The mid-1990s saw the first pure heckelphone CD, recorded with Wolfgang Schottstädt, which took place in cooperation with the Hesse State Theatre Wiesbaden.

Heckelphone CD with Wolfgang Schottstädt

Musical Instrument Award for the Heckel Crest

Due to multiple requests from customers for a high-quality but lower-priced Heckel bassoon, particularly suitable for students, Angelika Lucchetta and Ralf Reiter took up this idea in 1996. The Crest model was then produced and sold by Heckel from January 1997. In 2002, the company was awarded the German Musical Instrument Prize for the Heckel Crest.

German Musical Instrument Prize 2002
German Musical Instrument Prize 2002

100th Anniversary of the Heckelphone

The summer of 2004 saw the 100th anniversary of the heckelphone. In this context, another CD was recorded with a work by Matthias Bonitz, Venetian Dreams. The world premiere took place article Biebrich Palace.

Matthias Bonitz - Venetian Dreams

Political Visit

On 29 October 2008, the former Federal President Horst Köhler and the Hessian Prime Minister Roland Koch visited Heckel together with their wives. This visit was a special honour for the entire workforce.

Federal President Horst Köhler and Prime Minister Roland Koch visit Heckel
Horst Köhler's entry in the company's guestbook