Piccolo heckelphone

From Academic Kids

The piccolo heckelphone is a very rare woodwind instrument invented in 1904 by the firm of Wilhelm Heckel GmbH in Wiesbaden-Biebrich (Germany). A variant of the heckelphone, the piccolo heckelphone was intended to redress a point of weakness in the romantic orchestra: namely, an insufficient number of truly powerful woodwind instruments with very high tessituras. Pitched in F, a perfect fourth above the oboe, its compass is from b to g"'#, sounding a perfect fourth higher.

Richard Strauss, who scored for the heckelphone on a number of occasions, seems to have taken some interest in the piccolo heckelphone, even using it in a performance of Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto, where it played the high trumpet part in the last movement. In 1915, Strauss requested that a piccolo heckelphone in Eb be built for use in his composition Eine Alpensinfonie. Named the terz-heckelphone, Strauss ultimately did not score for it and only a single prototype was ever built.

Following the basic principle of the heckelphone, the piccolo heckelphone in F has an extremely wide bore. The angle of the instrument's conicity is quite wide (though not as wide as that of a saxophone), giving it a characteristically strong and powerful tone.

Unfortunately the piccolo heckelphone never caught on, due to a number of factors. Firstly, its outlandish name makes immediate recognition of the instrument's basic principles unlikely. Secondly, with the trend toward economical orchestration following the excesses of the Romantic period, massive sonorities and by extension instruments capable of cutting through quadruple wind sections became much less necessary. Thirdly, they were only ever produced in extremely small numbers, with production ceasing altogether in 1955 due to lack of interest. Apparently, only one was ever sold.

The best estimates place the number of piccolo heckelphones produced at 17. Some of these may have remained 'blanks', assigned serial numbers, but not fitted with keys. Four or five are known to be on display at the Heckel museum in Biebrich, and there is also a piccolo heckelphone at the Leipzig University musical instrument museum. Of the rest, some may have been destroyed in the second world war, or may be in the hands of private collectors awaiting discovery.

In recent years, rumors have circulated that Heckel is planning on bringing the piccolo heckelphone in F back in production on a limited basis. It is this author's contention that were a modern version produced, it would undoubtedly be a great asset to contemporary composers, providing an alternative to the less-than-satisfactory musette oboe in F or Eb.


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