Heckelphone and Lupophone

Heckelphone

Heckelphone range

I seriously debated including the Heckelphone in a chapter unto itself.  In practicality, it is an instrument the same pitch as the Bass Oboe, but in use it is something quite different.  It is made by a bassoon manufacturer, and is most often played by bassoonists with Bassoon reeds, but it is far from a bassoon.  A conundrum!

What to call the instrument is one thing, its use is something different.  It was designed as a large oboe that descends to the low A the bottom space of the bass clef.  Most orchestrators have called the Bass Oboe and the Heckelphone interchangeable, but I have not found this to be the case.  The Heckelphone is a powerful instrument capable of great projection due to the cross-section of its bore which is twice the diameter of the Oboe and not twice the area like Bass Oboe.  This makes a huge difference.  The Heckelphone is more of a soloist while the Bass Oboe is more of a team player.  For most works, I prefer the Bass Oboe.

All this said, even if you write a part for the Heckelphone, like so many of Strauss’ works, today they will inevitably be played upon the Bass Oboe.  Only around one hundred Heckelphones are extant today, and while they are still in current manufacture, the price is exorbitantly high and the waiting list is painfully long.  I wouldn’t write for the instrument in an ensemble setting unless I knew there was a player and instrument available.

A demonstration of the Heckelphone

A little bit of new age music on the Heckelphone

Trio op. 47 by Hindemith.  Considered the greatest chamber work using the Heckelphone.

Lupophone

Lupophone range

As Heckel has the sole market for the Heckelphone (and no other manufacturer is allowed to produce them, or for that matter wants to!), the modern manufacturers of Guntram Wolf and Benedict Eppelsheim have invented their own instrument of a similar design.  The Lupophone (Lupos is Latin for Wolf) is a wide bore bass oboe that descends not to the B of the Bass Oboe or the A of the Heckelphone, but all the way down to an F.  This extension is to facilitate the Heckelphone part in Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie which descends to a heretofore unreachable F.  Looking over the score of Strauss’ work, it does seem that a few of these lower notes are used in soloistic passages.  I can’t wait to hear a recording of Eine Alpensinfonie with a Lupophone.

I mentioned this instrument in my post about the hypothetical F Baritone Oboe.  While this instrument is in C, its extended range to low F makes it functionally an F Baritone.

Having personally played instruments made by Wolf and Eppelsheim, I can attest to how well these instruments play.  Instruments produced by these manufacturers are marvels of modern acoustic research and design.  I look forward to hearing more from the Lupophone!

Demonstration of the Lupophone (for use with modern/contemporary techniques)

A modern work for Lupophone

The solo from Strauss’ Salome.  Compare this with the Bass Oboe from a few posts previous.  Note the fuller sound of the Lupophone.

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Oboes Part 4 – Oboe Technique

Technique

 

The technique of the oboe family is generally quite refined and flexible.  The only part of the instrument that offers up some resistance is the very bottom register.  Most of the notes in the bottom third are controlled by the little fingers (like most woodwinds), and quick transition (i.e. trills) are simply not possible.  The only truly impossible trill is from the low B-flat to the low B on the Oboe.  In fact, remember that the low B-flat is only available to the Oboe proper.  Extensions to B-flat have been developed for the other members, but are additions to already existing instruments and their use generally means that the low B-natural is no longer available.  As a general rule, just avoid the low B-flat for the lower oboes altogether.  While the lowest notes of the lower oboes are beautiful and sonorous, the low B and B-flat of the Oboe are raucous and loud.  Most Oboists I have spoken with feel that their use should be limited.

One addendum to the lower range discussion is that the Loreé company produces an Oboe with an extension to low A.  This note, as far as I can tell, has never been used by composers, though a few oboists will use this note in transcriptions.

Various texts I have read claim different upper limits for the oboe’s range, and very few are correct.  All members of the oboe family (with the possible exception of the Piccolo Oboe) ascend to the F above the treble clef.  This range can comfortably be extended to a G by most Oboists (but is best avoided on the lower instruments).  I once attended a concert for double reed players by double reed players, and the crowd was in utter astonishment when one of the best Oboists in the world played a piece that ascended to an A above this G.  Yet, we find this A in works of Stravinsky and Dvorák.  Most Oboists I have talked with simply omit the passage or take the offending part down an octave.  Don’t write above G.  Oboists carry sharp knives with them; I certainly don’t want to offend them with my writing.  This said, I personally once wrote an Oboe concerto that included a note (never mind you which one!) that was above this G, but I did it with the full cooperation of the player involved, and his production of this particular note (though not of the other notes in this register) was secure and sound.  Notes in the extreme high register lose their characteristic sound, and can be quite painful to listen to (and to produce).