I went to Kronach, Germany to visit the Wolf workshop. It was on a day off between operas at the Wagner Ring festival in Bayreuth which is about a 40 minute drive away. I had made an appointment with Peter a few weeks prior and he was very nice to give so much of his time to talk to me and show the instruments. He had brought the Kronwalt and Contraforte for people to try at IDRS in Boulder, CO this year but I wasnt able to attend.
Here are Contrafortes #75 & 76.
It was interesting to learn that it has become industry standard that the workers who fabricate the keywork work almost entirely from home, in their own personal shops. I always thought they would be in a giant room at work benches along side each other, but the workshop is empty.
The legendary Bassoforte!
The side of the workshop is a room full of historic instruments, prototypes, and examples of current instruments being produced. I was surprised that there were so many pieces of lupophones around the shop, but I think they tried many versions before finalizing the design. And of course the Bassoforte was there which I have been so curious about, although it is dusty, there are recent finger prints on it. So someone had played it, or moved it. I decided not to ask to play it as I was taking so much of his time. Peter said that it doesn’t sound like a bassoon in any way, but it has it’s own voice. And there is not much function for it among bassoon players currently.
The Kronwalt contrabassoon is a modern version of a contrabassoon which does directly follow the path of other contrabassoons. It has a smaller form function by sending the big bend and bell over the front instead of off to the side, and as an option the instrument comes apart into 2 halves for storage in the case. That case for 2 halves is the size of a cheked roller bag suitcase, and a brand new gig bag has been created which is essentially a slightly taller Kim Walker style drop in case. The divided instrument is an option and doesnt have to be included as a part of the instrument. I was weary of this design because the bassoon has bridge keys connecting the wing joint and boot joint for the low E to whisper key connection. This single bridge key on bassoon is not a good design and goes out of adjustment when the cork compresses, or when the wing joint is assembled at a slightly different angle. Kronwalt has bridge keys which are tenons which slide together. Just as the main body sections slide together, the key bridges have male and female ends which connect, without cork or rubber bumpers.
My first time playing it was not great! I had a Contraforte and currently play on a 1980’s Heckel, and this is not like either of those. I thought the contraforte fingers that I still knew would translate directly, but the CF has an automatic octave key. When pressed the CF octave will open the middle vent when the third left hand finger is down and switch to the upper vent when the third finger is lifted. So on CF tenor C# is always played with lower vent, and there is no choosing otherwise. The Kronwalt has the 2 traditional regular independant vents so if you would like to play C# with upper vent that is easy to do. So on Kronwalt everything above the staff has options for which vents to open. This basically made Contraforte fingering impossible for me to bring to Kronwalt because on CF I am not thinking of which vents open for which notes, it’s happening on it own. I think with time this will not be an issue. Peter also said that the Kronwalt can be converted to the automatic system at any time.
There is a preliminary fingering chart which at this point extends to G, the space above treble. This is a fifth lower than a CF can play, but he is still getting new fingerings sent to him from players. For me the extreme high register has potentional but I was mainly impressed with the basic scale of the instrument. Just like CF, the Kronwalt has virtually every tone hole fitted with a stack/riser. This allows each individual note to be tuned and voiced and can be changed at any point. This is the direction new Heckel contras have been taking in the last 15 years, although the Heckel tone holes are made of resin.
I placed my order, and the plan is to return in a year or so to pick it up. So far they have made 7, and he predicts making 2-3 per year. I ordered the low A attachment although it does not fit into the current case, it would be transported seperately. In my limited time playing a few notes, I preferred the sound with the Bb bell, so I would probably only take the A for specific pieces.