Leitzinger Contrabassoon Bocals

This week I had a few Leitzinger Contrabassoon Bocals on trial from Forrests Music. I had a Leitzinger NML2 bassoon bocal  a few years ago when I played on a Fox 601, but I sold it since it didn’t pair so well on my Heckel 10k. What I so appreciated about that bocal was the easy high note response and clarity in the tone. That bassoon had some funny pitch issues (saggy middle E) that the Leitzinger fixed immediately.

I have been using a Heckel C2 that suits the instrument well, so trying new bocals is just out of curiosity. Forrests has a large selection of Leitzinger contra bocals so I got to try each type and plating option, I ended up really liking a F2 Gold plated and an F2 platinum. Now that I have had them at home for a few days I have a sense of what these are able to do.

I notice almost no difference in response, pitch, or tone from the Heckel and the high notes are just as solid. The one improvement I do notice is when I use a light reed and play loud sfz attacks sometimes the pitch can sag with the Heckel, and the Leitzinger is more stable. However I do not like the bend, it angles down much more than I would like which forces me to change the instrument position. And lastly the price point is high. This thing comes in at $2,300 which is much more than a new Heckel bocal, without a huge sound difference. I am impressed by the sound and quality of this bocal but it’s a little too much for me!

Heckel Contrabassoon #1002 For Sale

Heckel Contrabassoon #1002 is up for sale. This contra is owned by Steve Braunstein who is the original owner, and he has kept fantastic care of it! The horn was ordered in 1982 while he was in the Toronto Symphony and he has since been playing it in the San Francisco Symphony. Contact him to arrange a visit and play test.

Neue Burg bassoons

I have had been on a trip to Vienna for the last few weeks. The Hofburg palace houses an antique instrument museum which to my surprise had many bassoons and contrabassoons! So here are a few but not all of the instruments on display

Entrance to Antique Instrument Museum

bassoon family

bassoon family back

bassoons

This Contrabassoon was built by Bradka in Vienna, this was his standard model in 1870.

Stehle Bassoon

This bassoon was built by Johann Stehle who at the time was considered to be one of the finest instrument makers in the German speaking regions. This instrument was an experiment as it has a tuning slide on the wing joint to lengthen the bore between the register vents and tones holes. This bassoon also has an split bell to add on a low A attachment.

Woodwind Family

 This Contrabassoon was built by Bradka for the Viennese Jubilee crafts exhibition in 1888. This design differs from his previous models because of the rounded U-tubes to create less air resistance. “Bradka seems to have oriented this to a model from 1976 by Alfred Morton” (the contrabassophone maker)

The bassoon is a Heckel from the 1880s.

Tangential Bassoon

I was recently talking to my neighbor about what I do, and it turns out that he used to be a clarinet player. He said that he didn’t continue on to a professional level because he needed to invest so much in equipment. To be a pro clarinet player, he said, he needed to buy a whole family of pro clarinets and he just wanted to play Bb soprano clarinet. So this got me into talking about the bassoon tangents that people get into, in a professional or sub-professional way. Every bassoon player plays bassoon for a while and then there are a few different directions to go experimenting.

Probably the most responsible secondary horn is contrabassoon. This is very practical since it’s also used in the orchestra and most bassoon teachers can help with it. The only obstacle with contra is getting access to one since they are expensive and unpopular. As a student in college it’s becoming standard to take out extra loan money to finance a new instrument, but usually graduate programs are more lenient on addition loans.

contrabassoon

French Basson is mostly dead at this point. People play them out of curiosity and on a hobbyist level. I had one for many years and I was never tempted to take it to a gig instead of a Heckel system bassoon. That being said, french bassoon can be a cool thing to pull out on a recital or for chamber music. My high point was being able to play the Saint-Saens Sonate on it, but it never made it out to a recital. This scratches the itch of wanting to play a historical instrument but its also pretty easy to learn.

French Bassoon

Baroque bassoon is another route that some players go. Baroque orchestras are becoming much more popular in California and New York, and so there are maybe a few more gigs for baroque players on top of regular orchestra gigs. Baroque is much more difficult to play well and isn’t as pleasing to listen to unaccompanied, so learning it can be tedious. When I have done “baroque” orchestra gigs, it usually ends up being some sort of mixed ensemble. The woodwinds and principal strings play baroque instruments, but the rest of the strings play on modern setups. I am not a baroque bassoon player but I do sometimes want to play historical literature on the authentic instruments. Baroque bassoon are also much much cheaper than modern bassoons.

Baroque Bassoon

The bassoon has recently been modernized even further with the addition of an electric pickup. With a modified bocal, players can plug into an amp and use the same filters and effects that an guitarist can use. There are so many great electric players but not so many gigs. This isn’t so much a career path as it is a way to bridge the gap and get into jazz or rock etc.

Electric Bassoon

Contrabassoons of the World!

It’s so amazing that we live in the age of youtube and world wide web! We are able to hear what different players sound like all over the world, the differing styles and tones of certain players. Contrabassoon is especially interesting because I don’t think that contrabassoon tone is uniform throughout most cities! Thanks to players uploading footage and interviews we are able to hear from a wind section that we wouldn’t normally have access to. These are a few clips featuring players around the world.

 

Amrei Liebold, Orchestre de Paris

Luke Whitehead, Philharmonia Orchestra

Dominic Morgan, London Symphony Orchestra

Lewis Lipnick, National Symphony Orchestra

Jaap de Vries, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra

Gregg Henegar, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Bassoon Family

Bassoon Contrabassoon Contraforte French Bassoon Basson Baroque Fagott

“The bassoon family” is a bassoon lesson that I teach when a student is in a slump. Too many weeks on etudes or a concerto often makes high schoolers lose interest. So I give them a contra lesson, or for the students that have lessons in my home, an introduction to the bassoon family. I have two high school seniors this year, and contrabassoon will definitely be a part of college orchestra playing.

The start of each lesson is playing through the circle of fifths, 12 major scales. This is a nice way to get into contrabassoon and introduce the vent keys and the Eb keys. The student can get a small taste of standard orchestra excerpts like the Contrabassoon solos written by Ravel in his Piano Concerto in G, and Ma Mère l’Oye. Contrabassoon comes quickly to many bassoonists, and Contraforte come quickly to bassoonists who also play sax. The simple octave keys on the Contraforte make it a closer match to high woodwinds.

It’s also interesting to introduce students to the Baroque bassoon. I make a point to have students learn a baroque piece every year, since honor orchestras and college auditions ask for pieces from contrasting eras. The basic scale of the baroque bassoon is the same as modern bassoon, so a few Vivaldi concertos translate well to the baroque bassoon. This also provides a useful insight into the instrument that the piece was written for, and how lucky we are to have a modernized bassoon.

The french bassoon is mostly for informational use. To learn the lowest octave chromatically and play a few scales. I don’t teach much French repertoire to high schoolers so it’s an instrument with no direct connection to their experiences. But I Play a few recordings of french bassoon players, explain the Paris Conservatory, and the school of French players that still exist throughout the world.

Baroque Bassoon, French Bassoon, German Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Contraforte
Baroque Bassoon, French Bassoon, German Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Contraforte