A Contrabassoon for Theodora

(Photo by Anthony Johnson/Fairfax Media)

(Photo by Anthony Johnson/Fairfax Media)

Exciting news – we now have the contrabassoon! Guntram Wolf, the makers of our new contrabassoon, have been working away and the really excellent news is that they have managed to find a way to accommodate our wish to be able to use the instrument at both A=415 (Baroque pitch) and A=430 (Classical pitch). Initially Peter Wolf (the maker of our instrument) thought that this would be impossible, so we are delighted that he has been able to find a way to do this. As you probably know the contrabassoon only truly came into its own in the Classical period as a featured part of the orchestra (Haydn’s Creation is the most famous example of the use of contrabassoon from that period). By commissioning a 415 only instrument we were restricting the possible uses of the contra, so we really wanted to explore ways in which it could be used as a 430 instrument as well, as it will be the only period contrabassoon in the southern hemisphere (that we know about). The difference in pitch is achieved by adapting the bocal (what we would call the crook) and the reed to bring the instrument up to 430 (about a quarter of a tone above baroque pitch). As the bore of the instrument (the length of the tube inside the contra) is very long the fingerholes don’t need to be repositioned between the two pitches, which is what makes this possible. Peter Wolf has worked with Stefan Pantzier, a leading expert in period bassoons and contrabassoons in Germany, on this and they have found a way to do this. Hooray!

Our contrabassoon is based on a model known as the Eichentopf contrabassoon, after a maker Andreas Eichentopf (c. 1670-1721) who was resident in Nordhausen, contemporaneous with J S Bach. The oldest surviving contra is from 1714 in Leipzig and is inscribed with Eichentopf’s mark. A pair of contras survive from this period and have extremely well worn fingerholes suggesting that they were in great use from the time – which is very interesting, as we tend to think about the contra as a specialist instrument, which it probably was not.

JOHN PITMAN WITH THE CONTRABASSOON IN GERMANY

JOHN PITMAN WITH THE CONTRABASSOON IN GERMANY

John Pitman, Pinchgut Board member, tenor in Cantillation, and contrabassoon donor made the trip to Kronenberg in Germany (while in Europe), where the Guntram Wolf workshop is based, and collected the contra mid August. It came back with John well packed and in the hold of the aircraft, and it’s been handed over to us. From the Pinchgut office it will go to Simon Rickard, who is our principal bassoon, and Brock Imison, who will be the contra player for Theodora. They will be making adjustments, adapting finger holes, cutting new reeds according the ones supplied with the instrument and generally playing it in before Theodora begins. As it is a new instrument it will require considerable working on and getting used to before it is ready to play in the orchestra. It’s very large! We would say look out for it at the Theodora performances, but you won’t be able to miss it!

We recently held a function to celebrate the arrival of the instrument with our donors. See photos below.

Handel's Theodora
30 November - 6 December, City Recital Hall