Blog / Original instruments for Brahms 4

Original instruments for Brahms 4

Posted on 9 Oct 2013 by ACO Marketing

Our upcoming tour Brahms 4 & Isserlis’ Dvorák will feature an augmented ACO, including musicians performing on wind instruments from Brahms’ time. In an excerpt from the concert program, two of these musicians, Jane Gower and David Chatteron, write about their instruments.

Bassoon – Jane Gower

My bassoon is one of the oldest surviving members of a royal family. Bassoons built by the Heckel factory in Biebrich remain among the most coveted instruments, even for modern players today. This example was built in the 1880s, and in fact ended up back in the Heckel factory after its first, no doubt eventful, life. After having languished unplayed for some decades in an attic, it had been brought in by someone hoping to sell it on to an eager period bassoonist.

When my colleague Györgyi and I visited the factory after a concert in nearby Wiesbaden, we were told about it, if in the somewhat roundabout manner that often characterises instrument dealing! This was in 2007 and we were on the look-out for instruments for the Brahms symphony cycle we were to record with John Eliot Gardiner. Here was the perfect candidate.

Though in many respects the old Heckels resemble the modern German bassoon, they had not yet undergone many of the technical innovations and adaptions that created today’s sleek, high-tech machine. The sound is much warmer, less strident, more varied in tone, with a darker golden/amber hue rather than today’s burnished brass. Performing Brahms 4th symphony on this bassoon is in every respect a revelation with this instrument’s clearer, more differentiated textures bringing out so many new wonders of instrumentation, counterpoint, inner harmonic and melodic line.


Contrabassoon – David Chatterton
The contrabassoon I will be playing in this concert is an original made in London in the 1870s by Mahillon with a French fingering system but with the internal bore dimensions of the Heckel Contrabassoon of the time. Before WWII, this instrument was played in the London Symphony by Alan Cave. It has a lighter, more focused sound than the modern contrabassoon, but is more reliable than its Classical era predecessor.

Brahms was the first composer to write proper symphonic parts for the Contra rather than copying the double bass part, which Beethoven did in his 5th and 9th Symphonies.

I used this instrument to record the Brahms Symphonies with Sir John Eliot Gardner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique and with Sir Roger Norrington with the London Classical Players.

Excerpts from Brahms 4 & Isserlis program notes.