Finding historic basset horns in Kandern.
By David Glenn
Here is the story of my discovery of two historic basset horns and other instruments in my small town at the edge of the Black Forrest in Germany. As background information you should know that I am a basset horn fan myself. I play in a basset horn trio (see www.mitglied.lycos.de/blaeserensemble/ ) and have a small music publishing business (see http://bassetti-paletti.de) specializing in basset horn music.
My family and I have been living in the town of Kandern (pop. approx. 4000 or 8000 if you include the surrounding villages) since 1986 but I was surprised when the "Heimat- und Keramikmuseum" (Home Town and Ceramics Museum) called me up and asked me to come over and identify some oboe or clarinet instruments which they had laying around in an old box. That sounded interesting so I went to have a look.
The curator, Frau M. let me in and brought me upstairs where they had the whole collection spread out on a styrofoam board. The museum is largely devoted to local pottery which is typical for the region. They didn't really know what to do with musical instruments. We walked over to the collection and I couldn't believe my eyes! It was mostly clarinet instruments in boxwood with brass keys and some brass mouthpieces, one bassoon reed and a few metal tools.A moment later, I went from a state of shock to a state of extreme shock! I had recognized a part of a basset horn with an ivory knee! Within a few moments I had put two nearly complete basset horns together (only missing mouthpiece and bell) and parts of one (or maybe two) clarinette d'amour and an ordinary clarinet. Frau M. noticed how excited I was and suggested I take the basset horns home to finish sorting them out. Of course I didn't let her ask twice!
At home and still somewhat in a state of shock, I called up my friend and basset horn colleague Peter Geisler from Schopfheim and I asked him to guess what I had laying around at home. "No idea." "Two historic, 15 keyed basset horns. ... hello? ... hello Peter? ... are you still there? ..." "Sorry, I just had to sit down!" Yes it was hard to imagine! What were these rare, expensive instruments doing in Kandern in the early 19th century? At that time, there was only an orchestra of brass instruments which belonged to the mining company (Bergwerksmusik). The instruments had been in the possession of the museum or their predecessor museums for about 100 years and there was no record from where they came. Very mysterious! The next day, Peter came over to see the basset horns and then we went to the museum and had a look at the rest of the instruments. In the end, I ended up taking the whole box home so that we could try and sort out the pieces.
It was clear from the beginning for both Peter and me that the two basset horns must be restored! They are 15 key instruments with signs of use which means they may well be of good quality. One of them is marked "Uhlmann" from Vienna. The other one is without mark but looks very similar. Both are nearly complete and in relatively good shape considering their age and that they've been stored improperly for the last 100 years. It was decided to take the complete collection to Bamberg and show it to the firm Schwenk & Seggelke for appraisal. My wife and I went with Peter to Bamberg to show the instruments.
When we arrived, Jochen Seggelke showed us a table where we could spread out the treasure. He put on a pair of white gloves (oops, we hadn't thought of that!) and inspected the instruments. Then he said, "Herr Raquet from the museum in Nuremberg must come see this! It could be that he is in Bamberg today. And sure enough, he was able to come and the two of them looked at the instruments together. What an experience! With white gloves and magnifying glass etc. Seggelke and Raquet agreed with us that the basset horns were well worth the trouble so we got permission to leave them there. The other instruments were carefully wrapped in acid free paper (we had brought them wrapped in newspaper!) and we brought them back to the museum in Kandern.
So the two basset horns are being restored and will be later displayed in the museum in Kandern but not before we can play on them again! The repair is not cheap and so Peter Geisler and I have offered to play a benefit concert with these two basset horns to help raise funds for it. We hope to involve the historic basset horn trio "Clarimonia" as well. We are putting Kandern on the map!
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