BACKOFEN, HEINRICH (ca. 1804–1872). Heinrich Backofen, musical instrument builder, was the son of Johann Georg Heinrich Backofen, a prominent musician and clarinet maker in Darmstadt, Germany. The exact dates and locations of Heinrich Backofen’s birth and death are unknown.
Heinrich Backofen’s father, Johann Georg Heinrich Backofen (1768–1839), was a clarinetist, basset horn player, and harpist. He studied music from age twelve in Nuremberg and traveled across Europe performing with other musicians. In Paris, he studied with Xavier Lefèvre for seven years and secured a position at the Théâtre Italien. In 1811 J. G. H. Backofen was appointed to the position of court musician in Darmstadt. In 1815 he opened a small shop in Darmstadt for making flutes, clarinets, oboes, and basset horns. It was here that the younger Backofen learned the trade of building and repairing musical instruments.
J. G. H. Backofen’s son, Heinrich Backofen, became involved with the Darmstädter group, which was recruited by the Adelsverein, an immigrant aid society organized to help bring Germans to Texas. The Darmstädter or “The Forty” as they were called, was an idealistic group of young professionals interested in establishing a communistic settlement in America. Most of the members of the Darmstädter were young male students, though Backofen was in his forties at the time. The Darmstädters sailed aboard the St. Pauli and arrived in Galveston, Texas, on July 4, 1847. Backofen was one of the wealthier members of the group, so he was able to afford a horse and was not forced to walk alongside the wagons as many others were.
The Forty established a farm approximately two and a half miles outside of New Braunfels on land granted by the Aldesverein. The Darmstädter farm was nicknamed Fürchtegott or “Fear God.” A few members of the group remained behind at the farm, while Backofen and the others traveled approximately thirty-five miles north of Fredricksburg, where they established the town of Bettina, named after Bettina Brentano von Arnim, a radical idealist and writer who had influenced members of the Darmstädter in Berlin. Backofen brought with him “a chest of instruments.”
Disagreements among the Forty began before they had even arrived in Bettina. Backofen complained that he had become the focus of their scorn, because he would not behave like the rest of them, preferring as he said to “[keep] my belongings tidy.” Backofen became disillusioned with the Darmstädters and was angered by the lack of discipline and order among the younger members of the group. Not long after arriving in Bettina, Backofen asked permission to return to New Braunfels to work on the Fürchtegott. Herman Speiss, leader of the communist farm in Bettina, begged Backofen to stay and told him that should he ever wish to return to Bettina, he would be welcomed with open arms. Because Backofen was one of the richest members of the Forty, Speiss was reluctant to see him leave Bettina, especially since Backofen had already made several loans to Speiss.
Heinrich Backofen did return to New Braunfels, but he remained at the farm only a short time. In the summer of 1848 he was back in Darmstadt, where he continued the family business of building and repairing musical instruments. An advertisement from Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1850 proclaims the superiority of Backofen’s woodwind instruments, in particular the basset horn, though there are no known surviving basset horns created by Backofen.
Andreas Reichstein, German Pioneers on the American Frontier: The Wagners in Texas and Illinois (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2001). Albert R. Rice, From the Clarinet d’Amour to the Contra Bass: A History of the Large Size Clarinets, 1740-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Nicole Blanchard, "BACKOFEN, HEINRICH," accessed February 22, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fback.
Uploaded on May 12, 2014. Modified on April 8, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.