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- For other meanings of oboe see Oboe (disambiguation).
The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. The English word "oboe" comes from the Italian translation of the word hautbois; the name of the instrument in French (literal meaning, "high wood"). The Italian name displaced the older English name "hautboy" or "hoboy" in the 18th century. A musician who plays the oboe is called an oboist. Careful manipulation of embouchure and air pressure allows the player to express a large timbral and dynamic range.
In comparison to other modern woodwind instruments, the oboe has a very clear and somewhat piercing tone. Its uniquely penetrating timbre gives it the ability to be audible over other instruments in large ensembles, making it easily heard for tuning. Orchestras will usually tune by listening to the oboe play a concert A. Adjusting the pitch of the oboe is achieved by changing the position of the reed in the instrument, or by permanently altering the scrape, removing cane from the reed. Subtle changes in pitch are also possible by adjusting the embouchure. The oboe is pitched in concert C.
The baroque oboe first appeared in French courts under Jean-Baptiste Lully in the late 17th century, where it was called hautbois. The basic form of the instrument was derived from the shawm, an instrument widely used in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Musician and instrument maker Jacques Hotteterre was responsible for many of the new instrument's early developments. The instrument quickly spread throughout Europe (including England, where it was called "hautboy"). It was the main melody instrument in early military bands, until it was succeeded by the clarinet.
The Baroque oboe was generally made from boxwood and had three keys; a "great", and two side keys. (The side key was often doubled to facilitate use of either the right or left hand on the bottom holes) In order to produce higher pitches, the player had to "overblow," or increase the air stream to reach the next harmonic. Notable oboe-makers of the period are the German Denner and Eichentopf, and the English Stanesby Sr. and Jr. The range for the Baroque oboe comfortably extends from c1 to d3. With the resurgence of interest in early music in the mid 20th century, a few makers began producing copies to specifications from surviving historical instruments.
The Classical oboe
The classical period brough an oboe whose bore was gradually narrowed, and the instrument became outfitted with several keys, among them were those for the notes C♯, F, and G♯. A key similar to the modern octave key was also added called the "slur key". The narrower bore allowed the higher notes to be more easily played, and composers began to more often utilize the oboe's upper register in their works. Because of this, the oboe's tessitura in the Classical era was somewhat broader than that found in Baroque works. The range for the Classical oboe extends from c1 to f3, though some German and Austrian oboes were capable of playing one half-step lower. Classical-era composers who wrote concertos for oboe include Mozart (both the solo concerto in C major K. 314/285d and the lost Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major K. 297b), Haydn, (both the Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Hob. I:105 and the spurious concerto in C major Hob. VIIg:C1), Beethoven (the F major concerto, Hess 12, of which only sketches survive, though the second movement was reconstructed in the late twentieth century), and numerous other composers including Johann Christian Bach, Johann Christian Fischer. Innumerable solos exist for the oboe in chamber, symphonic, and operatic compositions from the Classical era.
The Viennese oboe
In Vienna, a unique oboe has been preserved with its bore and tonal characteristics remaining relatively unchanged in use to the present day. The Akademiemodel oboe, developed in the early 20th century by Hermann Zuleger, is now made by a select few makers, notably Guntram Wolf and Yamaha. Apart from its use in the major Viennese orchestras, which continue to exploit the Akademiemodel's unique color, it is not used.
The modern oboe
The oboe was developed further in the 19th century by the Triebert family of Paris. Using the Boehm flute as a source of ideas for key work, Guillaume Triebert and his sons, Charles and Frederic, devised a series of increasingly complex yet functional key systems. A variant form using large tone holes; the Boehm system oboe, was never in common use, though it was used in some military bands in Europe into the 20th century. F. Lorée of Paris made further developments to the modern instrument. Minor improvements to the bore and key work have continued through the 20th century, but there has been no fundamental change to the general characteristics of the instrument for several decades. .
The modern oboe is most commonly made from grenadilla wood (African blackwood), though some manufacturers also make oboes out of other members of the dalbergia family of woods, which includes cocobolo, rosewood, ebony, and violetwood. Student model oboes are often made from plastic resin, to avoid instrument cracking that is prone to wood instruments, but also to make the instrument more economical. The oboe has an extremely narrow conical bore. The oboe is played with a double reed consisting of two thin blades of cane tied together on a small-diameter metal tube (staple), which is inserted into the reed socket at the top of the instrument. The commonly accepted range for the oboe extends from b♭0 to about g3, over two and a half octaves, though its common tessitura lies from c1 to e♭3. Some student oboes only extend to b0; the key for b♭ is not present, however this variant is becoming less common.
A modern oboe with the "full conservatory" key system has 45 pieces of keywork, with the possible additions of a third octave key and an alternate (left little finger) F-key. The keys are usually made of nickel silver, and are silver or occasionally gold-plated. Besides the full conservatory or "conservatoire" system, oboes are also made using the English thumbplate system or the automatic octave system. Some full conservatory oboes are also open-holed oboes, and most of the professional models have at least the right hand third key open holed.
Other members of the oboe family
The oboe has several siblings. The most widely known today is the cor anglais, or English horn, the tenor (or alto) member of the family. A transposing instrument; it is pitched in F, a perfect fifth lower than the oboe. The oboe d'amore, the alto (or mezzo-soprano) member of the family, is pitched in A, a minor third lower than the oboe. J.S. Bach made extensive use of both the oboe d'amore as well as the taille and oboe da caccia, Baroque antecedents of the cor anglais. Even less common is the bass oboe (also called baritone oboe), which sounds one octave lower than the oboe. Delius and Holst both scored for the instrument. Similar to the bass oboe is the more powerful heckelphone, which has a wider bore and larger tone than the bass oboe. Only 165 heckelphones have ever been made, and competent players are hard to find . The least common of all are the musette (also called oboe musette or piccolo oboe), the sopranino member of the family (it is usually pitched in E-flat or F above the oboe), and the contrabass oboe (typically pitched in C, two octaves deeper than the standard oboe).
Keyless folk versions of the oboe (most descended from the shawm) are found throughout Europe. These include the musette (France) and bombarde (Brittany), the piffaro and ciaramella (Italy), and the xirimia or chirimia (Spain). Many of these are played in tandem with local forms of bagpipe. Similar oboe-like instruments, most believed to derive from Middle Eastern models, are also found throughout Asia as well as in North Africa.
Classical works featuring the oboe
- Benedetto Marcello, Oboe Concerto in c minor
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Oboe Concerto in C major, Quartet in F major
- Antonio Vivaldi, Oboe Concerti
- Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos nos. 1 and 2, Concerto for Violin and oboe, lost oboe concerti, numerous oboe obbligato lines in the sacred and secular cantatas
- Tomaso Albinoni, Oboe (and two oboe) Concerti
- George Frideric Handel, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Oboe Concerti and Sonatas
- Georg Philipp Telemann, Oboe Concerti and Sonatas, trio sonatas for oboe, recorder and basso continuo
- Richard Strauss, Oboe Concerto
- Joseph Haydn (spurious), Oboe Concerto in C major
- Vincenzo Bellini, Concerto in E♭ major (arranged)
- Luciano Berio, Sequenza VII
- Domenico Cimarosa, Oboe Concerto in C major (arranged)
- Francis Poulenc, Oboe Sonata
- Benjamin Britten, Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, Temporal Variations
- Robert Schumann, Three Romances for Oboe or Violin
- Carl Nielsen, Two Fantasy Pieces for Oboe and Piano
- Alessandro Marcello, Concerto in D minor
- Ralph Vaughan Williams, Concerto for Oboe and Strings, Ten Blake Songs for oboe and tenor
- Camille Saint-Saëns, Sonate for Oboe and Piano in D Major
- Bohuslav Martinu, [Oboe Concerto]
The oboe outside of classical music
While the oboe is rarely used in musical genres other than Western classical, there have been a few notable exceptions.
Traditional and folk music
Although keyless folk oboes are still used in many European folk music traditions, the modern oboe has been little used in folk music. One exception was the late Derek Bell, harpist for the Irish group Chieftains, who used the instrument in some performances and recordings. The U.S. contra dance band Wild Asparagus, based in western Massachusetts, also uses the oboe, played by David Cantieni.
Although the oboe has never been featured prominently in jazz music, some early bands, most notably that of Paul Whiteman, included it for coloristic purposes. The multi-instrumentalist Garvin Bushell (1902-1991) played the oboe in jazz bands as early as 1924 and used the instrument throughout his career, eventually recording with John Coltrane in 1961. Gil Evans scored for the instrument in his famous Miles Davis collaboration "Sketches of Spain." Though primarily a tenor saxophone player, Yusef Lateef was among the first (in 1963) to use the oboe as a solo instrument in modern jazz performances and recordings. The 1980s saw an increasing number of oboists try their hand at non-classical work, and many players of note have recorded and performed alternative music on oboe.
The oboe has been used sporadically in rock recordings (generally by studio musicians on recordings of specific songs such as "Hergest Ridge" by Mike Oldfield), though a few bands have featured oboists as members. Such bands include Henry Cow, Roxy Music, and Sigur Rós (although the oboists in these bands generally used the oboe as a secondary instrument, not playing it on every song). The work of the indie rock musician Sufjan Stevens (who also plays cor anglais and often overdubs both instruments on his albums) is also notable.
The American rock band REM features the oboe in several tracks of their 1991 album Out of Time (most notably as the lead melodic instrument on the wordless song "Endgame"), as well as on four tracks of their 1992 album Automatic for the People. The oboe is also featured in the Stereophonics' 2001 cover of "Handbags and Gladrags" by Rod Stewart. Jarlaath, the vocalist of the French gothic metal band Penumbra, plays the oboe in a number of the band's songs, as does Robbie J. de Klerk, the vocalist of the Dutch melodic doom/death metal band Another Messiah. Queen's song "It's A Beautiful Day," which appears on the group's 1995 album Made in Heaven, contains an oboe part (this oboe part was bassist John Deacon's idea).
The oboe is frequently featured in film music, often to underscore a particularly poignant or sad scene. One of the most prominent uses of the oboe in a film score is Ennio Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe" theme from The Mission.
Other oboists performing outside classical genres
- Marshall Allen (with Sun Ra Arkestra), jazz, free jazz
- Kyle Bruckmann, free improvisation
- Garvin Bushell, jazz
- Joseph Celli, free improvisation, contemporary classical music
- Brian Charles
- Gene Cipriano
- Lindsay Cooper, art rock
- Jean-Luc Fillon, jazz
- Caroline Glass, indie rock (played with Cirque du Soleil)
- Robbie Lynn Hunsinger
- Joseph Jarman, jazz, free jazz
- Karl Jenkins
- Rahsaan Roland Kirk
- Marta Konicek
- Yusef Lateef, jazz
- Caris Liebman
- Andy Mackay (with Roxy Music), art rock
- Charlie Mariano
- Paul McCandless (with Paul Winter Consort and Oregon), jazz
- Makanda Ken McIntyre, jazz
- Janey Miller (with New Noise)
- Mitch Miller
- Roscoe Mitchell, jazz, free jazz
- Manuel Munzlinger
- Romeo Penque
- Dewey Redman, jazz
- Don Redman, jazz
- Nancy Rumbel easy listening
- Brenda Schumann-Post world, jazz
- Matt Sullivan
- Sufjan Stevens, indie rock
- Kjartan Sveinsson (with Sigur Rós), post-rock
See this list of oboists.
- Tess Bagthorpe (in the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell)
A large number of professional oboists in the United States use instruments made by the French company F. Lorée. The following is a list of the major oboe manufacturers:
- Cabart ( A Division of F. Lorée )
- A. Laubin
- F. Lorée
- Musik Josef
- ^ See: Robert Howe. "The Boehm Oboe and its Role in the Development of the Modern Oboe". Galpin Society Journal, 2003.
- ^ See: Robert Howe and Peter Hurd. "The Heckelphone at 100". Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, 2004.
- Bruce Haynes: Music for oboe Online bibliography of literature for oboe written between 1650 and 1800.
- Experiments in Jazz Oboe by Alison Wilson (archive link, was dead)
- OboeSpace: Oboe information
- ASU Oboe Homepage
- Russian Oboe Page
- Oboe fingering guide
- Reed making information and new music featuring oboe
- Oboist Liang Wang: His Reeds Come First NPR story by Debbie Elliott
- Oboe Fingering Trainer Interactive Oboe Fingering Trainer
- From Quack to Crow in 30 Minutes From Quack to Crow in 30 Minutes: A Beginner's Guide
- High Wood Fanlisting for the Oboe
- NPR interview with New York Philharmonic principal oboist Liang Wang, September 2006
Categories: Woodwind instruments | Oboists | Single oboes with conical bore