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Modern Oboe Modern Oboe

The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. It is a descendant of the shawm. The word "oboe" is derived from the French word hautbois, meaning "high wood". It is still on rare occasion called hautboy in English. A musician who plays the oboe is called an oboist. Careful manipulation of embouchure and air pressure allows the player to express a huge range of emotions and moods.


The instrument

It is more difficult to play and produce a good tone on the oboe compared to woodwind instruments such as the flute or clarinet. Beginners often produce a nasal, often out-of-tune, and strident tone that is difficult to blend with other instruments, but an advanced oboist can produce a rich, warm, and beautiful tone. It is pitched in C.

In comparison to other modern woodwind instruments, the oboe has a very clear and somewhat piercing tone, because it emphasizes the even harmonics.[1] Its uniquely penetrating timbre gives it the ability to cut through and be audible over other instruments in large ensembles, making it easy to tune to. Orchestras usually set the pitch by listening to the oboe playing concert A. Setting the pitch of the oboe is achieved by changing the position of the reed in the instrument, or by permanently altering the scrape of the reed itself. Subtle changes in pitch are also possible by adjusting the embouchure. Some changes can also be made by meticulously adjusting the reed position.

Baroque oboe

Baroque Oboe, Stanesby Copy Baroque Oboe, Stanesby Copy

The oboe first appeared in French courts around 1650. In the 17th century Jean Hotteterre and Michel Danican Philidor modified the shawm, so that the new oboe had a narrower bore and a reed which is held by the player's lips near the end. Henry Purcell was the first composer to specifically score for it and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote extensively for it. It was the main melody instrument in early military bands until ousted by the clarinet.

Baroque oboes were generally made from boxwood or fruit wood, with a wider bore and wider reed than the modern instrument, giving it a "creamier" and more clarinet-like timbre. In the Baroque era the oboe had two brass keys, one the C-key and the other the E♭-key. This instrument had no C♯4 nor were there octave-keys. Notes in the successive octaves were reached through overblowing. Notable oboe-makers of that period are the German Denner and the English Stanesby. The range for the Baroque oboe extends from C4 to E♭6. In the 20th century, a few makers began producing new Baroque oboes to specifications from surviving historical instruments, for use in the performance of early music.

The Classical oboe

Classical Oboe Classical Oboe

Later, in the classical period, the oboe became outfitted with eight keys, among them the so-called G♯-key and the long-awaited octave-key, which allowed the player to play in the higher ranges without overblowing the instrument. The range for the Classical oboe extends from C4 to F6.

Modern oboe

The modern oboe was developed in the mid-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 popular in orchestral work but was used in military bands on the continent well into the 20th century. F. Lorée of Paris developed the modern oboe, the so-called System 6 bis, in 1905. Minor improvements to the bore and key work have continued through the 20th century, but there has been no fundamental change to the character of the instrument; 21st century oboes are louder and have more even scales than their equivalents of a century ago, but are essentially the same instrument [2].

The modern oboe is most commonly made from grenadilla (or African blackwood) and some manufacturers also make oboes out of other members of the dalbergia family of wood (cocobolo; rosewood; violetwood), or high-quality plastic resin. The oboe has an extremely narrow conical bore. It does not have a mouthpiece like the clarinet or saxophone; instead it has a double-reed consisting of two thin blades of cane tied together on a small-diameter metal tube (staple). The reed is held on the lips. The commonly accepted range for the oboe extends from B♭3 to G6, over two and a half octaves, though its common tessitura lies from D4 to E♭6, and can play from B♭3 to C#7. Together with the flute and recorder, it is one of the oldest woodwind instruments.

The modern oboe has more than 20 keys which are usually silver-plated or occasionally gold-plated. The oboe is fingered similarly to the flute and saxophone. The modern oboe mechanism is mainly of two types: (a) the French conservatoire system and (b) the English thumbplate system. There is also a combination system where the French system has a thumbplate added, and also a German system involving fully automatic octaves.

In Vienna, an oboe preserving the bore and tonal characteristics has continued in use to the present day. This Akademiemodel oboe, invented in the early 20th century by Hermann Zuleger, is now made by a select few makers, notably Guntram Wolf and Yamaha. Apart from the major Viennese orchestras, which continue to exploit the Akademiemodel's unique color, it is not used.

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 standard 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 used both the oboe d'amore as well as the taille and oboe da caccia, Baroque antecedents of the cor anglais, extensively. Even less common is the bass oboe (also called baritone oboe), which sounds one octave lower than the regular oboe. Delius and Holst both scored for it, and today it is used increasingly often. Almost a museum piece 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 [3]. The least common of all is 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 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 piffero and ciaramella (Italy), and the xirimia (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

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
Tomaso Albinoni, Oboe Concerti
George Frideric Handel, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Oboe Concerti and Sonate
Georg Philipp Telemann, Oboe Concerti and Sonate
Richard Strauss, Oboe Concerto
Joseph Haydn, Oboe Concerto in C major
Vincenzo Bellini, Concerto in E♭ major
Luciano Berio, Sequenza VII
Domenico Cimarosa, Oboe Concerto in C major
Francis Poulenc, Oboe Sonata
Benjamin Britten, 6 Metamorphoses after Ovid
Robert Schumann, 3 Romanzen for Oboe and Piano
Carl Nielsen, Two Fantasy Pieces for Oboe and Piano
Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Oboe Concertos
Georg Philipp Telemann, Sonata in A minor
Alessandro Marcello, Concerto in D minor
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Concerto for Oboe and Strings and Ten Blake Songs for oboe and tenor

Oboist Albrecht Mayer preparing reeds for use.  Oboists cut their own reeds to achieve the desired tone and response Oboist Albrecht Mayer preparing reeds for use. Oboists cut their own reeds to achieve the desired tone and response

The oboe in non-classical genres

While the oboe is rather 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 traditional 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. REM, a rock band from Athens, GA features the oboe in several tracks of their album Out of Time, most notably as the lead melodic instrument on the wordless song "Endgame."


Although the oboe never 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.[1] 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.

Other oboists performing in non-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
Caroline Glass, indie rock
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

Fictional oboist

  • Tess Bagthorpe (in the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell)

Oboe manufacturers

A majority of professional oboists in the United States favor instruments made by the French company F. Lorée. Following is a list of the major oboe manufacturers.


  1. ^ This is in contrast to the clarinet, whose tone emphasizes the odd-numbered harmonics, giving it a very mellow timbre. The clarinet emphasises these odd-numbered harmonics because it has a cylindrical bore; unlike the oboe's conical bore, this cylindrical bore does not support the even-numbered harmonics.
  2. ^ See: Robert Howe. "The Boehm Oboe and its Role in the Development of the Modern Oboe". Galpin Society Journal, 2003.
  3. ^ See: Robert Howe and Peter Hurd. "The Heckelphone at 100". Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, 2004.

External links

Home | Up | List of woodwind instruments | Bagpipes | Flute | Bassoon | Clarinet | Oboe | Saxophone

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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