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The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind instrument 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.


[edit] The instrument

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 (usually A440, but sometimes higher if the orchestra tunes to a higher pitch). 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.

[edit] Baroque oboe

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" or "hoboy"). 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 Dennee 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.

[edit] The Classical oboe

The classical period brought 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," though it was at first used more like the "flick" keys on the modern German bassoon. Only later did French instrument makers redesign the octave key to be used in the manner of the modern key (i.e. held open for the upper register, closed for the lower). 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, Jan Antonín Koželuh, and Ludwig August Lebrun. Innumerable solos exist for the oboe in chamber, symphonic, and operatic compositions from the Classical era.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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. <ref>See: Robert Howe. "The Boehm Oboe and its Role in the Development of the Modern Oboe". Galpin Society Journal, 2003.</ref>.

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 wood instruments are prone to, 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" ("conservatiore" outside the USA) or Gillet key system has 45 pieces of keywork, with the possible additions of a third octave key and alternate (left little finger) F- or C-key. The keys are usually made of nickel, and are silver or occasionally gold-plated. Besides the full conservatoire system, oboes are also made using the English thumbplate system; most have 'semi-automatic' octave keys in which the second octave action closes the first some have a fully automatic octave key system, as used on Saxophones. Some full conservatory oboes have finger holes covered with rings rather than plates ("open-holed"), and most of the professional models have at least the right hand third key open-holed. Professional oboes used in the UK frequently feature conservatoire system combined with a thumb plate. With this type of mechanism the oboist has the best of both worlds as far as the convenience of fingerings is concerned.

[edit] 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 <ref>See: Robert Howe and Peter Hurd. "The Heckelphone at 100". Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, 2004.</ref>. 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.

[edit] Classical works featuring the oboe

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Jazz

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.[1] Gil Evans scored for the instrument in his famous Miles Davis collaboration "Sketches of Spain." Though primarily a tenor saxophone and flute 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.

[edit] Rock

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). British composer-performer and multi-instrumentalist Roy Wood used the oboe in some of the later works of The Move (e.g. It Wasn't My Idea To Dance), during his short tenure with Electric Light Orchestra, and in his other work, including with Wizzard. 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). Portastatic's recordings also feature oboe.

[edit] Film music

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.

[edit] Other oboists performing outside classical genres


[edit] Oboe manufacturers

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:

[edit] Popular culture

  • Tess Bagthorpe (in the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell) plays the oboe
  • The oboe, notoriously difficult to play, has been satirised as "the ill wind that no-one blows good"
  • "Player of the pink oboe" is a British slang term for a homosexual
  • On the Nickelodeon television show Drake and Josh, the titular characters' younger sister Megan plays the oboe.
  • In another Nickelodeon show, Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, there is a pair of oboe-playing twins, the Obo twins (Tracy and Stacy Obo) who sometimes appear as minor characters.
  • Moses Herzog, the title character of Saul Bellow's novel Herzog, plays the oboe.
  • In Futurama, an oboe-like instrument called the Holophoner is used to create holographic images shaped by the complexity of the music and the thoughts of the musician.

[edit] External links

[edit] Listening

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