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 Oboe

Oboe

(Fr. hautbois; Ger. Oboe; It. oboe).

Generic term in the system of Hornbostel and Sachs for an aerophone with a double (concussion) reed.

Around the world

The Aulos of ancient Greece may sometimes have had a double reed, and some kind of reed aerophone was known in North Africa in pre-Islamic times. Instruments of the Surnāy type became established with the spread of the Arab empire around the end of the first millennium ce; they were possibly a synthesis of types from Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria and Asia Minor. From there the instrument, then used in a military role, spread into conquered areas and areas of influence: to India, and later, under the Ottoman empire, to Europe (around the time of the fifth crusade, 1217–21; there may already have been bagpipes with double reeds there) and further into Asia: to Japan in the 8th century, to China in the 14th century, to Korea, North India, Sumatra and got to West Africa.

Rustic oboes without finger-holes, used for signaling or as noise makers, are found in England and France.

Western music

The oboe family, as used in Western music, consists of a group of conical-bore double-reed woodwind instruments in a variety of sizes. The most common member of the family, and the one usually referred to as the oboe, is the treble instrument in C.

The earliest chamber music that used the hautboy was usually conceived ‘en symphonie’, that is, it could be played on any treble instrument or combination of instruments. This music included the trios written in the 1690s by François Couperin, Marin Marais and Jean-Féry Rebel. In the same decade Agostino Steffani, Johann Kusser and Reinhard Keiser began writing obbligatos in opera arias featuring the hautboy, many of them exceptionally beautiful; they represent the earliest solo use of the instrument.

Cantabile became the oboe's characteristic mode of expression: according to the French oboist Henri Brod. Characteristic examples include the soaring line of Florestan's aria in Fidelio (Act 2 scene i), ‘Tristesse’ in Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, the solo at the beginning of the slow movement of Brahms's Violin Concerto and many examples in Wagner's scores, such as the moment in Act 2 of Tannhäuser where, in the words of Richard Strauss, ‘no other instrument could reveal the sweet secret of love's innocence in such affecting tones’ (Instrumentationslehre, 1904).

Repertory and performers:

Repertory

Franck’s, Symphony in D minor (1886–8)
Dvorak, Symphony no.9 (‘From the New World’, 1893)
Sibelius, The Swan of Tuonela (1893)
Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila, (1877)
Borodin, In Central Asia, (1880)
C.M. Loeffler’s, A Pagan Poem (1906)
Janáček’s, Taras Bulba (1915–18)
Rodrigo's, Concierto de Aranjuez (1939)
Vaughan Williams’s, Pastoral Symphony (1921)
Rachmaninoff’s, The Bells (1913)
Carter’s, Pastoral (1940)
Hindemith’s Sonata (1941)
Saint-Saëns's Oboe Sonata (1921)
Arnold Bax's Quintet for oboe and strings (1922)
Gordon Jacob (1933)
Vaughan Williams (1944)
Concertos by Strauss (1945), Martinů (1955) and Zimmermann (1952)
Sonatas by Wolpe (1932), Hindemith (1938), Dutilleux (1947), Schuller (1951)
and Poulenc (1962).
Britten's, Six Metamorphoses after Ovid op.49 for solo oboe (1951)
Krenek's, Sonatine (1956)
John Exton's, Three Pieces (1972)
Stoker's, Three Pieces (1973)
Dorati's, ‘Fugue à 3 voix’ from Cinq pièces for solo oboe (1981)
And many others...

Performers

European oboists of the 20th century:

Pierre Pierlot (b 1921), Maurice Bourgue, appointed professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1979, and the Swiss-born Thomas Indemühle (b 1951. A number of women became prominent players: in England, Janet Craxton (1929–81) and Evelyn Rothwell (b 1911), and in the USA, Lois Wann and Nora Post, the latter noted as a performer of contemporary music.

The Frenchman Marcel Tabuteau (1887–1966), principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski and Ormandy, exerted immense influence. Tabuteau's many distinguished pupils have held principal chairs in orchestras across the USA, notably John Mack in the Cleveland Orchestra, Harold Gomberg (1916–85) in the New York PO, Robert Bloom (1908–84) in the NBC SO and, from 1934, the Bach Aria Group, and John de Lancie (b 1921) in Philadelphia. Other well-known American oboists include Joseph Marx (1913–78), Ray Still (b 1920), principal in the Chicago SO 1954–96, Robert Sprenkle and Humbert Lucarelli. At the end of the century prominent players included Richard Woodhams of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Joseph Robinson of the New York PO and Alex Klein of the Chicago SO.

The oboe has not been absent from jazz or popular music: the best-known representatives have been Bob Cooper (b 1925) in jazz and Paul McCandless of the New Age group Oregon.

Important players of the 20th century included Hans Hadamowsky (1906–96) of the Vienna PO, Leo van der Lek (1908–99) in Amsterdam, James McDonagh (d 1933) and his son Terence (1908–86) in London, Paul Brun and Paul Taillefer (b 1912) in Paris, Peter Henkelman (1882–1949), John Minsker (b 1912) and Louis Rosenblatt (b 1928) in Philadelphia, Louis Speyer (1890–1980), to whom many works were dedicated, in Boston, and Thomas Stacy (b 1938), who has commissioned and given first performances of many works for the instrument in New York.

Reference (with liberty): New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, (editors), 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

"Oboe" Teachers:

  • Adrian Gheorghe Lucan
  • Daniel Ella
  • Etienne Kupelian
  • Oleg Balanuta

Page created at: 05-02-2015

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