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Home The New Oboe
The Re-designed Oboe!
For the last two years I have been working with the oboe
maker Howarth of London on the redesign of some of the
key-work of the oboe. The aim has been to develop an
oboe which is specifically designed for the performance
of contemporary repertoire. The photos here and the
description below offer an overview of the new
In addition to re-designing the oboe I have been able,
with AHRC funding, to commission five new works
specifically for the new instrument. These new works will
form an important part of the research enabling me to
work in collaboration with the composers in order to
explore the instrument. Full details of this part of the
project can be found on the ‘New Music for a New Oboe’
Reasons for re-designing some of the
A significant number of contemporary compositional
practices ask for approaches to performance that
challenge the current design of the key-work (not to
mention the performers!). When these are used in
isolation or in contexts that are not too challenging (for
example not in rapid succession) there is not too much
difficulty, but, when used in complex passages, or at high
speed they can be very difficult indeed.
I have had two specific aims when re-thinking the
1. To render some of these technical problems easier
through the development of key-work which is
specifically adapted to the challenges.
2. To open up the instrument to a range of new sonic
and technical possibilities.
The compositional practices I have been addressing
The use of microtones – in particular ! tones but
other options as well.
21st Century Oboe
Christopher Redgate
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other options as well.
The use of the altissimo range – Top G and above.
The use of multiphonics.
Guiding principle:
It was very important to maintain a sense of continuity
with the history of the instrument. It would have been
possible to completely re-design the key-work, and in
some ways there could have been advantages in doing
so, however it would be very hard to ask professional
performers to re-learn the oboe! I chose therefore to
maintain almost all of the traditional key-work (with some
small modifications, see below) but to develop enhanced
or modified key-work that will meet the challenges of
recent contemporary compositional practices and also
offer opportunities for future expansion of these
Still in development stages:
As part of this development I have been working on
some electronics for the instrument. This work is now in
the final stages of development and I will be able to
report in the near future on progress and what is
More research needed:
It has been my intention to develop a 4
octave key –
this has not yet been realized but we are planning,
funding permitting, to begin work on this in the near
Key-work changes:
The third octave
key has been
moved to the
other side of the
thumb-plate. Its
more usual
position, while
causing no real
problems for the
occasional user, is
rather more
problematic when
it is being used
very frequently:
tending to cause
the performer to
squeeze or pinch
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squeeze or pinch
and so slowing
any high-speed use. Placing it on the other side of the
thumb-plate causes a much better movement of the
The left hand index finger key now has two holes in
it. The usual hole has been moved over a little and a very
small ‘vent’ hole has been placed next to it. This works
as a vent for C
In addition a ‘multiphonic key’ has been added to this
key. Many performers will be aware the effect of un-
screwing this key half a turn – it produces quite a range
of multiphonics which can be difficult to obtain in the
more closed position. There is now a ‘quick turn’ key
which opens/closes the key, facilitating a very quick
change to the key position.
A significant number of microtones, multiphonics and
high range fingerings require the use of the C# and D trill
keys. These are well situated for their usual use as trill
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keys. These are well situated for their usual use as trill
keys but when used for microtones etc. can be very
difficult indeed: the performer frequently has to twist the
hand or fingers in order to depress these keys while
holding down the G and A keys.
Extensions from the trill keys have been added inside the
2nd octave key. The octave key has been modified in
order to accommodate these keys. They are activated by
the 1
finger of the left hand, the C# by the tip of the
finger and the D by the side of the finger. An additional
key has also been added here – this is another ‘vent’ key
option which is proving to be an excellent vent for the
very top B and C. The three keys, as can be seen on the
photo have been stacked on top of each other. Reducing
the number of holes in the wood in this area.
traditional thumb-plate side key Bb key (which is also still
available on some German system instruments) has
been reinstated. This has been done in part to offer a
wider range of options but also because of its potential
use as a microtonal key and for other
The right-hand G# -A trill key has been removed, in part
to facilitate the positioning of the side Bb key, but also to
enable the addition of another key in this position.
Just below the LH1 key is a small tone hole that can be
used by sliding the left hand index finger over on to the
spatula key. A right hand side key has been added to
operate this key. This key is very useful as a B ! tone
sharp key and in this part of the instrument it facilitates a
much faster use of the key.
The F# key has also been modified. The aim was to
produce an F# 3/4 by making a hole in this key, but
because there are so many double trills that require the
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because there are so many double trills that require the
closed key we devised a key that looks similar to the cor
anglais top plate. By moving the finger to the upper half
of this key an F "# is available but by using the bottom
half of the key all of the double trills, and the normal F#
are possible.
A Long C# key has been added and the usual banana
key removed (the long C# should be standard on all
instruments - in my opinion!).
The holes in the A, G and E keys have been modified.
The G and A have smaller holes while the E has a larger
hole. These holes have been tuned to ! tones so that a
half hole will offer a quartertone rise in pitch. The G and
A holes also give G " sharp and A " sharp respectively
when used in conjunction with the G# key and the Bb
We have removed the link from the Bb and B keys at the
bottom of the instrument, making the B and Bb keys
independent – this enables more multiphonics and more
options for microtonal work.
The B-C link - which is common on thumb-plate oboes,
has also been removed.
All oboe photos courtesy of Howarth of London.