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The evolution of baroque oboe to the modern oboe.

The oboe is the soprano member of the double reed family. It first appeared in the mid 17th century and was commonly known as the hautbois from the French amalgamation meaning high wood. The 17th century is regarded as the baroque period and many composers extensively produced solo and ensemble music for and with oboe. It has undergone various transformations over the centuries. Before the oboe appeared, a similar instrument called the shawn was used to play (counter)melodies in military bands and various social functions (dances, and gathering calls) outdoors and in big open spaces. However, the player had very little control over the reed on the shawm, causing it to easily overpower other instruments in dynamics and thus rendered it unsuitable for smaller ensembles. It was believed that King Louis XIV liked the shawm and requested it to be made suitable for indoor use1. The families of instrument makers Hotteterre and Philidor - took up the request, and subsequently produced what is now regarded as the baroque oboe (see figure 1). The baroque oboe emerged to become part of many core ensembles. The penetrating sound it created allowed it to be an effective voice in creating sustain harmonies, while the agile key
Figure 1 A Shawm and a Baroque Oboe (2)

work system allowed it to be used to imitate string passages (effective in echos and other fugal sections). Handel remarked I wrote like the devil in those days, and chiefly for the oboe, which was my favourite instrument. Later on, composers wrote for bigger ensembles, and in particular the size of orchestras grew. New instruments started to appear in orchestras like the clarinet, French horn and bassoon in the Classical period. In addition to this was the cor anglais, pitched a fifth below concert pitch, which a close relative of the oboe. Inevitably, the wind section began to take a more prominent role in the orchestra. However, the baroque oboe needed to increase in dynamics to stay prominent in the orchestra and thus it needed to be developed.

MUSN VILLACARLOS During the European Industrial Revolution, the increase in manufacturing output and the age of experimentation lend itself to the development of many instruments, especially the oboe. The taper was elongated and more pronounced to amplify the volume produced and more keys were added to key work to facilitate more efficient movement between notes and also allowed the player to play harmonics easier, which together expanded the tessitura of the instrument (C4 to D6 with baroque oboes became C4 to F6 (using the scientific notation system)). The oboe repertoire became more lyrical, and in some ways spontaneous (big leaps, awkward trills and tremolos and chromatics). Different schools of playing emerged during the development of the oboe. The French oboe, more commonly referred as the Conservatoire system preferred a brighter sound, compared to the deeper tone and mellower German preference. Somewhere in the middle of these is the Viennese oboe, which has a wider bore and uses a shorter and broader reed. According to the Vienna Philharmonic website, who to this day employs this instrument, it produces a brighter tone and wider dynamics (3). Later on, more additional key works were added to further facilitate very technical passages. Different materials have also started to differentiate the dynamic production and timbre of oboes. In baroque times, oboes were made from the European boxwood, but these days, they are more commonly made from thicker and denser grenadilla wood, with the option of also choosing from rosewood or cocobolo for an even deeper and darker tone. In my personal opinion, the oboe was very popular in the baroque era despite the improvements in the key work and sound production, it is less readily playable and versatile compared to the piano or violin for example. The oboe in later classical repertoire and contemporary compositions excels the most in expressive and lyrical passages.


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Music listened to this week

Albinoni Oboe Concerto in D Minor Op 9 No. 2

MUSN VILLACARLOS Albinoni Oboe Concerto in C Major Op 7 No 12 Beethoven 7th