The Oboe

The oboe is a musical woodwind instrument which is famous for its versatile, penetrating and deep, bright sound as compared to other wind instruments such as the flute. The modern oboe is a straight wooden tube approximately 60 cm long, lined with metal keys, a flared bell and a cone-shaped bore. Its unique sound comes from the vibrations of its double reed when air is blown. The oboe is one of the most widely recognized musical instruments today.

  • Etymology

The word Oboe comes from a 17th century instrument called the Hautbois which came from the French word for loud Haut and wood. In time, the pronunciation for Hautbois Hoeboy gradually became oboe to which the instrument is known today.

  • History of the Instrument

The Oboe is considered as one of most ancient types of reed instruments invented. According to archeological evidences, double reed, oboe-like instruments have been used as early as the times of the ancient Sumerians, 2,800 years ago. Versions of it gradually spread to adjacent civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks and Hindi societies of India. This woodwind instrument played a significant role in these cultures as it was one of the few musical instruments available at that time.

The fundamental design of the modern oboe mainly comes from the Hautbois designs of the 17th century. The Hautbois was developed by the Hotteterre family, which is famous for making woodwind instruments at that time.
From the middle of the 17th century to early 18th century, the English horn or Cor Anglais became popular. It is a slightly longer version of the Hautbois and has a much deeper sound, it was pitched F below C and was often called the tenor oboe. Most designs of the early Oboe was often bent or angled. Some scholars even state that the Cor Anglais is a mistranslation of a French word Cor Angle or bent horn.

The oboe was greatly used by famous composed, notably Bach and Telemann. They used the Oboe d’amore which is an oboe style instrument with a much higher pitch compared to the English horn. It gradually fell out of use until the music of Strauss helped revived it.

It was in the 19th century that the oboe was gradually perfected. The Viennese oboe was a classic style oboe and is often coined as the precursor to the modern oboe. The real modern oboe was the Conservatoire oboe, which was designed by the Triebert family in Paris. After the success of the Triebert’s design, the oboe was continually refined by oboist and oboe makers, but Triebert design was to be its final look.
Musical and Orchestral Uses

In the 16th century, the oboe was primarily used in Military bands. A typical band, especially in France, consists of two oboes, a tenor oboe and a bassoon. Most music composed for the oboe during that time is focused on outdoor playing, especially in bands. It was not until J.S. Bach that oboes were used for projecting emotional compositions. Throughout the 16th century, the Oboe was often coined as the king of the wind instruments for its capabilities of projecting various moods and voice. The modern oboe today is used both for soulful, emotional solo passages and an important part in full orchestral music. Almost every symphonic pieces especially 20th century composition use oboe solos extensively, mainly to add color to both classical and modern compositions.

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