THE HISTORY OF THE BAROQUE OBOE [go back to menu]

Early German and English sources indicate that the oboe originated in France. The name of the instrument in all European languages a direct borrowing from the French ''hautbois'' (high, or loud, wood). Its development from the shawm, which already had this descriptive name, is attributed to the Hotteterre and Philidor families. A number of members of these families were active both as musicians and instrument makers.

Lully probably used an early form of the oboe in his ballet ''L'Amour malade'' in l657. A similar instrument was introduced into French military music in 1663. Beginning with the 1670 production of ''Le bourgeois gentilhomme'' oboes were regularly used at the French court. They also caught on rapidly in other European countries. This spread was fostered not only by Lully's preeminence in the musical scene but also by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

 This led to the emigration of many musicians from France. They were eagerly received in many other countries. For example, from 1674 onwards the oboe was heard in England. In 1677 the court of Turin employed 6 military hautboys--among them several with French names. In Madrid there is evidence, from 1679 onwards, of French oboists. Starting in 1680 French oboists also appeared at various German courts. At latest by 1697 oboes had arrived in Vienna and by 1698 the they had replaced the cornetti at San Marco in Venice.

The art of oboe making also emanated from France. Peter Bressan moved to England and in Nuremberg Christoph Denner was proud to produce instruments after the French model. 

In the first decades of the oboe's existence the ensemble tradition of the shawms still played al important role. Typical repertoire can be seen in the Philidor manuscript. Normal instrumentation was two oboes, tenor (taille de hautbois) and bassoon. Oboes also played colle parte with the strings in the orchestra, and contributed variety with little trios for two oboes and bassoon. Inherited attributes of the shawm, especially their use in pastoral scenes, were much in evidence. The first major solos were in opera arias, starting with the work of Agostino Steffani, Johann Kusser and Reinhard Keiser in the 1690's.

The first half of the 18th century must have been the golden age of the repertoire of the oboe. In addition to many sonatas, suites and ensemble pieces, there were solo concerti, developed first in Italy by Benedetto Marcello, Tomaso Albinoni and Antonia Vivaldi. J. S. Bach's use of the oboes in vocal works set a standard that has never been equalled.

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