Double Reed Information


oboe | oboe d'amore | oboe da caccia | hautboy | cor anglais | double reed
bassoon | contrabassoon



Oboe. The oboe is a woodwin instrument blown through a double reed and with a compass from the Bb below middle C upwards for over 2 1/2 octaves. Standard orchestra instrument, also in chamber music and military bands. It is the note A sounded on the oboe to which the rest of the orchestra tune their instruments. Many concertos have been written for its solo use, e.g. by Vivaldi, Albinoni, R. Strauss, Vaughan Williams, Martinau, etc. Derives from the shawm and the curtal. Known in France and England in the 17th century as hautbois and hautboy. There also exists:

Oboe d'amore : pitched a minor 3rd below normal oboe. Has pear-shaped bell, which gives it its mellow and individual tone-colour, and is midway in size between oboe and cor anglais. Was favoured by Bach, but subsequently neglected. In 20th century, has been used by R. Strauss in Symphonia Domestica, Holst in Somerset Rhapsody, Ravel in Bolero, Janacek in several works, including operas, and John McCabe has written a concerto for it (1972).




Oboe da caccia : obsolete predecessor of cor anglais.

hautboy. Obsolete English name for oboe, derived from French hautbois ('loud wood') from which the Italian oboe was derived.

cor anglais. (Fr.) English horn. Neither English, nor a horn, but an alto oboe. pitched a 5th below oboe. Name possibly a corruption of cor angle. A transposing instrument, being written a 5th higher than it sounds. Compass from E upwards for about 2 1/2 octaves. The reed is inserted in a metal tube which is bent back. Invented by Ferlandis of Bergamo in 1760. Not much used before 19th century Romantic composers, but there are several famous solos for it, e.g. Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Act III; in slow movement of Franck's Symphony, and in Sibelius's The Swan of Tuonela.

bassoon (It. fagotto). Bass member of the double reed family, pitched in C, with a range from Bb upwards for about 3 1/2 octaves. Made of wood and with a conical bore. Dates from 1660s. Came to prominence as solo instrument in 18th century. Vivaldi composed 39 concerti for it. Others to use it as solo instrument include J. C. Bach, Telemann, and Boismortier. In 1774, Mozart wrote his concerto (K. 191). Modern instruments made by Heckel (Ger.), Buffet-Crampon (Fr.), and Fox (Amer.). Often used for comic effect but its capacity for melancholy has not been overlooked by composers.




contrabassoon (double-bassoon; Fr. 'Contrebasson'; Ger. 'Kontrafagott'). Wind instrument an octave deeper than bassoon and notated an octave higher than it sounds, though Wagner and Debussy sometimes wrote for it at pitch. Some Baroque examples were made but standard modern design is Heckel's (1876). Conical bore tube is 18' long, with 5 parallel sections connected by 5 U-bends. Crook fits into metal tube. Brahms scored for it in his 1st Symphony. In Strauss's Salome there is a long solo for the instrument when Jokanaan descends into his cell.

double reed. Wind instruments such as oboe, cor anglais, Heckelphone, bassoon, and contrabassoon, whose mouthpiece consists of 2 pieces of cane between which air is blown so that the 2 reeds vibrate against each other.




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