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Inordinate Affection


An overview of the oboe, with JENNIFER PAULL


<< Continued from last week

The oboe has also been used to sound the call to arms in battle. Its penetrating tone could carry far and rise above the fracas. This military role was later assumed by the bugle or trumpet in the west.

Like a modern oboist, the pipe player of the Psalms must have carried a supply of extra reeds with him. The money box in which Judas Iscariot kept the disciples' funds was called 'glossokomon', originally a small case for a piper's spare reeds.

So many names, so many variations on the reed from its highest to its lowest examples in both pitch as well as refinement have coloured the mosaic of the Art of Music since the beginning of time. Today, in the west, we retain a mixture of names. The oboe (French haut bois: high wood) has its own family. So does the bassoon (French bas son: low sound).

The piccolo oboe or musette used to be a bagpipe chanter and was very popular at the time of Marie-Antoinette at the French Court in Versailles. Today the musette is pitched in either F or Eb above the oboe. Soprano oboes today are in C. In the past, there were long oboes or oboes grosso and oboes luongo which eventually evolved into the oboe d'amore (in A) at the time of the baroque. This title 'of love' was given to a flute, an oboe and a viola. It is thought to have implied a softer more sensual tone colour than the predominant member of the family. This concept was also an experiment with the clarinet, but only a few were made, and the idea which never caught on was abandoned in 1820.

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Copyright © 25 April 2000 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland



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