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The Oboe

The oboe as it was used at the end of the 17th century had its origin in such Renaissance instruments as the bombards, the shawms and the pifferi. Originally one of a family of instruments, the soprano oboe was the principal oboe that was still in use at the end of the 17th century. As was also the case with practically every other woodwind instrument at that time, its conical bore became narrower and its exterior became increasingly elaborate (cf. the recorder) with decorative mouldings and circlets. It was at first an orchestral instrument, particularly so in France but it soon went on to establish its own repertory in chamber music and sacred music. The oboe was also very popular in Italy, while J.S. Bach was to make it one of the instruments he used most frequently for obbligato lines in his cantata arias. The two keys are used to overcome a limitation of fingering (for the low C) and to improve the quality of a note in the lower register (for the E flat).

The Alto Oboe

This instrument in the key of F originated in France, where it was known as the taille de hautbois. It was first used in the second half of the 17th century in the French ensembles known as the bandes de Hautbois, in which it played the inner lines of polyphonic compositions. J.S. Bach was also to make use of it when a low pitched oboe was needed to double the viola parts in the cantatas.

The Oboe d'Amore

This is a typically German instrument that dates from the first half of the 18th century, it being an oboe in A that sounds a third lower than the normal oboe. It also possesses a bell shaped bulge at its lower end that gives the instrument its characteristically warm timbre. It was mainly used as a solo instrument in chamber music. although J.S. Bach also used it as an obbligato instrument in cantata arias.

The Oboe da Caccia

This instrument is always referred to by its Italian name, and most of all in works by J.S. Bach. It is also quite probable that Bach himself caused this particular type of oboe to be built. Several years ago various pieces of an instrument were discovered in the collections of the Copenhagen Instrumental Museum; these were carefully assembled and this enigmatic instrument was the result. It had a double reed, it was bigger than the normal oboe and had a curved body whose separate components were held together by a strip of leather, the whole ending in a metallic bell. What was more, it was noted with great surprise that the instrument had been first made by Eichentopf, the most wellknown instrument maker of Leipzig of Bach's time. The puzzle over exactly what type of instrument Bach's oboe da caccia was had finally been solved. The oboe da cassia sounds a fifth lower than the normal oboe and can thus be linked with the alto oboe in F.

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