AskDefine | Define hautboy

Dictionary Definition

hautboy n : a slender double-reed instrument; a woodwind with a conical bore and a double-reed mouthpiece [syn: oboe, hautbois]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. The oboe
  2. A reed stop on an organ giving a similar sound
  3. A tall-growing strawberry, Fragaria elatior, having a musky flavour

Extensive Definition

The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. In English prior to 1770, the instrument was called "hautbois", "hoboy", or "French hoboy". The spelling "oboe" was adopted into English ca. 1770 from the Italian oboè, as close as possible a representation in that language's orthography of the 17th-century pronunciation of the French word hautbois, a compound word made of haut ("high, loud") and bois ("wood, woodwind"). A musician who plays the oboe is called an oboist. Careful manipulation of embouchure and air pressure allows the player to express a large timbral and dynamic range.


In comparison to other modern woodwind instruments, the oboe has a clear and penetrating voice. The Sprightly Companion, an instruction book of 1695, describes the voice as "Majestical and Stately, and not much Inferior to the Trumpet." Similarly, the voice is described in the play Angels in America as sounding like that of a duck if the duck were a songbird. The timbre of the oboe is derived from the oboe's conical bore (as opposed to the generally cylindrical bore of flutes and clarinets). As a result, oboes are readily audible over other instruments in large ensembles.
The oboe is pitched in concert C and has a mezzo-soprano to soprano range. Orchestras will usually tune by listening to the oboe play a concert A (usually A440, but sometimes higher if the orchestra tunes to a higher pitch). The pitch of the oboe may be adjusted by permanently altering the scrape, removing cane from the reed, or changing the position of the reed in the instrument (although the latter method should only be used as a last resort, because adjusting the position of the reed may cause some notes to warble). Subtle changes in pitch are also possible by adjusting the embouchure.



The baroque oboe first appeared in the French court in the mid-17th century, where it was called hautbois. The basic form of the instrument was derived from the shawm, an instrument widely used in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Musician and instrument maker Martin Hotteterre was responsible for many of the new instrument's early developments, according to one source, while another credits Jean Hotteterre and Michel Philidor, ca. 1657. The instrument quickly spread throughout Europe (including England, where it was called "hautboy", "hoboy", "hautboit", "howboye", and similar variants of the French name). It was the main melody instrument in early military bands, until it was succeeded by the clarinet.
The baroque oboe was generally made of boxwood and had three keys; a "great", and two side keys. (The side key was often doubled to facilitate use of either the right or left hand on the bottom holes) In order to produce higher pitches, the player had to "overblow," or increase the air stream to reach the next harmonic. Notable oboe-makers of the period are the German Denner and Eichentopf, and the English Stanesby Sr. and Jr. The range for the baroque oboe comfortably extends from c1 to d3. With the resurgence of interest in early music in the mid 20th century, a few makers began producing copies to specifications from surviving historical instruments.


The classical period brought an oboe whose bore was gradually narrowed, and the instrument became outfitted with several keys, among them were those for the notes D♯, F, and G♯. A key similar to the modern octave key was also added called the "slur key," though it was at first used more like the "flick" keys on the modern German bassoon. Only later did French instrument makers redesign the octave key to be used in the manner of the modern key (i.e. held open for the upper register, closed for the lower). The narrower bore allowed the higher notes to be more easily played, and composers began to more often utilize the oboe's upper register in their works. Because of this, the oboe's tessitura in the Classical era was somewhat broader than that found in baroque works. The range for the Classical oboe extends from c1 to f3, though some German and Austrian oboes were capable of playing one half-step lower. Classical-era composers who wrote concertos for oboe include Mozart (both the solo concerto in C major K. 314/285d and the lost Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major K. 297b), Haydn, (both the Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Hob. I:105 and the spurious concerto in C major Hob. VIIg:C1), Beethoven (the F major concerto, Hess 12, of which only sketches survive, though the second movement was reconstructed in the late twentieth century), and numerous other composers including Johann Christian Bach, Johann Christian Fischer, Jan Antonín Koželuh, and Ludwig August Lebrun. Innumerable solos exist for the oboe in chamber, symphonic, and operatic compositions from the Classical era.

Viennese oboe

In Vienna, a unique oboe has been preserved with its bore and tonal characteristics remaining relatively unchanged in use to the present day. The Akademiemodel Wiener oboe, developed in the early 20th century by Hermann Zuleger, is now made by several makers, such as André Constantinides, Karl Rado, Guntram Wolf and Yamaha. In their definitive historical work "The Oboe", Geoffrey Burgess and Bruce Haynes write (page 212) "The differences are most clearly marked in the middle register, which is reedier and more pungent, and the upper register, which is richer in harmonics on the Viennese oboe". Apart from its use in the major Viennese orchestras, it is not used elsewhere.


The oboe was developed further in the 19th century by the Triebert family of Paris. Using the Boehm flute as a source of ideas for key work, Guillaume Triebert and his sons, Charles and Frederic, devised a series of increasingly complex yet functional key systems. A variant form using large tone holes; the Boehm system oboe, was never in common use, though it was used in some military bands in Europe into the 20th century. F. Lorée of Paris made further developments to the modern instrument. Minor improvements to the bore and key work have continued through the 20th century, but there has been no fundamental change to the general characteristics of the instrument for several decades.
The modern oboe is most commonly made from grenadilla wood (African blackwood), though some manufacturers also make oboes out of other members of the dalbergia family of woods, which includes cocobolo, rosewood, and violetwood. Ebony (genus Diospyros) has also been used. Student model oboes are often made from plastic resin, to avoid instrument cracking that wood instruments are prone to, but also to make the instrument more economical. The oboe has an extremely narrow conical bore. The oboe is played with a double reed consisting of two thin blades of cane tied together on a small-diameter metal tube (staple), which is inserted into the reed socket at the top of the instrument. The commonly accepted range for the oboe extends from b♭0 to about g3, over two and a half octaves, though its common tessitura lies from c1 to e♭3. Some student oboes only extend to b0; the key for b♭ is not present, however this variant is becoming less common.
A modern oboe with the "full conservatory" ("conservatoire" outside the USA) or Gillet key system has 45 pieces of keywork, with the possible additions of a third octave key and alternate (left little finger) F- or C-key. The keys are usually made of nickel silver, and are silver or occasionally gold-plated. Besides the full conservatoire system, oboes are also made using the English thumbplate system. Most have "semi-automatic" octave keys, in which the second octave action closes the first, and some have a fully automatic octave key system, as used on saxophones. Some full conservatory oboes have finger holes covered with rings rather than plates ("open-holed"), and most of the professional models have at least the right hand third key open-holed. Professional oboes used in the UK frequently feature conservatoire system combined with a thumb plate. With this type of mechanism the oboist has the best of both worlds as far as the convenience of fingerings is concerned.

Other members of the oboe family

The oboe has several siblings. The most widely known today is the cor anglais, or English horn, the tenor (or alto) member of the family. A transposing instrument; it is pitched in F, a perfect fifth lower than the oboe. The oboe d'amore, the alto (or mezzo-soprano) member of the family, is pitched in A, a minor third lower than the oboe. J.S. Bach made extensive use of both the oboe d'amore as well as the taille and oboe da caccia, Baroque antecedents of the cor anglais. Even less common is the bass oboe (also called baritone oboe), which sounds one octave lower than the oboe. Delius and Holst both scored for the instrument. Similar to the bass oboe is the more powerful heckelphone, which has a wider bore and larger tone than the bass oboe. Only 165 heckelphones have ever been made, and competent players are hard to find . The least common of all are the musette (also called oboe musette or piccolo oboe), the sopranino member of the family (it is usually pitched in E-flat or F above the oboe), and the contrabass oboe (typically pitched in C, two octaves deeper than the standard oboe).
Keyless folk versions of the oboe (most descended from the shawm) are found throughout Europe. These include the musette (France) and bombarde (Brittany), the piffaro and ciaramella (Italy), and the xirimia or chirimia (Spain). Many of these are played in tandem with local forms of bagpipe. Similar oboe-like instruments, most believed to derive from Middle Eastern models, are also found throughout Asia as well as in North Africa.

Notable classical works featuring the oboe

See also Oboe concerto.

Use outside of classical music

While the oboe is rarely used in musical genres other than Western classical, there have been a few notable exceptions.

Traditional and folk music

Although keyless folk oboes are still used in many European folk music traditions, the modern oboe has been little used in folk music. One exception was Derek Bell, harpist for the Irish group The Chieftains, who used the instrument in some performances and recordings. The U.S. contra dance band Wild Asparagus, based in western Massachusetts, also uses the oboe, played by David Cantieni. The folk musician Paul Sartin plays the oboe in several English folk bands including Faustus and Bellowhead. The bagpipe player and bagpipe maker Jonathan Shorland plays the oboe with the bands Primeaval and Juice, and formerly played with Fernhill, which play traditional British Isles music.


Although the oboe has never been featured prominently in jazz music, some early bands, most notably that of Paul Whiteman, included it for coloristic purposes. The multi-instrumentalist Garvin Bushell (1902-1991) played the oboe in jazz bands as early as 1924 and used the instrument throughout his career, eventually recording with John Coltrane in 1961. Gil Evans scored for the instrument in his famous Miles Davis collaboration Sketches of Spain. Though primarily a tenor saxophone and flute player, Yusef Lateef was among the first (in 1963) to use the oboe as a solo instrument in modern jazz performances and recordings. Composer and double bassist Charles Mingus gave the oboe a brief but prominent role (played by Dick Hafer) in his composition "I.X. Love" on the 1963 album Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.
With the birth of Jazz fusion in the late 1960s, and its continuous development through the following decade, the oboe started to fulfil a more important role in composition, replacing on some occasions the saxophone as the focal point. The oboe was used with great success by the Welsh multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins in his work with the groups Nucleus and Soft Machine, and by the American woodwind player Paul McCandless, co-founder of the Paul Winter Consort and later Oregon. Romeo Penque also played the oboe on Roland Kirk's 1975 album Return of the 5000 Lb. Man, in the song "Theme for the Eulipions."
The 1980s saw an increasing number of oboists try their hand at non-classical work, and many players of note have recorded and performed alternative music on oboe. Some present-day jazz groups influenced by classical music, such as the Maria Schneider Orchestra, feature the oboe.

Rock and pop

The oboe has been used sporadically in rock recordings, generally by studio musicians on recordings of specific songs.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, several bands emerged that featured oboists as members, including The Moody Blues (Ray Thomas), Henry Cow (Lindsay Cooper), New York Rock & Roll Ensemble (Martin Fulterman and Michael Kamen), Roxy Music (Andy Mackay), Electric Light Orchestra (Roy Wood), Wizzard (Roy Wood), and Japan (Mick Karn). The oboists in these bands generally used the oboe as a secondary instrument, not playing it on every song. Japan and Roxy Music, however, did use the oboe quite frequently.
Since the 1990s, the oboe has been used in rock most notably by Sigur Rós (played by Kjartan Sveinsson), as well as by indie rock musician Sufjan Stevens (who also plays cor anglais and often overdubs both instruments on his albums). Jarlaath, the vocalist of the French gothic metal band Penumbra, plays the oboe in a number of the band's songs, as does Robbie J. de Klerk, the vocalist of the Dutch melodic doom/death metal band Another Messiah.
A historical sampling of uses of oboe in rock:
  • 1964
Peter and Gordon's "I don't want to see you again" has an oboe solo.
  • 1965
Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" features oboe hook (ob. Harold Battiste).
  • 1967
Turtles Happy Together
  • 1969
Ray Thomas of The Moody Blues on the albums In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) and On the Threshold of a Dream.
  • 1970, 1971
The Move's album's "Looking On" and "Message from the Country" (e.g. "It Wasn't My Idea to Dance") -- (ob. Roy Wood)
  • 1974
"Hergest Ridge" by Mike Oldfield (ob. Lindsay Cooper)
  • 1983
China Crisis album Working with fire and steel, Possible pop songs volume two (guest artist, ob. Steve Levy)
  • 1985
Madonna's "Crazy for You" (ob. George Marge)
  • 1987
The Go-Betweens "Bye Bye Pride" (ob. Amanda Brown ) from Tallulah
  • 1988
The Go-Betweens "Clouds" (ob. Amanda Brown ) from 16 Lovers Lane
  • 1988
Twist in My Sobriety by Tanita Tikaram (ob. Malcolm Messiter)
  • 1991
REM's "Endgame" from Out of Time,
  • 1992
REM Automatic for the People (ob. Deborah Workman).
  • 1992-1994
Portastatic's recordings feature oboe.
  • 1995
Queen's song "It's A Beautiful Day," from the album Made in Heaven, contains an oboe part conceived by bassist John Deacon.
  • 2001
Stereophonics' cover of "Handbags and Gladrags" by Rod Stewart features oboe.

Film music

The oboe is frequently featured in film music, often to underscore a particularly poignant or sad scene. One of the most prominent uses of the oboe in a film score is Ennio Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe" theme from the 1986 film The Mission.
It is also featured as a solo instrument in the theme "Across the Stars" from the John Williams score to Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Famous oboists

Oboe manufacturers


  • Baines, Anthony. 1967. Woodwind Instruments and Their History. Third edition, with a foreword by Sir Adrian Boult. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Burgess, Geoffrey, and Bruce Haynes. 2004. The Oboe. The Yale Musical Instrument Series. New Haven, Conn. and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300093179
  • Carse, Adam. 1965. Musical Wind Instruments: A History of the Wind Instruments Used in European Orchestras and Wind-Bands from the Later Middle Ages up to the Present Time. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80005-5.
  • Harris-Warrick, Rebecca. 1990. "A Few Thoughts on Lully's hautbois." Early Music 18, no. 1 (February, "The Baroque Stage II"): 97-98+101-102+105-106.
  • Haynes, Bruce. 1985. Music for Oboe, 1650-1800: A Bibliography. Fallen Leaf Reference Books in Music, 8755-268X; no. 4. Berkeley, Calif.: Fallen Leaf Press. ISBN 0914913034
  • Haynes, Bruce. 1988. "Lully and the Rise of the Oboe as Seen in Works of Art." Early Music 16, no. 3 (August): 324–38.
  • Haynes, Bruce. 2001. The Eloquent Oboe: A History of the Hautboy 1640–1760. Oxford Early Music Series. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019816646X
  • Howe, Robert. 2003. "The Boehm System Oboe and its Role in the Development of the Modern Oboe". Galpin Society Journal 56:27–60 +plates on 190–92.
  • Howe, Robert, and Peter Hurd. 2004. "The Heckelphone at 100". Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 30:98–165.
  • Marcuse, Sybil. 1975. Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary. Revised edition. The Norton Library. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-00758-8.
  • Oboe sound gallery of clips of dozens of prominent oboists in the United States, Europe, and Australia
hautboy in Afrikaans: Hobo
hautboy in Bosnian: Oboa
hautboy in Catalan: Oboè
hautboy in Czech: Hoboj
hautboy in Danish: Obo
hautboy in German: Oboe
hautboy in Estonian: Oboe
hautboy in Modern Greek (1453-): Όμποε
hautboy in Spanish: Oboe
hautboy in Esperanto: Hobojo
hautboy in Basque: Oboe
hautboy in Persian: ابوا
hautboy in French: Hautbois
hautboy in Western Frisian: Hobo
hautboy in Galician: Óboe
hautboy in Korean: 오보에
hautboy in Croatian: Oboa
hautboy in Ido: Hoboyo
hautboy in Indonesian: Obo
hautboy in Icelandic: Óbó
hautboy in Italian: Oboe
hautboy in Hebrew: אבוב
hautboy in Latvian: Oboja
hautboy in Luxembourgish: Hautbois
hautboy in Lithuanian: Obojus
hautboy in Ligurian: Obòe
hautboy in Hungarian: Oboa
hautboy in Dutch: Hobo (muziekinstrument)
hautboy in Japanese: オーボエ
hautboy in Norwegian: Obo
hautboy in Norwegian Nynorsk: Obo
hautboy in Polish: Obój
hautboy in Portuguese: Oboé
hautboy in Quechua: Uwuy pinkuyllu
hautboy in Russian: Гобой
hautboy in Simple English: Oboe
hautboy in Slovenian: Oboa
hautboy in Serbian: Обоа
hautboy in Serbo-Croatian: Oboa
hautboy in Finnish: Oboe
hautboy in Swedish: Oboe
hautboy in Vietnamese: Kèn Ô-boa
hautboy in Turkish: Obua
hautboy in Ukrainian: Гобой
hautboy in Chinese: 雙簧管
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