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The Oboe

The oboe is a double reed member of the woodwind family. Developed in the mid-17th century from early instrument the shawm, the Baroque oboe was embraced by composers such as Vivaldi, Telemann and Handel, inspiring them to create concertos for the new and improved instrument.

The oboe as we know it today developed in 19th-century Europe, and the cities of Paris and Vienna in particular gained a reputation for their oboe-making tradition.

The body of the present-day oboe is predominantly made out of African Blackwood and the keys usually of silver alloy. The oboe has a double reed constructed of two pieces of cane tied together. Sound is created as the air vibrates between the two reeds into the instrument’s body. The size and shape of the reed in relation to the player’s technique and style of playing have a dramatic effect on the quality of the eventual sound, so as a result oboists customise or make their own reeds.

The coned bore of the oboe, in comparison to the cylindrical bore of other woodwind instruments such as the flute, aids its audible dominance over other instruments. This is why it is used to tune the orchestra, as its penetrating timbre enables it to be heard clearly by other members of the orchestra. Favourite orchestral oboe works include Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.

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