The beautiful Oboe. What more can I say about it than has already been said elsewhere? It is the most beautiful soprano voice in the band. The gentle flute lacks depth and poignancy, while the cool clarinet can be emotionless. Love, romance, passion, and depth of thought are the realm of the Oboe. Why then, do bandestrators malign and abuse this instrument!
While the best players can display the technical facility of the other woodwinds, one has to question whether or not passages of sheer virtuosity are suitable for the instrument. Long lyrical lines are happiest for the instrument and the player. In staccato, the high Oboe is cheerful and delicate.
The sound of the Oboe does not share the spotlight. The simple combination of the Oboe and the clarinet does not work as well as many bandestrators would tend to believe. The plaintive vibrato of the Oboe clashes with the straight-tone of the clarinets. Mixtures with the flutes work somewhat better. Combinations with the Bassoon, its double reeded kindred, are among the best.
As the Oboe is more strident than the other woodwinds, it can blend with brass far better than expected. Surprisingly, the Oboe and the trumpet are very close in timbre and are quite easy to mix. This combination was well known to Baroque composers (see the Brandenburg Concerto 2).
The typical band has only two Oboe parts. Oboes are one of the few instruments that do not do well in larger ensembles of like instruments. One player per part is plenty (and I’ve found even too much in some instances!). The sound of two or more Oboes in unison can range from bland to completely hideous. As I said, Oboes don’t share – even with other oboes. Two Oboes on two Oboe parts should be fine for most bands, though I have no problem seeing a part with three or four Oboes, provided that each of these additional parts are truly independent and not mere doublings of the original parts.
The Oboe has more timbral variations between different players than any other wind instrument that I have ever heard. A performance one night with one group of players will sound totally different another night with a different Oboist. The bandestrator cannot control this factor. Live with it, and enjoy all the possibilities that can come out of this “ill wind that nobody blows good!”
Romances by Schumann performed by Albrecht Mayer
Le tombeau de Couperin by Ravel. The opening sections are the epitome of Oboe technique.
The opening of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. The Oboe solo starts about 1:20. This solo is the highest possible solo we can have for the instrument focused around the high F and G. Look for the bulging veins on the player’s forehead to see how much effort is required to produce this!
The 2nd Movement of Brahm’s Violin Concerto.
Strauss’ Oboe Concerto performed by Alex Klein. Listen here to the breath control and length of phrase. The performer here is circular breathing to produce a completely seamless effect. This is considered extremely difficult. This movement is also performed much slower than most other performances. Think of this as extreme Oboe playing.