The Development of the Oboe as we know it to-day has mainly taken place over the past 350 years. Prior to the late 17th Century its earlier ancestor was as a Shawm that was used mainly for outdoor dancing events and military occasions. The shawm was a wooden instrument played with a double reed inside the top of the instrument, slightly similar to a bassoon reed, rather than the one we use inserted in the top of the Oboe to-day. The Shawm was of a conical shape, as is the Oboe, but with a larger bore (i.e.it is wider!). It was exceedingly loud and strident which was fine out doors, but not so good when an instrument was required for indoor performances.
In 1655 two Frenchmen adapted the shawm to make it more indoor friendly. They arranged to split it into three separate jointed pieces for ease of carrying it about. They reduced the size of the bore and changed the reed into one attached to a staple and looking more familiar to those of us who play the Oboe to-day. They named it the hautbois (high wood) which changed over time to hoboy and eventually oboe. This meant that, when Bach, Handel and other Baroque period composers were writing their great works, they had available this instrument with enormous potential for a very special solo type of sound. Bach often used it in his major choral works to accompany the Soprano and Alto
soloists, as well as a solo instrument in its own right. There were many solo works written for it by Albinoni, Vivaldi and many, many other composers of the period.
It was quite a simple instrument with the standard recorder finger holes and only the beginnings of some very basic keywork to simplify the
intricate fingering needed to play these difficult works. There are manufacturer's to-day replicating these Baroque Oboes so the works can be performed and heard as they would have been heard in the 18th century.
The pitch of the Baroque oboe was approximately set at a sharper level than the modern day Oboe possibly giving a slightly brighter sound. The original pitch was around A=415Hz whereas to-day's generally accepted concert pitch level of A=440 Hz.
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