Baroque oboe

Also:       hautbois      Hoboe      

Title: Oboe Sonatas by Telemann--Solo V in B-flat Major (TWV 1:1732), Adagio; Paul Goodwin, Baroque oboe, Susan Sheppard, Baroque cello, John Toll, harpsichord. Label: Harmonia Mundi France. Format: CD. Catalogue#: HMU 907152. Track: 22.

Contextual Associations

The Baroque oboe is an end-blown conical-bore double-reed aerophone in use in Europe since the 17th century. The replica Baroque oboe pictured and discussed on this page is modeled on surviving instruments from roughly 1690-1790. During that time the oboe was strongly associated with the music making of royal and aristocratic households, initially in France but not long after throughout Europe and England. It very quickly was absorbed into ballet and opera orchestras, and was one of the first woodwind instruments to be included in the early stages of development of the symphony orchestra throughout the 18th century. The Baroque oboe’s repertoire also includes numerous works for mixed and double-reed ensembles that were employed for both indoor and outdoors performance. Nearly every composer of note in the 18th century composed and published chamber sonatas and concerti for one or more oboes. In general, the music written for the instrument called for highly skilled specialists, and it would not appear that composers were producing works with amateur oboists in mind. By the end of the 18th century the Baroque oboe was rendered obsolete by instruments with new design features. It did, however, resurface in the latter half of the 20th century during the early music movement. Today, a few professional oboists specialize on this instrument, presenting solo and ensemble recitals and making commercial recordings of works from the repertoire outlined above. Some music departments, schools and conservatories include a Baroque oboe in their collections for use in student early music ensembles, and a few such institutions offer studio lessons on the instrument.


This Baroque oboe is made of boxwood in three sections--head, middle, and bell--that are connected by tenon-and-socket joints. Though the instrument's exterior profile is ornately turned and curvaceous, internally it has conical bore that is at its narrowest at the reed end and its broadest at the bell end. There are a total of eleven tone holes of varying sizes drilled into the body, eight are operated directly by the player’s finger pads, the remaining three are reached with keys. The top three fingerholes (the bottom of which is a double hole operated by a single finger) are located on the head section. On the middle section there is another group of three fingerholes (the top one of these is double), two holes on the sides of the body (these produce the same result and only one of them is used by the player depending on which hand they use on this section) operated with keys, and a final tone hole located in line with the fingerholes and operated with a ‘fishtail’ brass key. There are two vent holes on the bell, one on each side, the placement of which determines the acoustical length of the instrument. The instrument's double reed, made of cane, is mounted on a brass tube (called a staple) that is inserted into a countersunk hole at the top end of the head section.. 

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer holds the oboe with both hands nearly vertically in front of him- or herself with about half of the reed inserted into the mouth cavity. The player’s lips, controlled by the embouchure muscles, create a tight seal around the reed and are used to vary the pressure on it. This instrument is designed so that it can be played with either the right hand or the left hand on top. The first three fingers of the top hand cover the fingerholes on the head joint, the first three fingers of the other hand the fingerholes on the middle joint. The keys are operated with the baby finger of the middle joint hand. When all the fingerholes and keys are covered a C4 is sounded. The compass of the Baroque oboe is from C4 to E6 and it is fully chromatic over this range except for one pitch that is not available, C-sharp4. It produces a less robust sound than its predecessor the shawm, in large part due to a more delicate double reed and the greater lip contact with it. Because it is an end-blown conical-bore instrument, it overblows at the octave. Cross fingerings are needed to produce many notes, and some of these are awkward to execute especially when playing ornaments such as trills. Subsequent improvements to this instrument were often centered on addressing these issues through the addition of more tone holes and keys to cover them.


The Baroque oboe was developed from the shawm during the early- and mid-17th century. A group of performers and instrument makers associated with the French royal court is generally credited with developing an instrument that was distinguishable from its predecessor in that it was shorter, was made in three sections, had a re-proportioned bore and repositioned and resized fingerholes, and did not have a pirouette. Two keys were introduced to cover two new tone holes positioned near the bell end of the instrument; these extended the lower end of the instrument’s range a hole step. Though makers were experimenting with additional keys throughout the later half of the 18th century, oboes such as the one pictured and described here remained in use throughout Europe as late as around 1820. Starting in the middle of the 20th century the early music movement created a market for replica instruments, including oboes. Early music instrument workshops, such as that of Jonathan Bosworth of Boston, produce instruments like the one pictured here, a replica of an extant oboe made by the English maker Thomas Stanesby Sr. (1668-1734).

Bibliographic Citations

Baines, Anthony. 1962. Woodwind Instruments and their History. New York: W.W. Norton.

Bate, Philip. 1962 (1956). The Oboe: An Outline of its History, Development and Construction. London: Ernest Benn Limited.

________, and Niall O’Loughlin. 1984. “Oboe.” NGDMI v.2: 792-808.

Burgess, Geoffrey, and Bruce Haynes. 2004. The Oboe. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carroll, Paul. 1999. Baroque Woodwind Instruments. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Carse, Adam. 1975 (1965). Musical Wind Instruments. New York: Da Capo Paperback.

Joppig, Gunther. 1988. The Oboe and the Bassoon. Portland: Amadeus Press.

Van Cleve, Libby. 2004. Oboe Unbound: Contemporary Techniques. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Western Europe

Nation: France

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

422.112.2 aerophone--single conical-bore reedpipe with double (or quadruple) reed: the pipe has a reed (usually a flattened stem) of paired lamellae which periodically open and close, controlling the flow of air; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - conical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: exposed concussion (multiple) reed

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


23.2 in. length (without reed)

Primary Materials

reed - cane
spring - flat and/or needle


Bosworth & Hammer


Thomas Stanesby Sr.

Entry Author

Roger Vetter