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Title: Alfred Genovese, Oboe--Three Romances Op. 94, by Robert Schumann; Alfred Genovese, oboe, and Peter Serkin, piano. Label: Boaton Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: BR1004CD. Track: 2.

Contextual Associations

The modern oboe is an end-blown conical-bore double-reed aerophone developed in Europe but that is today found distributed throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. It is played both by professionals and amateurs, males and females. The oboe is a standard instrument in the symphony orchestra, military/marching/concert band and wind ensemble, and in chamber music (see woodwind quintet). A solo and concerto repertoire of considerable size, dating back to the Baroque era, has accrued for this instrument over the past three centuries. Not only concertizing professionals draw upon this literature for performance dates with orchestras and for recitals throughout the cosmopolitan world, but amateur players do as well for solo competitions in secondary school music programs. The performance of this solo repertoire is today perhaps most concentrated in tertiary educational institutions around the world, which typically include on their faculty a professor of oboe and offer degrees in oboe performance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.


The body of this student model oboe is made from resin, a departure from the traditionally preferred material of hardwood. It has a conical bore with its smallest diameter at the top or reed end of the body and its greatest diameter at the bottom or bell end. The body has three sections--upper body, lower body, and bell sections--that are connected by tenon-and-socket joints. Twenty-one holes of varying sizes are situated in acoustically ideal locations along the length of the body. All of these are operated with padded keys--not a single hole is closed directly with a fingertip of the player (on professional model oboes several holes are covered directly with fingertips, aided by open ring keys). A complex mechanical keywork system involving springs, levers, rod-axels, mounts, and keys allows the performer to cover and uncover remotely located tone holes that would otherwise be impossible to reach given the anatomy of the human hand. The instrument's double reed is made from a long and narrow strip of cane from the wall of a stalk of cane that is folded at its middle, its two ends are then bound with a fine twine to a metal tube (called a staple). The fold is then trimmed off, leaving an elliptical opening. The blades that articulate this opening are then shaved and shaped until very thin. The base of the staple is wrapped with a thin layer of cork and inserted into a countersunk hole at the top end of the instrument's bore.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player, either standing or seated, holds the instrument vertically in front of himself or herself with both hands, left hand on the upper body joint and the right hand on the lower one. The reed is inserted into the mouth and pressed between the lips using the embouchure muscles. These muscles help shape the elliptical opening at the tip of the reed, and it is the action of the tip in response to the airstream directed against it that generates the sound wave forms in the bore of the instrument. The player’s left hand thumb and all the fingers on both hands are used to operate the keys found on the instrument; the right hand thumb, situated on the back side just below a thumb rest, helps steady the instrument and absorb much of its weight. The instrument functions acoustically as an open tube, meaning that it overblows at every harmonic partial overtone (starting at the octave). With all the finger holes covered the lowest sounding pitch is B-flat3; its highest possible pitch depends on the performer, but A6 would be attainable by professionals. Its compass is therefore just under three octaves, and over this range it is fully chromatic. It is non-transposing instrument notated at pitch. Though the keywork added to the oboe in the 19th century has resolved many intonation and fingering shortcomings of the Baroque oboe, the modern oboe is still a very demanding instrument to play well. In the latter part of the twentieth century, composers and performers have experimented with new techniques for the oboe such as the production of multiphonics, quarter- and micro-tones, and singing and playing simultaneously. For a video illustrating the player-instrument interface for this instrument, view the Philharmonia Orchestra website chapter on the oboe


The modern oboe as pictured here is a descendent of the Baroque oboe, which continued to be manufactured and used in some areas, albeit decreasingly, up to 1820. Makers of the late-18th and early-19th centuries were already experimenting with keywork designs to address the fingering and intonation issues of the Baroque-era oboe, and such mechanization development only increased in its pace during the middle of the 19th century when advancements in the keywork design of all woodwind instruments were taking place. The oboe reached its current design by the 1880s in France with the adoption of the systeme A6 mechanism by the maker Triebert, but his design (sometimes referred to as the “conservatoire oboe”) was built upon the work of many earlier makers and influenced by the Boehm flute keywork (see the entry for the flute), which oboe makers began to experiment with in the 1840s.

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.

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

“Instruments.”  Philharmonia Orchestra website, accessed September 14, 2015: http://www.philharmonia.co.uk/explore/instruments

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

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


23.6 in. length (without reed)

Primary Materials

reed - cane





Entry Author

Roger Vetter