The Oboe: Instrument of the Year

Monday, October 2, 2017

This year, the oboe has pride of place as Instrument of the Year according the state music council in Germany. This honor is meant to call more attention to an instrument that, in the view of the music councils, needs more young players. In the RISM database, we have plenty of music to keep oboists young and old busy.

RISM uses these abbreviations for instruments from the oboe family:

  • ob: oboe
  • picc.ob:piccolo oboe, oboe musette, musette (but not to be confused with the musette from the bagpipe family)
  • ob grande: oboe grande
  • ob d’amore: oboe d’amore
  • a-ob: Altoboe, any alto oboe
  • cor inglese: cor anglais, English horn
  • ob da caccia: oboe da caccia, oboe di silva
  • taille de hautbois: taille de hautbois
  • voce umana: voce umana, vox humana
  • t-ob: Any tenor oboe
  • heckelphon: heckelphone
  • b-ob: Any bass oboe

These are all the instruments from the oboe family that appear in the online catalog so far. If new sources are uncovered with new instruments, we will add them.

To find music that prominently features the oboe (concertos, duets, etc.), do an Advanced search and select the field Scoring. Enter the abbreviation and click Search. You can also combine your search with other search fields, such as a genre, to look for specific kinds of compositions. Here I’m searching for oboe concertos:

Search for oboe concertos

In the search results, look at the filters on the left. At the top you can see that 51 records contain links to digitized music, giving you immediate access to the original manuscript or printed edition. Scoring will give a summarized instrumentation of the piece:

Search results

Since the field Scoring is a summary of the scoring, searching for winds will also bring up smaller chamber works that include oboe, such as this series of octets (2 oboes, 2 English horns, 2 clarinets, 2 horns) preserved in the Czech Republic of arrangements from Mozart operas: Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Die Zauberflöte.

The RISM catalog of course contains music where oboes are included but aren’t featured in a prominent role. These pieces don’t come up in the scoring search, so you have to find them using a keyword search (though you may get a lot of results in some cases). For example, RISM has six pieces that feature the Altoboe (a-ob), including the very piece that Richard Wagner had the instrument built for: Parsifal.

Browsing through music for the oboe family in the RISM catalog will turn up a host of undiscovered gems, many of which lack modern performing editions or don’t even make an appearance in recitals. Take a look at the RISM catalog and bring these works back to life!

Image: The oboe through the ages, by OboeCrack (from Wikimedia Commons)

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