Oboe Facts

10 Interesting Facts About The Oboe

In the modern orchestra there are major players; instruments that can be identified at first glance. For instance, most people know what Violins, Cellos, and Trumpets look like. But the same can’t always be said for the Oboe. Despite its relatively unknown reputation, however, the Oboe is a critical part of the orchestra.

Here are several facts that make it so. Read on to know more about this instrument that was once called “an undernourished Clarinet.”

Oboe Facts

1. The Oboe is extremely temperamental, meaning you have to care for it like a madman!

Oboe Facts

Every Oboist out there will know that their instrument is extremely finicky. It can be easily knocked out of tune by the slightest bump, temperature spike, or a buildup of moisture.

Therefore, if you want to learn how to play the Oboe you must have endless patience to care for it first, or it will drive you nuts.

2. Its actual age and date of “birth” is a moot point for historians

Many experts, despite their years of knowledge and experience, can’t really agree on the origins of the Oboe. Some say that it wasn’t invented until the 1600s, which is relatively recent. Others say that it descended from an instrument called the shawm, which traces its roots as far back as 4800 years ago.

Oboe Facts

3. Its name comes from a rather humorous French word

The word “Oboe” comes from the French “hautbois” which means either “high wood” or “loud wood.” The latter might make more sense in this case, because if the Oboe isn’t cared for enough, it produces a loud, unpleasant sound that some professional Oboists claim mimics that of a “really sick duck.” But the Oboe itself is really a loud instrument in nature.

4. Several of history’s greatest composers wrote a lot of material for the Oboe

Oboe Facts

This includes Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, and Stravinsky to name a few. Among the most famous of these is Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 1 and 2. Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major is another masterpiece worth mentioning. 

5. Many Oboists make their own reeds

The Oboe is one of a few reeded woodwind instruments that allows players the opportunity to craft their own reeds. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see the most skilled and experienced Oboists spend more hours perfecting their reeds than actually practising!

6. It served as a military band instrument until the invention of the Clarinet

Military bands still exist today, but back then, they did more than just play music to an adoring audience: they played in battlefields! This is where the Oboe’s piercing, loud tones shone, because it could easily be heard by the troops. But when the Clarinet came, the Oboe lost its place.

7. An adequately skilled Oboist can play really, really fast

Say what you want about how hard the Oboe is to handle. But if you have the skills, you can do amazing things with it. For instance, the fastest Oboist in the world can play at a blistering 15 notes per second. The piece the Oboist played was the equally blazing Flight of the Bumblebee, which he finished in 26.1 seconds.

8. There are Some Less Well-Known Members of the Oboe Family

The Oboe family is quite a big one, and some of its members are considered unusual and hardly ever seen. One of these is the so-called Oboe d’Amore (“Oboe of Love”) which was popular during the Baroque and Classical periods. It has a bell shaped like a pear.

Oboe Facts

9. Early Oboes were very simple

Oboe Facts

That didn’t mean they were easier to play than the modern ones, however. But the truth stands: the earlier designs only featured a mere two or three keys. This actually made it harder to play the likes of semitones, until the invention of Oboes with more keys at the end of the 18th Century.

10. We use the French style Oboe today because of something a composer said in the past

The Oboe was predominantly offered in two different styles back in the day: German and French. But when famous German composer Richard Strauss went public with his preference for the French Oboe, the popularity of the instrument skyrocketed.

That's the end of our Oboe Facts... So what now?

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