Oboe comes from the French word hautbois (oat-bwa), which means high or loud wood[wind]. An oboe is basically a wooden tube with a conical bore, 16 to 20 side holes controlled with a system of keys, and a double reed. The player usually makes the reed him- or her-self, using cane, cork, thread, and other materials. Cane is a type of grass, similar to bamboo, that is grown in warmer climates.

<IMG SRC="assets/shockwave/oboe_sound_shockwave.jpg" WIDTH=175 ALIGN=left HEIGHT=120 BORDER=0> Early forms of oboes go way back in time. Man discovered the idea of a double reed - two thin pieces of cane or reed vibrating against each other - almost as far back as instrumental music-making goes. By the 16th century, both Germany and Italy had a standard double-reed instrument that was a form of the shawm, an early oboe that had a very loud tone and was used for fanfares and outdoor music.

As the true oboe developed, the main difference from the shawm was that the player could control the reed with his/her lips as well as with his/her breath. This meant much greater expressive ability and a softer tone too. The new form seems to have come from the French, because the English called it the "French hoboy" and similar terms. In 1770, the Italianate spelling, "oboe," came into permanent use.

Questions? Email us!

© 1999 New York Philharmonic