Thursday, February 18, 2016

What is an Oboe, Anyway? - 2

 The oboe is principally a melodic instrument; it has a rustic character, full of tenderness, I would say even of shyness.
-Hector Berlioz from his Treatise on Orchestration

Berlioz also says this about the oboe.:

The sounds of the oboe are suitable for expressing simplicity, artless grace, gentle happiness, or the grief of a weak soul. It renders these admirably in cantabile passages.

And this...:

    It can also convey a degree of agitation, but one must be careful not to intensify this to cries of passion, to vehement outbursts of anger, threats or heroism: its thin, bitter-sweet tones then become feeble and altogether grotesque.

I think that Berlioz is on the right track with this. The oboe does sound best when used in the kinds of passages he describes. Here are some examples of this. 

Berlioz was pretty cruel about the oboe in other respects. I don’t necessarily agree with him here. 

[…] Quick runs, whether chromatic or diatonic, can be played fairly easily on the oboe, but the effect they produce is merely clumsy and almost ridiculous; the same is true of arpeggios.

So, what is an oboe according to Berlioz? Well, he didn’t have it confused with a clarinet or a carrot that’s for sure! 

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