In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Oboe

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals, Organization Publications, and Collected Writings
  • History and Sociology
  • Musical Contexts
  • Iconography
  • Repertoire
  • Technique
  • Museum and Exhibition Catalogues

Music Oboe
Geoffrey Burgess
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0215


The term oboe refers to a conical-bored treble aerophone that uses a double reed as sound generator. Although their origins are still not fully understood, oboes are believed to have first appeared in West Asian (Middle Eastern) cultures centuries before the Christian era and became known in Europe through contact with Muslims during the Crusades beginning in the 11th century. The aulos and tibia of Greek and Roman times have also been termed oboes. Recent research has confirmed that they were cylindrical-bored and were played in pairs as double pipes; consequently, they stand apart from the standard definition of oboes. The Middle Eastern instruments were emulated in medieval Europe in a variety of forms: oboes (now usually called shawms in English) were built in various sizes to play in consorts, some were coupled with wind reservoirs to produce bagpipes. A diversity of local variants of both directly and bellow-blown forms evolved, some of which resemble instruments still used in folk traditions. In the late 17th century a decisive turning point was reached when wind players at the court of Louis XIV reconfigured the bore, holes, and reed of the late Renaissance shawm to create an instrument capable of playing with other instruments in orchestras. However, this new instrument was not given a new name. It was referred to by the name of its precursor: hautbois. This makes it difficult to determine the exact period when the shawm transitioned to the oboe in the restricted sense of the instrument used in Western classical music. This new instrument spread to other European nations where the French name was adapted to local phonetics, giving hoboe, hobo, hautboy, and oboè. The late 18th century saw the development of a narrower-bored oboe more suited to the Classical style. Originating in Italy, this design enabled greater fluency in the upper register. The rise of industrialized manufacture processes in the 19th century resulted in more rapid development in woodwind design than any other period. Not only did production increase, but the complex systems of keywork that were devised expanded the oboe’s technical capabilities. In the 1860s Triebert in Paris and Zuleger in Vienna arrived at designs that have become the two standard models that are still used in symphony orchestras around the world. In 1882 a slightly modified version of Triebert’s système 6 was adopted as the official standard of the Paris Conservatoire. This model is currently heard everywhere around the globe outside Vienna where the Wiener oboe is still in use. Throughout its history, the Western oboe bas been built in different sizes, not only to provide a consort of oboes with a homogenous sonority over a wider range than can be covered by a single instrument, but to conform to different regional pitch standards and provide tonal variations within a family of like instruments (for details on the different members, see Precursors and Related Instruments). This bibliography lists works dedicated to the study of the construction, history, use, repertoire, and performance techniques related to instruments of the oboe family. By far the majority of publications about the oboe refer to Western instruments, but the bibliography concludes with some important works that describe the oboes of non-Western traditions.

General Overviews

Numerous comprehensive overviews of the history, repertoire, and use of the oboe have appeared since the early 20th century. Some take the form of entries in encyclopedias and dictionaries; others are book-length studies. These reference works form the basis for more detailed research on related topics. The earlier writings such as Bechler and Rahm 1914 and Bleuzet 1927 reflect a limited historical perspective. Bate 1975 set a new direction by introducing the detailed examination of instruments from earlier periods but still with little direct knowledge of their playing characteristics. Goossens and Roxburgh 1977 duplicates some information in earlier sources and adds personalized interpretative information on standard repertoire. Beginning in the mid-20th century, the increased interest in performance on historically appropriate instruments has resulted in an enormous expansion of investigations into the instrument’s early history and playing techniques. This is reflected in writings such as Burgess and Haynes 2004, which is the most comprehensive general study covering the full history of oboes from ancient times through to the modern era currently available, and in Haynes, et al. 1994; Haynes, et al. 2001; and Haynes, et al. 2014. Page and Vigneau 2013 is a brief introduction to the oboe in America.

  • Bate, Philip. The Oboe: An Outline of its History, Development and Construction. 3d rev. ed. New York: Philosophical Library, 1975.

    Served as the definitive study on the subject up to the publication of Burgess and Haynes 2004. The format is modeled after Bechler and Rahm 1914, with a general history and biographies of significant players in an appendix. Places emphasis on the oboe’s physical development, including a detailed account of the addition of keywork in the 19th century, and acoustics rather than playing characteristics and repertoire.

  • Bechler, Leo, and Bernhardt Rahm. Die Oboe und die ihr verwandten Instrumente. Leipzig: Carl Merseburger, 1914.

    The earliest monograph dedicated to the oboe. Includes biographies of noted players from the 18th to the 19th century and a useful repertoire list. Although some of its information is now out of date and duplicates errors from earlier literature, this book is based on sound research. The appendix “Musikliteratur für Oboe und English Horn” compiled by Philipp Losch provides a valuable snapshot of music in print at the turn of the 20th century.

  • Bleuzet, Louis. “Hautbois, Hautbois d’amour, cor anglais, hautbois baryton.” Encyclopédie de la Musique et Dictionnaire du Conservatoire. Edited by Albert Lavignac and Lionel de La Laurencie. Paris: Delagrave, 1913–1931.

    An important source by a noted player dating from shortly after the establishment of the Conservatoire oboe in its definitive form. This article was influential in the early 20th century and contains a number of errors of fact that have been corrected in later sources.

  • Burgess, Geoffrey, and Bruce Haynes. The Oboe. Yale Musical Instrument Series. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

    Includes detailed studies of specific periods and topics, information from treatises, illustrations of instruments, players, and music. Three appendices give dimensions of reeds from 1691 to c. 1767, a collation of fingering charts, and the use of keys on 19th-century oboes. Addresses the instrument’s physical and musical characteristics and also builds a picture of the social network of makers, players, and composers who contributed to the oboe’s development.

  • Goossens, Léon, and Edwin Roxburgh. Oboe. Yehudi Menuin Music Guides. London: MacDonald & Jones, 1977.

    Written by the most noted player of the early 20th century in collaboration with an oboist-composer, this book is directed primarily at performers and young students. It sketches the oboe’s history from ancient times and gives practical advice to performers. It also treats avant-garde repertoire and extended techniques and includes a repertoire list.

  • Haynes, Bruce, Geoffrey Burgess, and Michael Finkelman. “Oboe.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. 2d ed., 3: 621–643. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    A major revision of the entry in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Haynes, et al. 2001). Deals primarily with construction and design. The dictionary also includes individual articles on prominent makers.

  • Haynes, Bruce, Geoffrey Burgess, Michael Finkelmann, et al. “Oboe.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2d ed. Sachteil 7. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 509–562. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1994.

    A detailed overview of the instrument, its history, major exponents, and repertoire. Most of the information contained in this article is duplicated in the more recent entries listed in this section.

  • Haynes, Bruce, Geoffrey Burgess, Michael Finkelmann, et al. “Oboe.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2d ed., 18: 257–287. London: Macmillan, 2001.

    The most extensive and authoritative dictionary entry on the oboe in the English language. An essential starting point for research. Parts of this article have been revised for the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (Haynes, et al. 2014). Includes an extensive general bibliography and listing of method books. The dictionary also includes numerous articles on individual players cross-referenced in the oboe article. Also available on Oxford Music Online. The online version does not include all the illustrations found in the printed version.

  • Joppig, Gunther. The Oboe and the Bassoon. Translated by Alfred Clayton. London: Batsford, 1988.

    Translation of the author’s Oboe und Fagott (Stuttgart: Hallwag Verl, 1981). Supplementing the Anglo-centric focus of other general studies published up to this time, this generously illustrated book provides some valuable information on the development of the oboe in German-speaking countries. Presents information in a straightforward, nonanalytic manner and reproduces illustrations from rare musical works and pedagogical material. There are slight differences in content between the German, French, and English versions.

  • Page, Janet K., and Michelle Vigneau. “Oboe.” In The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 2d ed., 6: 183–185. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Surveys the presence of oboes and their manufacture in the United States of America from colonial times to the present day. The dictionary also includes articles on important American players and makers.

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