Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Highly colored oboe timbre becomes tiresome if used for too long"

So, this is my Post-Tonal Analysis book. I really love the subtext that they're creating with the cover illustration. "Over the course of this class we will strip away your ability to see the entirety of a piece, as well as the intricacies surrounding it. Instead, your understanding of the piece will become dim and out of focus."

Excitingly, I get to present the oboe and English horn to my Orchestration class on Tuesday. Any suggestions of things I shouldn't forget to mention would be helpful. Currently I've gotten thus far in my brainstorming:

For oboe:
A lot of composers seem to give oboes the "easy" part. (This isn't something I've done a lot of thinking about, but I noticed it last weekend when playing Peter and the Wolf and yesterday during orchestra sectionals when rehearsing Firebird.) Some composers (cough Ravel, Tombeau cough) dramatically don't, though.
Tonguing. It works differently from bowing. Also, we have fewer named effects and fewer specific notations, but we can still play notes of just about any length, from incredibly staccato to barely differentiated.
Breathing. Breathing is not optional, and must especially be taken into account during solo passages, where stagger breathing can't be done. Also, breathing for oboe (and bassoon?) works differently than for flutes and clarinets.
Range and changing tone. Low register v. high register. Our range is pretty much low B flat to high F sharp, and nearly all of that gets used in orchestral parts. Don't try to make the oboe come in softly below about E flat or D, especially if it's a first oboe part. Also, try not to really go above E in orchestral parts.
You don't have to worry about reeds, that's our job. This is a personal issue of mine with the orchestration book, which makes a big deal about the trials and tribulations of double reed players. Composers shouldn't have to care that reeds are finicky- pieces should be written for the "ideal" oboist. The players will deal.

For EH:
I'm planning to do a sort of montage of famous solos- New World, Ravel Piano Concerto, Roman Carnival- and say "These are the sorts of things that English horn is famous for playing. We can play fast and technical things, and sometimes it's a fun break, but there's a reason that all English horn solos sound similar."
Tone. EH has a darker and smoother tone throughout the registers. Also, take advantage of the low register.

Suggestions of pieces which I should use to demonstrate would be most welcome.

A close friend of Mozart reported that on the last day of Mozart's life, he participated in a rehearsal of the unfinished Requiem with Mozart.
"On the very eve of his death, [Mozart] had the score of the Requiem brought to his bed, and himself (it was two o'clock in the afternoon) sang the alto part.... They were at the first bars of the Lacrimosa when Mozart began to weep bitterly, laid the score on one side, and eleven hours later...departed this life."

"from the boiling cells
By strange conveyance filled each hollow nook;
As in an organ, from one blast of wind,
To many a row of pipes the sound-board breathes.
Anon out of the earth a fabric huge
Rose like an exhalation, with the sound
Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet--
Built like a temple, where pilasters round
Were set, and Doric pillars overlaid
With golden architrave; nor did there want
Cornice or frieze, with bossy sculptures graven;
The roof was fretted gold."
Milton, Paradise Lost, 1. 706-717


Patty said...

Hmmm. I tell classes about the difficulty of low notes, but I also admit that many composers write them and we have to deal. (I also show them how we can mute unless we are playing our very lowest notes.)

I've always thought that we get easier parts for several reasons. 1) We spend so much time on reeds, and I think composers know that! 2) The hand spread is larger than for flutes and clarinets, so it is a bit more awkward. But yes, we can have more technical stuff much of the time. Still, I'm not complaining!

As to breathing ... well ... we can go so long I rarely worry about that like I do about a rest for the embouchure; to me that is more necessary.

It's kind of fun to talk to classes about our special instruments, isn't it?

EH suggestions: How about de Falla for something quick, Ravel's piano concerto, Rite ... gee, we DO get a lot of fabulous solos, don't we? :-)

Just some ideas ....

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I always thought Oboe was the hardest woodwind to play . . . until I tried flute! We've thrown a link to your blog at