Oboes, whose name comes from the French for "high-pitched wood," are excellent for solo performances with many notes in high ranges. The oboe has a reputation for being difficult to play.

The Origins of the Oboe

Although the precise year when the oboe was invented is unknown, it is said to have originated sometime around the mid 17th century in France. Of course, double-reed wind instruments such as the reed flute were in use in Europe even before then. The shawm, an instrument that was used between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is one of the other instruments that can be considered ancestors of the oboe. The French term for the oboe, hautbois, means wood of high-pitched or loud sound. The English and Italian term oboe, the German terms Oboe and Hoboe, and other words in other languages have the French word as their origins. Because early oboes were simple instruments with only two or three keys, it was not easy to play all semitones. However, instruments with greater numbers of keys started being manufactured at the end of the 18th century, allowing players to produce all semitones consistently.

The oboe first appeared in France in the 17th century. Subsequently, more advanced German-style oboes spread throughout Europe. At the end of the 19th century, however, oboes with a revolutionary new mechanism were created in France, changing the situation considerably. The new system developed in France was known as the "conservatoire" style, and it is this style of oboe that is now mainstream.

In the late 19th century, the oboe world was split roughly equally between the German style and the French style. According to one explanation, it was a famous German composer and conductor who completely changed this situation. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, Richard Strauss announced that he preferred the French style, which immediately caused that form's influence to grow. After that, the German style came to be preferred only in the areas surrounding Vienna and eventually became known as the Wiener oboe.

The oboe is a C woodwind, that is, a C major instrument. A lower pitched instrument is the A woodwind, the oboe d'amore. Even lower is the F woodwind, the cor anglais (also known as the English horn). Unlike the oboe bell, the bells of the oboe d'amore and the cor anglais are egg-shaped. People tend to think that the peculiar, muffled sound comes from the egg shape. However, there is a greater relationship with the different tapering of the widths of the interior pipes. There is also a bass oboe, which produces the lowest sound of any instrument in the oboe family. However, this instrument is rarely encountered. Only a few dozen exist in Japan, and only a few are thought to be produced per year worldwide. The reason why bass oboes continue to be manufactured is that they appear in Holst's musical suite The Planets. Otherwise, the bass oboe is so rarely used that it could even be said to exist virtually only for a single work.



From deep resounding low notes to sweet melodies, unhindered expression. The long, wide wooden pipe of the bassoon contains much wisdom.

The Origins of the Bassoon

The bassoon is a woodwind instrument that produces sound in a low range, using a double reed, and has a distinctive shape, with a long tube that looks as though it has been folded in two. The musical instruments that could be described as ancestors of the bassoon were developed in the 16th century, and include the shawm, the rankett, and the dulcian (or curtal). All of these are low-pitched instruments that use a double reed. Among them only the dulcian is shaped as though folded in two, making it the musical instrument one could describe as closest in shape to the modern bassoon.

It is said that the name "fagotto" is derived from "fagottez", which is French for "a bundle of two wooden sticks." As the same word also exists in Italian, it is also said that the name originates from this Italian term instead. It is not precisely known when the name came to be used for the musical instrument, but it seems that, at least since the mid-17th century, a wooden wind instrument in a style that closely resembles its modern form has been known in France as the "fagotto." The name "bassoon," used in the English-speaking world, also drives from a French word, "basson." Basson is a term used for a musical instrument similar to the earliest fagotto that also offered a low pitch range, and which started being referred to as the fagotto from the latter half of the 17th century.

In the first half of the 19th century, German military bandmaster Carl Almenräder began efforts to improve the bassoon. The bassoon at that time typically had 8 keys, but Almenräder increased the number of keys, making repeated innovations such as improving the part of the instrument where its tube bends back on itself, known as the "U-tube", making the pitch easier to control, and increasing the instrument's volume. The fruits of these efforts, passed down via musical instrument maker Johann Adam Heckel who worked with Almenräder, have now come to be known as the German-style (Heckel-style) model of bassoon. Instruments in the German-style have spread across Italy, the U.K. and the United States, and the overwhelming majority of instruments in use today are of the German style.