What Are the Different Types of Oboe Music?

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  • Written By: Peter Hann
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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The oboe is a double-reed woodwind instrument that has been a part of orchestral music since the Baroque Period. Modern orchestras normally include from two to four oboes, the number used at any time depending on the particular work played and the requirements of the composer. The oboe plays an important part in most orchestral music, and its clear sound can take up a melody and be heard above the remaining instruments of the orchestra. The oboe has appeared from time to time in popular music and also is used by some present day jazz groups. Oboe music also has long featured as background music in films to heighten the emotional atmosphere of poignant scenes.

In large orchestral works such as symphonies or tone poems, the oboe can combine with other instruments but also can take over a melody or a descriptive passage and impose its distinctive, clear sound on top of the other instruments. The symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms contain a number of sections in which the oboe is heard in prominent passages. Well known musical works such as Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade and Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition make use of the sound of the oboe to create the atmosphere characteristic of these descriptive pieces.


The oboe has often featured as a solo instrument in works such as the oboe concertos of Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni, in which the oboe sings above the continuo, imitating a phrase or taking up a melody. Oboe music also is frequently encountered in the works of Georg Philipp Telemann and features in the first two Brandenburg concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach. In the 20th century, many composers turned their attention to the instrument to compose oboe music in their own style. Carl Nielsen composed two pieces for oboe and piano, and Camille Saint Saens composed a sonata for oboe and piano. Another example is the oboe concerto of Ralph Vaughan Williams in which the oboe evokes the pastoral mood often associated with the composer.

The oboe has only rarely been used in jazz, though the instrument is used in the present day by certain jazz groups that are influenced by classical music. The oboe also has featured in some popular songs, a familiar example being the Carpenters' song For All We Know. The oboe has been used by some classical oboists to record performances of other types of oboe music. Another non-classical use of the oboe has been in film music, where the instrument has often been employed to express a sad, melancholy mood as a background to emotional scenes.


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