Saturday, June 30

Oboe Innovations – Appearance and Sound

You know the old joke?

A conductor is in love with two women; one is ravishingly beautiful but hates music, the other is a wonderful coloratura that looks like a blowfish. Being a deeply artistic musician, he decides to marry the soprano. But on the morning after the wedding, he wakes up to see his new bride “in the light of day”. In a fit of panic, he shakes her violently saying : “For God’s sake, SING!


It is very easy to say that what matters in an instrument is the sound, not the way it looks. In fact, for generations, nearly all oboes essentially looked like high-school band instruments! In a picture, an oboe by any maker could be passed off as any other maker.

NOTE: this post does not intend to compare the quality or merit of instrument brands. My purpose here is to show some of the more noteworthy innovations in the art and science of making oboes and how the manufacturers are aiming to recapture sound and qualities that might have been lost with standardization and industrialization.

pavillonVertical violinBoardGague pavillonMystereSeul
[1] Dupin Imperial [2] violin [3] past Fossati
orlowskiBellsCropped oboeDamoreBells
[4] Th. Orlowski (oboe) [5] Gebr. Mönning (d’Amore)

I can understand that the very complex keywork requires an even body to facilitate the mechanism, but how very bland compared to instruments from the classical or baroque eras. Even the Viennese oboe has retained a sense of woodwork. But this blog post intends to explore the opposite possibility: manufacturers who are passionate about giving their instrument a true personality might very much want to reflect that in the appearance as well as the sound.

Besides, it is very likely that the measurements of the wood in different parts of the instrument might well influence the sound: that is why great violins are not made of plywood! So “decorating” the instrument with different looking crowns or bells must certainly affect the sound.

Heinz Holliger, naturally, was my first oboe hero and he remains my standard for ornamenting Handel and dynamic expression. But when I heard Louise Pèllerin (Marigaux) my jaw dropped and my sense of sound aesthetic changed forever. Although Pèllerin remains a benchmark for me, Albrecht Mayer keeps turning my head when I hear him. At first, it was on the radio and I thought he played baroque oboe with a mediocre sound…. when I learned he played modern instruments, this was a revolution!

oboeAlbrechtMayer_largerludwigFrankRedaltuglassVerticalFOSSATI Oboe Soliste 20th Annivrosewood20anVerticalimperialInCaseVertical
Top: Marigaux M2
Left to right: Gebr. Mönning Platinum (Albr. Mayer),
Ludwig Frank, Marigaux 2001 Altuglass,
Fossati 20th An. Soliste, Josef 2th An., Dupin Impérial.

A.Mayer: Mön. Plat.
Google-searching Mayer is how I discovered the work of Ludwig Frank (here Pointing up) and how his instruments look different, inside and outside. At the insistence of Albrecht Mayer, Ludwig Frank developed a conical bell for his Oboe d’Amore and English Horn (branded as Mönning Platinum).

Gregor Witt: L. Frank
Although actual Ludwig Frank oboes already had a unique looking “traditional German” bell, similar to those made by Thomas Orlowski (tan and brown bells above Pointing up) Mayer also influenced the Mönning Platinum oboe that is more French in design, but still looks and sounds most distinctly. Although Mayer made the Gebrüder Mönning (here Pointing up) Platinum better known around the world, I have heard excellent oboists playing the real Ludwig Frank with a really special sound: “full-body velvet”! That is, as warm and smooth as one can imagine, yet capable of every dynamic and articulation: a real work of art!

François Leleux: M2
Marigaux is probably the instrument played most by international soloists and orchestras of all levels in Europe. has gained much attention with their “Altuglass” oboe (here Pointing up), and more recently with their M2 (here Pointing up) instrument has a particular design: the top joint has only the octave keys and the middle joint has all the finger keys! You typically buy a wooden head joint and a synthetic one to prevent cracks due to weather. The head joints also come in 3 lengths to help tuning for different orchestras.

J-L Fillon: 2001 Altuglass
The Altuglass need not fear cracking as it is fully synthetic: but the sound remains easily as beautiful as any wood instrument, ebony, rosewood or cocobolo. The M2 is becoming a favourite of soloists in Europe: the sound leaves no question as to why!

Tomoharu Yoshida: Fossati
Fossati (here Pointing up) decided to give a fully contemporary look to their instruments by removing almost all decoration. They produced a German-looking bell for a short while on special request. This bell gave a darker richer tone. It also served as the basis for their newest Soliste 20th Anniversary line: although the bell looks very plain, it is supposed to exaggerate the warmth and fullness of the tone. Perhaps Fossati’s most noteworthy innovations are a the trill keys that use only one hole and the metal alloys they use on the keys. The single hole trills help prevent cracks whereas the metal alloy apparently resists wear and tear from sweat and rubbing much better than silver, chrome or gold.

Simon Emes: Josef
Japan is one surprize after another: you can find there a whole society devoted to the Viennese oboe, a soloist (Oboe, Ob. d’Amore and English Horn) who is a fervent expert on Dupin oboes (below) and a maker of innovative modern instrument with the vision of creating the perfect oboe with a Japanese personality. Josef (here Pointing up) is this instrument maker and one of the means to get a Japanese personality is to change the decoration of the crown and the bell. The one pictured here is only one of several very different looking models.

Christoph Hartman and Renato Bizotto, Dupin Imperial.
Did I save the best for last? A true innovator while at the same time conserving the age-honoured craft of making oboes completely by hand, Rolland Dupin (here Pointing up) and his son Christophe have a solid reputation for making the most dependable modern oboes. They also make baroque oboes, which might explain how they imagined the Imperial oboe which has not only a very stylised bell, but also a decorated head-joint: not quite Viennese, but similar to baroque.The Imperial (made famous by Christoph Hartman) is capable of a variety of tone colours from the clear and virtuosic to warm and expressive. Dupin oboes are highly prized in Northern-Europe and many other places around the world. My absolute favourite style of orchestral playing is Scandinavian: when any instrument plays a solo, you don’t need to guess – you hear the flute solo, clarinets freely sound their beauty and oboes don’t sound as if they were ashamed of their tone. The oboes have remarkable qualities, rustic yet sophisticated, bold yet sensitive: truly my favourite style of playing. Perhaps the preference for Dupin instruments there might have something to do with it.

Sunday, June 17

Réussite : Anche 3 Minutes Reed : Success !

But 1st – No Fear: a full life built on solid artistic production!

What probably ruined my professional career more than anything is fear - the difficulty of living for the budding musician: would I be able to sustain a family? Doesn’t “normal life” prevent a musical life?

Mais en 1er – Rien à craindre: une vie pleine fondée sur la production artistique!
Ce qui a probablement tué ma carrière professionnelle est la crainte – la difficulté de débuter la vie musicale: comment soutenir une famille? Une “vie normale”, ne prévient-elle pas la vie musicale?

Well Colin Maier is married, has a son and is sustaining a truly noteworthy artistic career! This fellow Canadian from Toronto and splendid artist just released a CD (Pointing up).
I was first impressed with Colin as oboist for Quartetto Gelato (Hot smile), a breathtaking spectacle by any standard.

Et bien, Colin Maier est marié, père d’un fils puis soutient une carrière artistique vraiment remarquable! Cet hautboïste de Toronto vient de lancer un CD (Pointing up).
Il m’a d’abord impressionné en tant que membre de Quartetto Gelato (Hot smile), un régal spectaculaire par toute mesure.

Fear is definitely not in the vocabulary of this highly versatile multi-instrumentalist: he is the one who played the devil-fiddler in the opening Games of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (Pointing up) – playing in a canoe suspended dozens of meters in the air! chasseGallerie

La crainte recule devant ce multi-instrumentiste polyvalent: c’est lui, le diable-violonneux suspendu dans un canoë à des douzaines de mètres dans les airs (Pointing up) aux cérémonies d’ouverture des Olympiades  de 2010 à Vancouver!

But don’t let his athletics fool you: he is a real gift to the oboe world and a stimulus to new music. He plays Saint-Saëns, Pasculli (Pointing up) and much more with all the refinement of any world-class soloist and this new CD presents inspired and inspiring new musical composition!

Shipping information for the CD can be found here (Email) they will gladly work it out for anywhere in the world.

Mais ne laissez pas ses athlétismes vous induire en erreur: il est un véritable don pour le hautbois et un stimulus pour la musique actuelle. Il joue Saint-Saëns, Pasculli (Pointing up) et bien plus avec autant de sens artistique que les grands solistes du monde et son nouveau CD présente de la composition actuelle inspirée et inspirante!
Infos pour la livraison du CD ici (Email): ils se feront un plaisir de d’accommoder partout dans le monde.

3-Minute Reed :
Surprisingly Good!

Anche en 3 minutes:
pas mal du tout!

Once again: sorry for irking anyone, but: “Making reeds is easy!”
I lost the pictures and the website, but some time ago, I found old reeds (from the 1950’s?) that were scraped in a way that almost contradicts everything I believe in for sound quality. I looks like somewhat like these sketches. Instead of a strong centerline and thin sides for a rich sound, it is a simple V all the way getting thinner in the middle! I thought I should try it, maybe get a buzzophone for laughs.

firstScrape     knifeMotion_oldStyle
[1]            [2]

Une fois de plus, désolé de vous offusquer, mais: “Faire des anches, c’est facile!”
J’ai perdu les photos et le site web, mais j’avais vu de vieilles anches (vers 1950?) qui semblaient contredire tout ce que je croyait pour la qualité sonore. Elles ressemblaient à-peu-près aux croquis ci-contre. Au lieu d’une médiane forte et flancs minces pour un timbre riche, un simple V tout le long avec un centre mince! Je ne peux pas résister à l’essayer, peut-être un buzzaphone, mais au moins rigolo.

Experiment – use bad blank.
For these experiments, I usually use bad blanks, so I won’t be disappointed if it fails. This one had more than leaks, it didn’t even close too well.
I decided to try a new way to get the V or U at the bottom: angle my knife the “wrong” way. This was perfect for the scraping style and certainly prevents wrecking the tip.
I got the whole scrape thin enough to play a few notes. Only then did I scrape the tip as straight and step-wise as I could. A really sharp knife helped a lot!


Expérimentation – anche mal montée.
Pour mes expérimentations, j’aime utiliser mes montages échoués… moins déçu si tout flanche! Celle-ci avait bien plus qu’une fuite, c’est un véritable torrent!
Pour un V au mince tenant vers le milieu, j’ai gratté “à l’envers”. À vrai-dire, ça aide énormément à préserver le bout.
Ainsi, j’ai rendu le grattage entier assez mince pour jouer quelques notes. Ce n’est q'u’après que j’ai fait le bout aussi droit et net que possible. Un bon tranchant a aidé énormément!

The 1st blow was horrible because of the leaks. So I put cellophane wrap, then the crow and the playing became superb… for a new reed…
But for a grand total of 3 minutes scraping, I got a reed that was very responsive, stable,in tune and sounds actually decently: not at all the buzzophone I was expecting!
Here it is (green thread) compared to “old faithful” a reed I have been playing for almost a year and used for  a few of these recordings.

Le 1er essai fut affreux à cause des fuites. Ayant enveloppé de célophane, elle s’est mise à jouer formidable…. pour une anche neuve…
Mais pour seulement 3 minutes de grattage, l’anche attaque très facilement, elle est stable et joue juste avec un son très passable: pas du tout le buzzaphone auquel je m’attendais!
La voici (fil vert) avec “vieux fidèle”, une anche que je joue depuis presqu’un an et utilisé dans quelques enregistrements.

The new green thread reed (“old scrape”) started playing flat, but after playing 20 minutes, it now always plays at the same pitch as “old faithful” (A~442)!
The lower green thread was a mistake: I didn’t finish winding to the end of the staple.
“Old scrape” is really easy to play and not tiring in the least. It’s only flaws – at this point – are an edgy tone and difficulty articulating in soft notes. Low notes are fine and easy, it’s really soft notes that don’t articulate well: not surprising with bark on the sides almost up to the tip.

Test Old Scrape

Test Old Faithful

La nouvelle anche au fil vert (“vieux grattage”) a commencé par jouer beaucoup trop pas, mais après environ 20 minutes, elle joue maintenant toujours comme “viex fidèle” (A~442)!
L’attachage plus courte est une erreur: je n’ai pas fini d’enrouler jusqu’au bout du tube.
”Vieux grattage”  est vraiment facile à jouer et sans aucune fatigue. Ses seuls défauts – à ce point – est un timbre un peu dûr et difficulté d’attaque en douceur. Le grave est facile, c’est vraiment les notes douces qui ont de la difficulté: pas surprenant avec de l’écorce presque jusqu’au bout sur les côtés.

On the flip-side, I never had a reed that plays the altissimo notes (3rd 8va key) more easily!

Recall: amateur test reed!

The following recordings were NOT actually practiced for performance!
Test 2nd Scrape

Belle note, je n’ai jamais eu une anche qui joue le sur-aigü (3e clef d’8ve) aussi facilement!

Rappel: épreuve d’anche par amateur!
Les enregistrements suivants n’ont PAS été répétés pour une présentation publique!

I played it like this for 2 or 3 days. Then I decided to try to soften the tone and help the articulations. I quickly thinned down the sides (took about 10 seconds) and POOF: great articulations and much better tone! Having scraped too fast, the sides are not straight, but still really good!

The last experiment I want to do is scrape a point. This should make the tip too long requiring a chop. I hesitate to modify this reed, though: not concert grade, but really nice for practicing!

secondScrape     thirdScrape
[3]     [4] (later)

Je l’ai jouée ainsi pendant 2 ou 3 jours. J’ai ensuite décidé d’adoucir le timbre et aider les articulations. Rapidement (environ 10 secondes), j’ai aminci les flancs ET HOP: excellentes articulations et timbre franchement meilleur! Ayant gratté trop vite, les flancs trop vite, ils ne sont pas constants, mais quand-même vraiment bien!
La dernière expérimentation qui reste est d’y donner une pointe. Ça devrait rendre le bout trop long, demandant donc une tranche. J’hésite, par contre, de modifier cette anche: pas de niveau concert, mais vraiment bien pour la répétition!