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.
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.
(tan and brown bells above ) 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 ) 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!
(here ), and more recently with their M2 (here ) 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.
(here ) 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.
(here ) 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.
(here ) 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.