April 13, 2023
Blog by Thomas Lack
Another beautiful H.A.L instrument, The Oboe Amore is clear, bright, and penetrating, with a haunting, slightly nasal quality that adds to its unique character. The oboe can produce a wide range of dynamic and expressive tones, from soft and mellow to bright and powerful, making it a versatile instrument that is capable of conveying a wide range of emotions.
Double reed instruments are notoriously difficult to play, but the oboe and bassoon have such a unique sound that it’s worth the struggle. Oboe players constantly have to worry about their reeds (which they usually make themselves rather than purchasing them off the shelf), often carrying around pill bottles full of water to keep them the proper moisture. Luckily, we do not have to worry about any of this in Soundpaint!
Did you know there is an entire oboe family of instruments? The English Horn is the only one most of us have encountered, but there are also instruments like the Bass Oboe, Heckelphone, and Oboe D’Amore. While the Soundpaint Oboe Amore is a standard oboe, its name is inspired by this special instrument, so let’s take a look at some of the other instruments in the Oboe family.
The Oboe Family
Pitched in the key of A (a minor third lower than the standard oboe), the Oboe d’amore means "oboe of love" in Italian, and it has a warm and expressive tone that, while similar, has a slightly sweeter tone than a normal oboe. A minor third does not seem like much, but we’ll take a closer look at that in a little while.
The oboe d'amore was first developed in the Baroque period, around the early 18th century, and was used extensively by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach in his cantatas, orchestral suites, and other works. It fell out of use in the classical and romantic periods, but was revived in the 20th century and still sees use in some modern orchestras and chamber groups.
Like the standard oboe, the oboe d'amore is a demanding instrument to play, requiring a high degree of skill and precision from the performer. Its expressive range and warm tone make it a popular choice for playing solo lines in both classical and contemporary music, and it is often featured in film scores and other types of media music.
That being the case, it can be tough to actually distinguish between an oboe and an oboe d’amore on sound alone. And with the expanded range of the oboe in Soundpaint and multiple legatos, we can get an even sweeter sound. That doesn’t make the oboe d’amore irrelevant, but it is certainly less distinct than its larger brother.
The Enligh Horn Lorium launched several weeks ago in Soundpaint, and is a great companion for the Oboe Amore. In many symphony & studio orchestras, the English Horn is a “doubling” instrument. This means that there is not a dedicated English Horn player; rather, an oboist will switch to English Horn when necessary. It depends on the piece, cue, or movement how often they switch, but it might be easier to find work if you can play both!
The English Horn is a transposing instrument in the key of F (the same as the French Horn, if you need a trick to remember). Likewise, the range is also a fifth lower than the oboe. This surprises some people, as, while larger than a third, a fifth does not seem like much (especially on a keyboard). The bassoon can cover that same range easily. So why bother? Aside from the unique tonal characteristics, it also adds some power to the middle register of an orchestra. You might not realize playing the Oboe Amore in Soundpaint, with smooth dynamics and instant attacks across the range, but playing the lowest notes on a live oboe is uniquely difficult. They have a risk of “honking” and/or not speaking at all (frustratingly opposing issues), and even when they do speak, they can be softer. Conversely, the same range is sweeter and stronger on the English Horn. So, tone aside, the English Horn does more than extending the range of the oboe. The Flute and Alto Flute actually have a similar relationship.
Oboe da Caccia
The Oboe da Cacia translates to "hunting oboe," and it was used primarily in the Baroque period for hunting-related music, such as fanfares and marches. It is pitched in F, like the English Horn, and has a similar range, but with perhaps an even more mellow tone. While it was popular in the Baroque era, it is not commonly used in modern orchestras or ensembles, although it can still be heard in period performances or recordings. The unique curved shape is certainly interesting…
The bass oboe, also known as the baritone oboe or baroque oboe, is pitched an octave below the standard oboe. It has a darker sound that is well-suited for bass lines and accompanying melodies in Baroque music. It was commonly used in orchestras and ensembles in the 18th century, but fell out of favor in the following centuries as orchestral instrumentation evolved. However, it has recently experienced a resurgence of interest among early music performers and even studio musicians.
The instrument with the best name in my opinion, the Heckelphone was invented by Wilhelm Heckel in Germany in the early 20th century. It is pitched an octave lower than the oboe, just like the bass oboe, but with a slightly larger range thanks to some extra keywork. It has a wider bore (internal cross-section), and therefore, stronger projection. It has an even more haunting tone than the bass oboe, but has not seen the same modern resurgence - perhaps because the bass oboe can blend a bit better.
Why “English” Horn?
Now, about that name. If you live outside North America, you may see “Cor Anglais” much more frequently. All instruments have at least slightly different names in other languages, so why is the French name so common even to English speakers? In fact, the English Horn really is not English, but most likely originated in France or Germany. Is the instrument so French that we must say its name in French? “French Horn” is taken, of course (also incorrect, but that’s a different can of worms). Yeah, maybe it looks like an old-style English Hunting Horn, but we could have just called it the “Angled Horn,” considering the giant bend early iterations of the instrument had. Wait a minute… “Angled” “Anglais…” Hmm
That’s almost certainly not the actual reason, but it’s kind of fun. More likely, it has to do with an etymological similarity between an old Germanic word for “Angelic” and “English.” Also, even though many of us use French for the name, the instrument appeared in Viennese scores before it was regularly used in France. But maybe “Viennese Horn, but not *that* one” is too long a name.
What do you think? Do you like “English Horn” or “Cor Anglais?” Or do you think a different name, like “Angelic Horn” or “Tenor Oboe” would be better? Do you have a favorite member of the Oboe family? Let us know over on the Soundpaint Discord!