Music Study – The Oboe

The study of the Oboe is very difficult; the instrument is full of pitfalls for the pupil, and the latter must exercise great perseverance in order to acquire an execution that is clean, and to attain a certain ability. The most considerable difficulty that must first be conquered is the obligation of restraining the breath, so as to soften the tone and to avoid what are commonly called couacs, accidents that occur when the reed only vibrates, without any tone issuing from the instrument. But, in seeking to avoid all accidents of this nature, we must guard against playing with too much gentleness, for then we run the risk of having the instrument emit the tones an octave higher. Just as sweet and velvety, although a little nasal, as the tones of the oboe are when the instrument is in the hands of a clever virtuoso, so are they sharp and shrill when the performer is inexperienced or lacking in the taste that makes true artists. The oboist should aim at obtaining a tone that is delicate with-out being weak, penetrating without being hard, incisive and mordant without crudeness, by avoiding especially heaviness on the one hand and brutal noise on the other, which are intolerable defects here. The instrument particularly lends itself to the expression of sentiments that are tender or rustic, to emotion and deep melancholy, which does not prevent its occasionally becoming infinitely witty and ironical. But only artists who are absolutely master of their quality of tone can dream of obtaining from their instrument effects that are so varied and so full of charm.

To gain this result, it is necessary, not only to be well constituted in everything concerning the chest, a common requirement for the playing of all wind-instruments, but also to have good teeth (at least the incisors), and thin, delicate and firm lips. The double reed of the oboe is formed of two thin layers of reed, of extreme delicacy, and it is in a great measure by the pressure that the lips exercise upon this fragile organ that are produced all the modifications or inflections of sonority of which the instrument is capable. The sensitiveness of the reed of the oboe is such that many oboists, anxious about the purity of their timbre, undertake the making of their own reeds, and take the most minute pains with it, which is the only means of adapting them exactly to their individual convenience, although reeds are found in all the shops of the makers of wind-instruments. A great number of bassoon-players do the same thing, although their reeds are less delicate. It is therefore easy to understand that in order to set in vibration an organ so fine, so delicate and so sensitive, thick and fleshy lips would constitute if not complete incapacity, at least a great difficulty ; and there are quite enough without this.

The daily work should be calculated according to the physique of each individual, and may vary between three and six hours ; but because of the fatigue entailed, it would be dangerous to allow a normally developed child to devote himself to it before he had attained the age of eleven or twelve years. If I underscore the word dangerous, and if I insist upon it, it is because sad examples have demonstrated this fact in a fashion, alas ! irremediable. At the age of fifteen, there is still plenty of time to begin, but at eighteen, it would be a little late. Generally speaking, then, let us set the most propitious age approximately at from twelve and fifteen.