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Vol. 4, No. 123

Contrabass-list Thu, 26 Feb 1998 Volume 1 : Number 123

In this issue:

Date: Thu, 26 Feb 1998 10:06:14 -0800
From: Grant Green
Subject: Francis Firth: Small Oboes


During this email difficulty, I'll forward messages to the list, as before. You can send posts to me at or, and I'll take care of the rest.

Grant asked if someone could post up information about small oboes so here is what I know.

Francis Firth


The pastoral oboe was introduced by the firm of Triebert in the second half of the 19th century and later also made by Millerau and a fair number of specimens survive despite Baines's assertion that there is no evidence that gentlemen amateurs showed much interest in it, while bandmasters certainly showed none.

The instrument, pitched in either F, G or even Ab was similar to a musette and had a wider bore than the usual oboe although the fingering itself adopted many of the features of the contemporary oboe. However, it was designed to be played with a broad shawm-like reed, not the standard narrow oboe one and was clearly intended as an outdoor instrument as references to bagpipes and bandmasters make plain.

Bibliography: Baines, Anthony: Woodwind Instruments and their History. 3rd ed. London: Faber, 1971, p. 327, 330 Illustrations: Double Reed


The oboe/musette in G developed, according to Baines, from the Hautbois de Poitou, a bagless chanter played with a windcap in accompaniment to the bagpipe the Musette de Poitou. Parisian woodwind makers began to make an instrument like this but without reed cap and pitched a fifth above the standard oboe in the 1830s. It was used for colour in the bal musette and was also popularised in concerts by performers such as L.A. Jullien who played it in England in imitation of the Scottish Highland pipe in his concerts in England. Originally in two joints with seven fingerholes and a thumbhole with two vents in the bell it later had simple keywork added and these instruments, usually made of blackwood, were apparently offered for sale as late as the 1930s. Unlike the pastoral oboe the reed was like a small version of the normal one. It is possible that this is the instrument occasionally used in Jazz by saxophonist Joshua Redman but this needs further research by the author.

Bibliography: Baines, Anthony: Musette in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 12, p. 796-7. London: MacMillan, 1980.


Oboes have been made in higher pitches than the standard for at least two centuries although they have not really been succesful until the present century and even there mainly in an avant-garde context. Most oboes higher than the normal have been pitched in Eb but Loree currently makes a piccolo oboe in high F. This instrument has been used by Heinz Holliger and he has recorded on it in his CD of the oboe concerti of Bruno Maderna. It is also used in the Amoris Consort directed by Jennifer Paull where it is used in oboe quartets. Jennifer Paull is also trying to persuade more composers to write for this instrument and recently Ted Carr and Leonard Salzedo have written pieces for it.

Illustration: Loree Brochure
Score: Donatoni, Franco: Musette for Musette in F
Carr, Ted: Sonatina for Oboe or Musette in F. Amoris Edition, 1998.
Salzedo, Leonard: ? for Musette and Piano. - Amoris Edition, 1998?

Recordings: Jennifer Paull: Oboe Quartets
Maderna, Bruno: Oboe Concerto No. 1 in Maderna, Bruno: The Oboe Concertos;
Heinz Holliger; Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra; Gary Bertini. Philips, 1994, 442 015-2.


In the 1931 catalogue of the firm of Heckel appears a Heckelmusette. This an oboe-like instrument pitched in Eb, with simple keywork and a semi-bulbous bell (there is a curved expansion of the bell but no contraction). This instrument appears to have been an unsuccessful experiment and is no longer made. A part for it appears in Hans-Joachim Hespos's Interactions of 1971 but at the premiere the part had to be played on a mixture of oboe and Eb clarinet.

Bibliography: Joppig, Gunther: Die Entwicklung der Doppelrohrblatt-Instrumente von 1850 bis heute und Ihre verwendung in orchester-und Kammermusik. Frankfurt: Das Musikinstrument, 1980, p. 5,appendices 1,4.

Illustration: Joppig, Gunther: Die Entwicklung der Doppelrohrblatt-Instrumente von 1850 bis heute und Ihre verwendung in orchester- und Kammermusik. Frankfurt: Das Musikinstrument, 1980, p. 5,appendices 1,4. Heckel:

Composition: Hespos, Hans, Joachim: Interactions. 1971


From the early days of the oboe there have been, generally unsuccessful, attempts to build oboes in higher pitches than usual. It is generally thought that these instruments developed from taking the chanter out of bagpipes - hence the name musette, that of a French court bellows-blown parlour pipe popular in 18th century France and also of the musette de poitou somewhat like the surviving Biniou of Brittany - and playing it on its own, as is often done with practice chanters. There survive a number of oboe-musettes from earlier periods in both D and Eb and these vary from simple musette fingering including a thumb hole through to full Boehm system as in the Pastoral Oboe illustrated in E. Marzo's Boehm System Tutor. In the 19th century Triebert also tried to re-introduce an Eb oboe as well as his pastoral oboes (see above) but these did not have much success. A similar instrument built by Thibouville-Cabart and developed with the oboist Louis Bas was, however, scored for by Paul-Antoine Vidal in his opera La Burgonde. Generally, however, the higher oboes have not been successful because not only do the instruments have a rather shrill tone but also are difficult to play in tune.

However, in recent years the pattern set by Louis Bas has been followed by a number of oboe virtuosi, such as Lothar Faber and Ernest Rombout, who have taken the instrument up again and there are several compositions now written, on the initiative of such players as the forementioned, for or including such instruments, possibly beginning with Bruno Maderna's Grande Aulodia for flute, oboe and orchestra which not only includes an Eb oboe but also requires that a bulbous liebesfuss bell be used in addition to the normal conical one. Oboe-musettes in Eb with full modern key mechanism are now made by Patriciola of Italy while Loree make a piccolo oboe in F. According to Graham Salter these instruments are still difficult to master, particularly in relation to tuning, but the tone colour and extended upward range seem to have been found to make the effort worthwhile.

Bibliography: Bate, Philip: The Oboe. 2nd ed. London: Ernest Benn, 1962.
Joppig, Gunther: Die Entwicklung der Doppelrohrblatt-Instrumente von 1850 bis heute und Ihre verwendung in orchester- und Kammermusik. Frankfurt: Das Musikinstrument, 1980, p. 5-16.
Baines, Anthony: Woodwind Instruments and their History. 3rd ed. London: Faber, 1971, p. 96, 327, 330
Salter, Graham: Oboe Musette , Double Reed News Illustration: Patricola: Brochure

Scores: Kox, Hans: Partita for piccolo oboe and wind instruments, 1990. Amsterdam: Donemus, 1991.

Recordings: Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen: Solitude-Nocturne for piccolo oboe; played by Ernest Rombout in Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf. Baden-Baden: Baldreit Edition, 1995. Maderna, Bruno: Grande Aulodia for Flute, Oboe and Orchestra in Bruno Maderna: Oboe Concertos; Han de Vries. Amsterdam: Bvhaast, CD 9302. Lothar Faber: for oboe, oboe d amore, cor anglais, musette and piano/celeste

Date: Thu, 26 Feb 1998 10:08:16 -0800
From: Grant Green
Subject: Francis Firth: Contrabass Flute/ Contrabass Recorder Duet

I'm posting this directly to you because of problems posting to the list.

I thought that you might like to know that this Friday BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting a piece called Duei which is an improvisation for contrabass flute played by Roberto fabbricciani and contrabass recorder played by David Bellugi.
Francis Firth

End of contrabass-list V1 #123

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