The Art of the Oboe: Famous Oboe Concertos

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The Art of the Oboe

Famous Oboe Concerti

The oboe, perfected in France around the middle of the seventeenthcentury, gained acceptance in Venice during the 1690s. The first known Venetianoperas to include a part for it dated from 1692, and by 1696 at the latest ithad been heard at the Basilica of San Marco, which two years later recruitedits first permanent player of the oboe. Several other oboists of noteestablished themselves in the city, and the four ospedali grandi (thecharitable institutions caring for foundlings, orphans and the destitute) addedthe instrument to the teaching curriculum.

It was logical, given Italy's - and, indeed, Venice's - pioneering r??lein the development of the concerto, that sooner or later the first concertiwith parts for oboes would be written. The big question was how, if at all,should they differ in style and form from violin concerti? For Vivaldi, as formost Italian composers, the problem was easily resolved. In his hands the oboebecomes a kind of ersatz violin. To be sure, he takes care not to exceed thenormal compass of the instrument (running from the D above Middle C to the Dtwo octaves higher), remembers to insert pauses for breathing and avoids over -abrupt changes of register, but the solo part still seems remarkablyviolinistic - as Vivaldi himself tacitly acknowledged when, on more than oneoccasion, he prescribed the violin as an alternative to the oboe.

It was left to Vivaldi's important Venetian contemporary, TomasoAlbinoni (1671-1751), to find another way of treating the oboe in a concerto.

Apart from being a capable violinist, Albinoni was a singing teacher married toan operatic diva. His experience of writing operas and cantatas decisivelyaffected the way in which he approached melody and instrumentation. Hisconcerti equate the oboe not with a violin but with the human voice in an aria.

Conjunct movement and small intervals are generally preferred to wide skips. Inopening orchestral passages the oboe does not double the first violin (as in Vivaldiconcerti) but bides its time until its solo entry or else supplies anindependent line. The opening solo idea is often presented twice - the firsttime abortively, the second time with a normal continuation. This twofoldpresentation is a device borrowed straight from the operatic aria of the time.

Albinoni describes these works as concerti 'with', rather than 'for'oboe. The difference is significant. Whereas in a Vivaldi oboe concerto theprime aim is to show off the capability of the soloist, here the oboe is thepartner rather than the dominator of the first violin - and even the secondviolin is not excluded from the discourse. The spirit of give and take thatexists between the treble instruments lends these works a character thatreminds one of chamber music.

The Op. 9 concerti are subdivided into four groups, each of whichbegins with a concerto for solo violin (here the oboe is silent), continueswith a concerto for one oboe and finishes with one for two oboes. No. 5, in Cmajor, is a typical specimen of the composer's late style. The orchestraltexture is in places highly contrapuntal, but Albinoni never sacrificestunefulness to a show of learning. Arthur Hutchings, his greatest advocateamong British musicologists, aptly describes the finale as 'conveying theallure of the dance without suggesting the street or barnyard'.

The key of No. 12 in C major conforms to a familiar stereotype,being triumphant with a touch of pomposity. Luckily, the slow movements, whichin every case are in a different key, provide the necessary contrast and giveeach work a well-rounded character.

Albinoni's first set of Concerti a cinque with parts for one ortwo oboes, published in Amsterdam as his Opus 7 in 1715, has the distinction ofbeing the first such collection by an Italian composer ever published. Thecomposer dedicated them to a local nobleman and amateur musician, GiovanniDonato Correggio. The works are divided into four groups, each of which beginswith a concerto for strings (one of these, No. 11, contains passages for a soloviolin), continues with a concerto for two oboes and finishes with one for asingle oboe. Whereas the concerti with one oboe are fully mature in conception,those with two oboes are more varied, as if Albinoni, in 1715, had not yetdecided how to structure them. Certainly, the two-oboe works, which are all inthe traditional trumpet keys of C major and D major, carry strong traces of thetrumpet sonatas that Bolognese composers, in particular, had written at the endof the previous century. The finales of both the fifth and the eleventhconcerto show this quality very clearly, even if the slow movements adopt amore intimate tone. But the most blatant 'fanfare' of all comes in the firstmovement of the final concerto in Opus 9, Albinoni's sequel to Opus 7 publishedin 1722. The dreamy, elegiac Adagio in B minor that forms the heart ofthis concerto is one of the finest specimens of its type.

The single-oboe concerti in Opus 7, No. 12 has finale in 3/8 or 6/8 thatexploit Albinoni's favourite rhythmic device of hemiola (where twice threeunits becomes thrice two units or the reverse). Their outer movements arespacious, always presenting the main oboe theme twice in succession on itsinitial appearance.

Michael Talbot

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685, the son of a wellestablished barber-?¡surgeon by his second wife. After matriculation in 1702 atHalle University and a brief period as organist at the Calvinist Church in thecity, he moved to Hamburg in order to further a career in music, on which hewas now decided. Employment at the opera, at first as a violinist and then asharpsichordist and composer was followed, in 1706, by travel to Italy, thesource of the form his music had taken. Here, in Florence, Venice and Rome hemade a name for himself, writing music in a number of genres, church music,opera, Italian oratorio, cantatas and instrumental works, while, in a keyboardcontest with his contemporary Domenico Scarlatti, he was declared the betterorganist, with Scarlatti allowed to be a better harpsichordist.

A meeting in Venice with members of the court of the Elector of Hanoverled to Handel's appointment in 1710 as Kapellmeister to the Elector, whilecontact with the English ambassador was presumably instrumental in an immediateinvitation to London for the newly established Italian opera. His return toHanover the following year, after a short stay in D??sseldorf at the court ofthe Elector Palatine, lasted for some fifteen months, before a definitivereturn to London, where he now settled, occupied very largely with the Italianopera. It was when the commercial success of the opera began to decline,particularly with the establishment of two rival houses, that Handel turned hisattention to a new form, English oratorio. This had an obvious appeal to aProtestant audience, avoiding, as it did, the problems of performance in aforeign language and the incongruities of plot that had become an inevitableconcomitant of Italian opera seria. His last opera, Deidamia, was stagedin London in 1741 and his last English oratorio, The Triumph of Time andTruth, an adaptation of a work he had written in Rome fifty years before,was given at Covent Garden in 1757 and 1758. Handel died in 1759, but hismusical influence continued to dominate popular taste, doing much to eclipsethe work of native composers.

As a practical musician, Handel borrowed extensively from his ownearlier compositions and, as need arose, from the work of others, following thestandard pract
Disc: 1
Suite: VI Rigaudon
1 Allegro
2 Adagio (non troppo)
3 Allegro
4 I. Grave
5 II. Allegro
6 Idomeneus Concerto
7 I. Preludio
8 V. Giga
9 Allegro e non presto
10 Adagio
11 Allegro
12 Introduzione
13 Allegro
14 Siciliana
15 Allegro giusto
16 Concerto in E flat
17 Rondo in G major (orch. A. Camden)
18 Allegro
19 Adagio
20 Allegro
21 Suite: VI Rigaudon
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