Notes 59.2 (2002) 356-357
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The Eloquent Oboe: A History of the Hautboy from 1640 to 1760. By Bruce Haynes. (Oxford Early Music Series.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. [xxix, 528 p. ISBN 0-19-816646-X. $99.] Music examples, illustrations, index.
With The Eloquent Oboe, Bruce Haynes has made a formidable contribution to the history of woodwinds. Fully researched and meticulously documented, the volume presents three phases of the oboe's development from 1640 to 1760. Haynes begins with the transition from the Renaissance shawm to the new French hautbois, continues with the rapid spread of the instrument and its players throughout western Europe, and concludes with the subsequent modifications that eventually lead to the classic model oboe in the late eighteenth century. Haynes tells the story of the instruments and makers, the repertory and composers, the performance practices and players, as well as the venues and audiences that constituted the age of the baroque oboe—or "hautboy," as he prefers to call it. At this time there is perhaps no other author better suited to tackle such an enormous task than Haynes, given his copious published research on the literature and technique of the baroque oboe and his experience as a maker and player. In his preface Haynes writes of desiring a book about "the early oboe and how it was played," and he concluded "that if I wanted it, I would have to write it myself" (p. ix).
The book alternates between chronological and geographical organization interspersed with three special chapters respectively devoted to the physical characteristics of the known instruments, performance practice considerations, and Johann Sebastian Bach's oboe music (and oboe players). Reading continuously through the text can be confusing at times, as such an organization inevitably leads to occasional repetition. The encyclopedic nature of the book has its own rewards, and an abundance of tables, notes, illustrations, appendices, and an index help guide the reader through the rich labyrinth of detail. Readers lacking the specialized knowledge of performing oboists and makers may find those respective chapters somewhat difficult sledding at times. One of the most informative revelations that stems from the plethora of technical information, however, is the role of variously pitched oboes in determining the original keys and fingerings in the oboe literature—particularly in the music of J. S. Bach (pp. 383-87). Careful consideration of the overall scope of the book reveals a clear justification for such attention to detail.
The audience for this book, as for others in the Oxford Early Music Series, is principally scholars, performers, and serious students of the subject. Perhaps by forgoing the highly technical chapters on the instruments and performance practices, other interested readers may also benefit from the perspective that such a finely honed study of an instrument's story can offer. The story here is one that focuses sharply on two important cusps of change, the transition from early to middle baroque (shawm to hautboy) and from late baroque to galant style (large- to small-bore oboe). All aspects are presented with careful attention to matters of geography and society. Nevertheless, the heart of the story remains the period from 1700 to 1730, as Haynes deems it, "the hautboy's Golden Age" (p. 275). This is the period during which the new French hautbois had spread throughout Europe, the design of the instrument had coalesced, and the richest repertory was composed. Any reader with an interest in the late baroque and gallant styles will delight in Haynes's informed discussions of a wealth of significant vocal and instrumental repertoire—especially J. S. Bach's music with oboe.
Haynes mentions the "lucrative amateur market" (p. 414) that contributed to the lowering of quality in French woodwind publications after 1730, yet he does not fully take into account a subtler influence that marketing music to amateurs presents in France and elsewhere during the golden age of the baroque oboe between 1700 and 1730. In his discussion of French music before 1726, he correctly points out that professional players were usually both...