oboe ōˈboi, hōˈ– [key], woodwind instrument of conical bore, its mouthpiece having a double reed. The instruments possessing these general characteristics may be referred to as the oboe family, which includes the English horn, the bassoon, and the contrabassoon or double bassoon. The oboe was developed in the mid-17th cent. in France from various older double-reed instruments, which the oboe, with its greater expressive and dynamic range, largely displaced by the 18th cent. It was soon used in the orchestra, possibly as early as 1657, and was the principal orchestral woodwind throughout most of the 18th cent., the flute and clarinet gaining an equal footing only late in the century. It was also a favorite solo instrument, and it has an extensive solo and chamber-music literature from the baroque and early classical periods. In the 19th cent., although retaining its importance in the orchestra, it was rarely employed for solo purposes. In the 20th cent. its solo use increased. It was gradually improved mechanically, notably in the 19th cent., and the Conservatory model, developed in France, is most used now. The oboe d'amore, pitched a minor third lower than the oboe, was much used in the baroque era, especially by J. S. Bach. It fell into disuse thereafter, but was revived in the 20th cent. Its tone is less brilliant than that of the oboe. The oboe da caccia is an early version of the English horn, pitched a fifth lower than the oboe and therefore a transposing instrument. Oboes of this size were known by 1665, and Purcell scored for one in his Dioclesian (1691). A curved form, often with the present instrument's characteristic bulbous bell, appeared in the 18th cent. and was employed occasionally by Bach, Haydn, and Mozart. See also shawm.

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