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What Is an Oboe D'Amore?

By R. Stamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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The oboe d’amore is a double-reed woodwind instrument that is part of the oboe family. The name literally means "oboe of love" in Italian. It is slightly larger than an oboe and is a member of the alto or mezzo soprano line of oboes. It produces a soft, smooth sound in the key of A, which is a minor third lower than the oboe.

Invented sometime in the early 18th century by German craftsmen, the oboe d’amore was first used by Christopher Graupner, a German composer, in 1717 for his concerto “Wie wunderbar ist Gottes Gut.” It remained a commonly-used instrument during the Baroque period. Another composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, took a liking to the instrument and composed “Et in Spirit Sanctum” for it. Shortly after, the instrument was forgotten for approximately 100 years and was revived by romantic, classical composers such as Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy.

The instrument is slightly larger in size than the piccolo oboe and smaller than the English horn. Both antique and modern versions of the oboe d’amore are made from a variety of woods including granadilla, cocus, and rose wood. It is shaped like a long tube tapering off at the mouth piece with a bulb known as a bell on the opposite end. The bell is pear-shaped and larger than the standard oboe’s bell. The bocal, or curved tube, inside the instrument responsible for pitch is longer than an oboe’s, accounting for a higher pitch.

Due to the size of the bore, crook, reed, and bell, the oboe d’amore is more difficult to play than other instruments in the oboe family. Oboists find more resistance in the instrument, and acquiring the right intonation requires practice and patience. Once the skill is mastered, the musician can create a steady and smooth sound that is peaceful and calming like the whisper of a soft breeze.

Since the instrument creates such a soft sound, it is most suited for smaller groups playing in smaller settings or chamber music. The oboe d’amore is also commonly used in sacred compositions or religious works such as “Christmas Oratorio” by Bach for church services during the Christmas season. Another use during the Baroque period was as an accompaniment to secular cantatas performed in Lutheran churches throughout Europe. The instrument is still used in the orchestras of today in an effort to recreate the pieces written for it.

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