Sunday, April 13, 2014

Meet the Double-Reed Section

This group of woodwind instruments is
unified by the pair of reeds that create the
instruments’  sound as air is blown
between them.

The four double-reed instruments are the oboe, English horn, bassoon and contrabassoon. They have, as a group, a distinctive sound, often described as nasal.

The oboe first appeared in the mid-17th century and continued to evolve until the late 19th century, at which point the design and construction of the modern oboe were fully established.

English horn (l)
oboe (r)
While the oboe is the soprano member of the double-reed family, the English horn (or cor Anglais) is the tenor member, sounding a perfect fifth below the oboe. Its bulbous bell gives it a tone that is typically described as more mellow and plaintive than that of the oboe, closer in tonal quality to the oboe d’amore, an early member of the family. It is typically scored only when its unusual tone quality is desired.

contrabassoon (l)
bassoon (r)
The bassoon plays the role of the bass-baritone member of the double-reed family. It has been produced in its modern form since the early 19th century, but increasing demands on capabilities of instruments and players in the 19th century— particularly larger concert halls requiring greater volume—and the rise of virtuoso composer-performers spurred further refinement.

The low-pitched contrabassoon is probably scored so rarely in band music because few musicians—other than those who regularly play the contrabassoon in symphony orchestras—have access to them.