A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Oboe di Caccia

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OBOE DI CACCIA, i.e. hunting oboe (Fagottino; Tenoroon). An old name for an instrument of the Oboe or Bassoon family standing in the F or E♭ between those respectively in use. It occurs frequently in the scores of Bach, who assigns prominent solo and concerted parts to it. There is also a double part for instruments of this nature in Purcell's 'Dioclesian'; and two important movements, the 'O quam tristis' and the 'Virgo virginum praeclara' in Haydn's Stabat mater are scored for two oboi di caccia obbligati. As specimens of Bach's treatment of the instrument may be named the Pastoral Symphony and other movements of the Christmas Oratorio, scored for two, and a beautiful Aria in the Johannes Passion for the singular quartet of flute, soprano, oboe di caccia, and basso continuo, preceded by an Arioso for tenor, with 2 flutes, 2 oboi di caccia, and quartet of strings. It is much to be regretted that this magnificent instrument has almost entirely gone out of use, and is confounded by recent writers with the very different Corno Inglese. For whereas the latter is essentially an oboe lowered through a fifth, the real oboe di caccia is a bassoon raised a fourth. It therefore carries upwards the bass tone of the latter, rather than depresses the essentially treble quality of the oboe. It is obvious from Bach's practice that he looks on it as a tenor and not as an alto voice. In his older scores the part is headed Taille de Basson, Taille being the usual name for the Tenor Voice or Violin. In the older scores of Haydn's Stabat the parts are actually, and as a recent writer[1] says 'curiously enough,' marked 'Fagotti in E♭,' that being the older name by which it was designated. Even as late as the time of Rossini the instrument was known, and to it is given the beautiful Ranz des Vaches, imitating very exactly the Alpenhorn, in the Overture to Guillaume Tell. This is scored in the F or bass clef, as is also remarked by the writer above referred to,[2] who singularly concludes that the notation is 'an octave lower than the real sounds produced.' The fact is that when the opera was first heard in this country, the passage was actually played as written on the oboe di caccia by a gentleman still living, namely Signor Tamplini. There can be little doubt that Beethoven's Trio for two oboes and cor anglais (op. 87) was really intended for this instrument, since it takes the fundamental bass part throughout.

In construction, scale, and compass the oboi di caccia in F and E♭ exactly resemble bassoons on a miniature scale. They are played with a small bassoon reed. The writer is fortunate enough to possess two fine specimens in F by the great maker Savary, and one in E♭ by Marzoli. The former he has twice played in Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Westminster Abbey, and also at the Hereford Festival of 1879.

[ W. H. S. ]

  1. Mr. E. Prout. 'On the growth of the Modern Orchestra,' a paper read before the Musical Association, Jan. 6, 1879.
  2. 'Instrumentation,' In Novello and Co.'s Music Primers.