the lips. In older instruments the scale is thus carried up to the E♭ above (5), beyond which the slide, or octave-key, manipulated by the thumb of the left hand, is called into requisition. Extreme treble A can thus be reached (6), though the F below this may be considered as the practical limit of the oboe's compass.
In more modern instruments a second octave-key has been introduced, worked by the knuckle of the left forefinger, which is usually lifted on reaching A above the stave. In the most recent instruments of all, these two 'vent-holes,' or harmonic keys, which serve only to determine a node in the tube, and which, unlike the corresponding mechanism of the clarinet, do not furnish an independent note of their own, are made automatic, and practically independent of the player's will. For most of the higher notes above A, the bottom D♯ key requires to be raised by the right little finger, just as occurs in the flute.
The above scale, from its close similarity to those of the flute and bassoon, may be looked upon as traditional and fundamental. But hardly any wind-instrument, except the flute, has been so altered and modified of late years in its mechanism as the oboe. The so-called Boehm fingering has been applied to it with considerable success, though the system has not been largely adopted by musicians. The form most in use at the present day is a modification of the older model described above, but with many devices borrowed from the Boehm system. It has thus become by far the most elaborate and complicated of reed instruments, and it is a question whether a return to an older and simpler pattern, by lessening the weight of the machine, and the number of holes breaking the continuity of the bore, and by increasing the vibratory powers of the wooden tube, would not conduce to an improved quality of tone.
The bulk of these additions is due to the late M. Barret, at once a distinguished artist and an ingenious mechanic, who devoted a long and laborious professional life solely to the elaboration of his favourite instrument. In this task he was ably seconded by the French instrument maker, Triebert, with whom he was in constant correspondence, and whose instruments have, until of late, almost monopolised the trade.
Comparative woodcuts of the simpler form as made by Mahillon of Brussels, and of the more elaborate model adopted by Morton of London, exhibit these differences better than verbal description.
Barret's chief modifications may be briefly named as (1) the introduction of a plate for the left-hand thumb, somewhat similar to that on modern flutes, by which this member, formerly idle, is called into action; (2) the double automatic octave keys named above; (3) a vast number of double, triple, and even quadruple alternative fingerings for particular notes which materially reduce the mechanical difficulty of inconvenient passages. On these and other points, the writer has to thank Mr. Mitcalfe, of Lowestoft, for some valuable suggestions.
It is not however in the mechanism only that the oboe of to-day is entirely different from that of half a century ago, but also in the sound-producer or reed. The writer is happy to have it in his power to illustrate this fact by parallel photographs, reduced in the woodcut to half dimensions, of two oboe reeds, which stand to each other in about the chronological relation named above. The right-hand cut is a reproduction of the modern reed as just sent over from France by Triebert. That on the left-hand is one of several given to the writer by the late Mr. Waddell, formerly bandmaster of the First Life Guards, and which belonged to the oboist who accompanied Rossini on his first visit to this country, in 1823, the great melodist being unwilling to entrust his elaborate oboe parts to any English pretender. It will be at once seen that it is a reproduction of the Pifferaro reed, approximating more to that of the bassoon and oboe di caccia, than to that of the modern oboe. A very similar reed was used even by so recent a player as Grattan Cooke. The effect of 26 such, as in the first Handel celebration, against about 40 violins, is difficult to realise.
The oboe has from ancient times held the prescriptive right to give the tuning A to the orchestra. This doubtful privilege obviously dates from the period before Handel, when it was the only wind-instrument present. The writer has elsewhere expressed his opinion that, for acoustical reasons, the function should rather devolve on the far more refractory and untuneable clarinet, than on any member of the double-reed family. For the bass section of the band however the low D of the bassoon, reproducing the open note of the middle string of the double bass, has many advantages.
It is impossible within brief limits to do more than indicate the use made by great composers of an instrument which is at once historically the oldest and musically the most important of the reed band. It may however be noted that it possesses singularly little solo or concerted music. Handel composed six concertos for it in 1703,