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    Italian Baroque Ornamentation:Taking into account the Baroque Oboe

    By Rebecca Kemper ScarnatiFlagstaff, Arizona

    uring the first half of the eighteenthcentury, there were a tremendous numberof sonatas and concerti written for thethen newly-developed oboe. Particularly in

    those works written by Italian composers, a greatdeal of ornamentation must be added by theperformer. Both the characteristics and thetechnical problems encountered when playing thebaroque oboe would have greatly affected aperformers choice of ornaments. Through theprism of the second movement of the OboeConcerto in d minor by Alessandro Marcello, thisarticle explores both the limitations of andpossibilities for ornamentation on the baroqueoboe, which can then be applied to the modernoboe in an effort to create more authenticornamentation.

    Until the middle of the seventeenth century,double reed instruments were rather crude bytoday's standards. Around 1660 three families inParis began working on the shawm, converting itinto what has come to be known as the baroqueoboe. The families Philidor, Chdeville, andHotteterre were all members of the windensembles of the Grand Ecurie du Roi1, 2, whoperformed Lully's operas-ballets, the first worksthat frequently included the oboe/shawm.3 BruceHaynes has shown in his study of art works of the1660s to 1700s that the oboe evolved from theshawm over a period of twenty to thirty years,4

    with the first oboe-like instruments appearing theearly 1650s.5 The baroque oboe's final develop-ment dates to in the early 1680s, with the publica-tion of the first technical description of the instru-ment by Bartolomeo Bismantova in his Regole . . .del Oboe of 1688 and a 1696 application made by J.C. Denner and J. Schell of Nuremberg askingpermission to build the new French musicalinstruments developed about twelve years earlier.6

    The oboe had made its way to Italy by 1692,where it was used in the operas of Carlo FrancescoPollarolo and Giacomo Perti. It was introduced sixyears later into the orchestra of the chapel of SanMarco in Venice.7 The first oboists performing inItaly were from France and Germany.8 Alxis Saint-Martin was thought to be one of the oboistsresponsible for bringing the instrument to Italy. 9

    Saint-Martin was also the father of GiuseppeSammartini, an oboist and composer of many

    works for the instrument in the eighteenthcentury.

    The oboe which arrived in Italy differed greatlyfrom the loud and unrefined shawm. The baroqueoboe had no pirouette (the cupped top found onsome shawms), which allowed the oboist to playwith the lips directly on the reed and gave theperformer more control over sound, dynamics,and intonation. The oboe was also built in threesections with swellings along the bore, while theshawm came in one straight, although slightlyconical, piece.10 The oboe could play two octaveschromatically, with the exception of the c#'. Theoboe also had a smaller bore and tone holes thanthe shawm. Unlike the shawm, the oboe was fittedwith two or three keys (one or two keys forebthe second being a duplicate key appearingonly on the earlier baroque oboesand one for c',sometimes referred to as the "great key.)11 Therewere only two vent-holes on the oboe, while theshawm had five. The finger-holes on the oboe werepositioned lower on the instrument than on theshawm and the oboe also had a bell lip at itsbottom.12

    The two- and three-keyed oboe remainedunchanged until 1760, when a few modestalterations were made.13 Exact details of theinstrument used in Italy at the beginning of theeighteenth century are not known, since noinstructional materials appeared in Italy before the1770 treatise by Vincenzo Paneraj of Florence. 14

    Earlier treatises and instructional material, do notexist because the oboe was not successful inamateur circles,15 probably due to the technicaldifficulties of the instrument and the need forreeds.

    Although the baroque oboe could fully playchromatic pitches from c' to d''' (with the omissionof c#'), the fingerings were often complicated.Bruce Haynes explains that with only eight holes,some of the semitones can only be obtained "byusing 'cross-fingerings,' i.e. lowering an open-fingered note by closing holes further down thebore."16 Cross-fingerings have a darker, more veiledtone quality. Special fingerings, which must beused for some trills, further affect the tonequality.17 Higher pitches are produced byoverblowing and tightening the embouchure,which also changes the tone quality by making it



    brighter. While a change of tone color might beintentionally called for by a composer's choice ofpitches, one would not want the changes in tone tobe random.

    Fingering problems make music pitched insome tonalities much easier to play on thebaroque oboe than others. Tonalities with up tothree sharps and flats are generally recognized asthe outer limits of the instrument. Haynes hasdemonstrated that a preference exists in the litera-ture for tonalities with no accidentals to two flats.18

    Even so, some finger combinations areimpossible to effectively execute, while others aresimply clumsy. Many of the trills that can beplayed on the baroque oboe require specialfingerings. For example, as seen in example 2-1moving between c#'' and d#'' is not possible. Thekeys on the baroque oboe used to play these twonotes are both played with the right hand fifthfinger and, because of the distance between thetwo keys, playing these two notes consecutively isimpossible without inserting another notebetween them. This fingering problem alsoemphasizes the difficulty of playing in tonalitieswith four sharps or four flats.

    Similar fingering combinations occur in theupper range of the instrument involving the sameEb and C keys of the oboe. As can be seen inexample 2-2, pitches bb'', c''', and c#''' all use the Ebkey, while d''' uses the C key. This situation makesit difficult to reach the d''' in any diatonic scale.The usual alternative is to leave the c key off forthe d'''; however, this results in an even sharperand brighter tone on a note that is already quitebright.

    Many fingerings are simply quite clumsy toexecute. Fingering combinations as simple as b' or

    bb' to c'', or a' to bb' are difficult to play withoutcreating extraneous pitches. As can be seen inexample 2-3, the performer must lift one or twofingers while putting down a different finger, whichoften results in other pitches being heard inbetween.

    This same problem occurs in both octaveswhen going from f or f# to e (one finger coming upwhile another goes down, or, in the case of f#, thefinger sliding half-way off a finger-hole seen inexample 2-4). The alternative fingering for f# to eeliminates the difficult half-hole but creates abrighter and sharper sound.19 A similar half-hole isused in both octaves to produce g# or ab, whichmakes going to g or bb difficult.

    High-note fingerings look complicated becausemore holes must be covered, but they are no morecomplicated than the cross-fingerings of b' and bb'to c''. In fact c''' to c#''' is easier to play in thisupper register, not only because fewer fingersmove, but one is not moving over the "break" ofthe instrument (see example 2-5).

    Leaping across the break of the instrument isdifficult to control. The break comes between c'' andc#'' (one finger down to all fingers down in examples2-1 and 2-3). Not only are more fingers involved, the

    Example 2-1

    Example 2-2

    Example 2-3

    Example 2-4

    Example 2-5


    air stream must be intensified and the embouchureslightly tightened. The intensity and tightening areincreased as one ascends. Large leaps over thebreak are quite difficult to control, especiallydescending. Leaps using g'' and higher will oftencreate both extraneous pitches and a sag in pitch asthe upper note drops to a lower one. Tonguing theseleaps greatly improves the chance of success.

    Other technical problems occur when playingtrills. The cross fingerings discussed above maketrilling between these notes impossible withstandard fingerings. Alternate fingerings are used,but these fingerings are usually out of tune andchange the color of the notes. For example, to trillfrom b' to c'' one plays b' and then adds one of thelower two fingers in the right hand (the finger addeddepends on the particular instrument being used).The result is a slightly dulled b' and a sharp andbright c''. Another bad cross-fingering trill is e to f.Although easy to play by simply lifting the secondfinger in the right hand, the resulting f is very sharp.In fact, the f is so sharp that the e to f# trill can beplayed using the same fingering by playing withmore reed in the mouth. There are also problemswith trills such as bb to ab, db'' to c'', all other cross-fingering combinations, and over-the-break trills. Infact, the fingerings one chooses for these trillsdepends entirely on the instrument being used andeven instruments constructed by the same makermay require different fingerings.

    Although there were acknowledged intonationproblems such as those found in the lower registerof the baroque oboe, players had to adjust to play intune.20 Intonation also varied not only from countryto country, but also from church to church in thesame city.21 For example, the organ at San Marco inVenice was tuned higher than other organs in thecity. In addition, there were two acknowledged pitchlevels in Germany (Chor-ton or "choir pitch" andCammer-ton or "chamber pitch").22 Cammer-ton waslower than Chor-ton by anywhere from a whole stepto a minor third.23

    In addition to the tuning problem there was theadded problem of temperament, which in theeighteenth century was closer to just or mean-toneintonation.24 Just temperament meant that there wasa difference between enharmonic tones,