Hautbois French
Hautboy English
Oboe Italian
Hoboe German

There are two major varieties of Oboe stops: imitative and unimitative. This article deals with the unimitative variety; for the imitative variety, see Orchestral Oboe.

The word hautbois dates from late 15th-century France, where it was occasionally used to refer to shawms (the instrument). The name translates as “high wood”, but probably originally implied “loud wood”. The oboe as we know it today did not appear until about a century later, and that name did not come into common usage until the 18th century.

In the context of the organ, the word hautbois seems to have originated in early 16th century France as a registration of mutations rather than as a single reed stop. There was at that time a great deal of ambiguity between reed stops and mixtures. The classical French Hautbois stop was originally a soft Trompette. Imitative Oboe stops began to appear in 18th century. In Spain, the Hautbois was a Regal with resonators whose length remained nearly constant throughout its compass. Like many other Spanish reeds, it was often mounted en chamade.

The English style of Oboe, which since the 19th century has been the predominant style, features a striking reed and a full-length resonator with two parts, both of inverted conical form, with the upper part (the "bell") having a wider flare than the bottom part. The bells may be shaded with a partial cap, or fully capped and slotted. Bonavia-Hunt specifies that at 4' C, the bell comprises about 1/5 of the total length. The upper and lower diameters of the bells have a proportion of between 1:2 (for a more trumpet-like tone) and 1:3 (for a more horn-like tone). The bell at 4' C has a diameter at the top of 2-1/2" to 2-3/4". The bells become proportionately longer going into the treble, until in the top octave they are comprise more than half the total resonator length. Audsley calls for the bells being about half the overall length in the top octave. He also calls for closed shallots. The bottom octave of an Oboe stop may be made of Basson pipes; this practice was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the bottom octave often drawing as a separate stop.

While striking reeds were the norm in England, free reeds were often used in France and Germany.

The Oboe serves as both a solo and an ensemble stop, though Sumner criticizes Willis Oboes as not blending well. On small instruments it is often the only reed stop, where its tone may approach that of a small Trumpet. Maclean suggests that it is probably the most common reed stop. This may be true on smaller instruments, but larger instruments are more likely to have multiple Trumpets then multiple Oboes. While the tone of the Oboe varies a great deal, it is generally smooth and of medium strength.

The illustration on the right is Audsley's; the one on the left (a capped Oboe) is Wedgwood's.


Contra Oboe
Double Oboe
Echo Oboe
Fagot Oboe
Flue Oboe
Hautbois d'Amour
Labial Oboe
Oboe & Fagotto
Oboe Clarion
Oboe d'Amore
Oboe Echo
Oboe Flute
Oboe Gamba
Oboe Horn
Oboe Schalmei
Octave Oboe
Orchestral Oboe


Osiris contains hundreds of examples of Hautbois and Oboe, about 50 examples of Hautboy, and two of Hoboe. The overwhelming majority of them are at 8' pitch, with only about 4% being at 4', and 1% at 16'.

Hoboe 8', Oberwerk; Abbey Church, Neresheim, Germany; Holzhay 1797 (restored 1979).

Hoboe 8', Oberwerk; Schlosskirche Mariae Verkuendigung, Liebenburg, Niedersachsen, Germany; Mueller 1760-61.

Sound Clips

See the Sound Files appendix for general information.

Oboe 8', Swell St. Anne's Church, Moseley, Birmingham, England Nicholson, 1969 arpeggio St. Anne
Hautbois 8', Positif de dos [original] Eglise protestante, Romanswiller, France Stiehr-Mockers, 1842 arpeggio St. Anne
Oboe 8', Swell (ext. of 16') Culver Academies, Indiana, USA Burger & Shafer 1972; Möller pipes arpeggio (16') St. Anne


Adlung[1]: §159 Hautbois. Audsley[1]: Hautbois; Oboe. Audsley[2]: I.XIII Hautboy, Oboe; II.XXXIV Oboe; II.XXXVIII Oboe. Bedos[1]: § 194, 202, 284-285, 982. Bonavia-Hunt[1]: Oboe. Grove[1]: Bassoon; Hautbois. Hopkins & Rimbault[1]: § 391, 648, 822. Irwin[1]: Oboe. Locher[1]: Oboe. Maclean[1]: Oboe. Skinner[1]: XII Hautbois, Oboe. Sumner[1]: Hautboy. Wedgwood[1]: Oboe. Williams[1]: Glossary: Hautbois.
Copyright © 2006 Edward L. Stauff, all rights reserved.
Oboe.html - Last updated 13 February 2009.
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