The oboe is a family if woodwind instruments that includes the standard oboe, the oboe d’amore, and the cor anglais, among others. The oboe is blown though a double reed, the two reeds being pressed between the player’s lip as they play, and has a range of about two and a half octaves. It is derived from the shawm, another double reed woodwind instrument from the medieval period. In France and England in the 17th century it was known as the hautbois (french) and hautboy (english).
A standard instrument in the orchestra, the oboe sounds the note A that the rest of the orchestra tunes to at the beginning of a performance. This is because the oboe is the hardest instrument to tune, so all the other instruments tune to it instead.
The sound of the oboe is clear and penetrating compared to other woodwind instruments. It can have a remarkably haunting sound and so is used effectively in the orchestra for solo melodies, particularly in softer lyrical sections of a work. Many concertos have been composed for the oboe, for example by Antonio Vivaldi, Tomaso Albinoni, Richard Strauss, and Vaughan Williams.
The oboe d’amore (oboe of love) has a pear-shaped bell at the end which gives it its individual, mellower tone. It is pitched a minor third below the standard oboe and in size is half way between the oboe and the cor anglais. The oboe d’amore was favoured by J.S. Bach but became somewhat neglected subsequently. In the 20th century, composers began writing for it again, for example Richard Strauss in Symphonia Domestica, Holst in Somerset Rhapsody, Ravel in his famous Boléro. John McCabe has also written a concerto for it the oboe d’amore.
The oboe da caccia (hunting oboe) is another member of the oboe family, now obsolete. It is curved about 90˚ in the middle with a flared bell at the end and has a range similar the the cor anglais.