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What Is an Oboe Concerto?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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An oboe concerto is a musical performance featuring a solo oboe accompanied by an orchestra. Like most traditional concertos, an oboe concerto has three parts, known as movements. The soloist is highlighted through all three movements and plays the melody. A full orchestra accompanies the soloist, sometimes playing the chorus, or in some pieces, playing against or in direct competition with the soloist's melody. Elaborate and complex use of the solo oboe and the accompanying play of the orchestra are the hallmarks of an oboe concerto.

Oboe concerto compositions, as well as concertos written for string instruments, gained popularity during a period of artistic creativity known as the Baroque period. Baroque music, a term used to define the elaborate nature of each composition, gained popularity in the 16th century and reached its peak in the mid 18th century. Concertos, including those written for the oboe, originally derived from concerto grosso compositions, also popular during the Baroque period. Translated from Italian, concerto grosso means big concert.

Such compositions as the concerto grosso typically featured a small group of soloists who traded musical position and performance back and forth with a full orchestra. Alternatively, concertos featured solo instruments such as the piano, cello, violin or other string instruments playing a melody, while orchestral accompaniment offered a supplemental chorus. Historical accounts credit the first known concerto to Giuseppe Tortelli, who composed his concertos primarily for the violin.

During the late 1600s and early 1700s, several composers of opera, church cantatas, and chamber music experimented with concertos, searching for a way to broaden both public and church appeal for the musical style. With the invention of the oboe in the 17th century by the Hotteterre family of French instrument makers, oboe concerto compositions became a favorite of popular composers of the time such as Georg Philipp Telemann and Tomaso Albinoni, contemporaries of Bach and Vivaldi. Tomaso Albinoni has been credited with the first known and most popular Italian oboe concerto.

Opus 7, Albinoni's first concerto written for wind instruments, was published in 1716 and highlighted Albinoni's fondness for the oboe. Prior to publication of Opus 7, the oboe was still considered a newly introduced instrument in Italy, Albinoni's home country and the epicenter of European musical culture in the early 1700s. In spite of the oboe being a new instrument, oboe concerto compositions appeared in Germany from composers such as Georg Philipp Telemann and George Frideric Handel prior to Albinoni's release of Opus 7. Although not the very first oboe concerto, Opus 7 was considered the most successful of the first oboe concerto compositions.

The popularity of Opus 7 resulted in the publication of Opus 9, another oboe concerto written by Albinoni in 1722. Interest in baroque oboe concertos and the demand for wind instrument concertos similar to Opus 7 and Opus 9 waned in the late 1700s. By the 19th century, few, if any, composers wrote concertos for wind instruments of any kind, focusing instead on string instruments and the piano.

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