JC Pez: A New Instrument Demands New Music (1/2)

Pez’s Sÿmphonia exemplarily represents the era from 1680 to 1710: It is probably the oldest sonata manuscript indicating the oboe as the solo instrument, but still an arrangement of a violin version. During these early years, the hautbois from Versailles became a European phenomenon and conquered the music of its time, which, today, awaits its rediscovery. A short introduction to our repertoire of this era.


The French hautbois was more than merely a “domesticised” shawm: It disposed of an ease and a tonal quality that had never been accomplished before by a reed instrument. Within only a few years, it took Europe’s courts by storm: After Lully had introduced the brand-new hautbois at the court of Versailles in 1670 with Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, it was already played in London in 1673, in Turin and Amsterdam in 1677, in Madrid in 1679, in Celle and Stuttgart in 1680, in Hanover and Berlin in ’81 and in Munich in ’82. Eventually, in the 1690s, it replaced the cornett in the St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and thereby brought a centuries-old tradition to a close. The oboe became a European phenomenon: After it had been established on the entire continent, it quickly lost its specifically French flair. Neither the style of playing nor the instrument manufacturing displayed regional characteristics. There was a high demand for good oboists. They were exceedingly mobile and collected playing styles as well as instruments of the latest designs in the most different countries. Even one hundred years later, in the 1790s, Antoine Sallantin, who was to become the first professor for oboe at the new Conservatoire de Paris, studied in London under the German Joh. Chr. Fischer, who was a former student of A. Besozzi from Turin.



The title page of the comédie-ballet “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme”, premiered on 14th october 1670, edition of 1673. source: wikimedia

This new instrument immediately inspired new music, which was able to tap its full potential: There is chamber music for mixed instrumentation, sonatas and concerti but most of all obbligati in combination with voice. Agostino Steffani wrote such duets already in 1687, followed by Johann Sigismund Kusser in 1692 and Reinhard Keiser in 1697. Most often, they were part of their operatic works – these compositions are perhaps the first real solos for oboe and exquisite music awaiting to be revived.
The oldest solo sonatas, which have been included in our standard repertoire, surely are the early sonatas by Händel, Telemann or Vivaldi from the 1710s. In search of a composition for my CD, I have deliberately sought out a grey area of the repertoire: This is the era from 1680 to 1710 in which hardly any sonatas or comparable compositions were decidedly written for the oboe. Which soloistic music was thus played by the “first” generation of travelling oboists? To me, this widened regard of the repertoire is appealing for two reasons: On the one hand, it leads back to the origins and on the other hand, the stylistic changes of the era enable me to (re-)discover entirely new colours on the modern oboe.

At the end of the seventeenth century, the musicians’ conceptions were, evidently, completely different from today’s. The instrumentation came second to the musical idea of a composition. Therefore, there was basically no reason not perform a composition on different instruments, as long as its integrity remained intact. This is most obvious in the French repertoire, where the oboe part often is just indicated by dessus or rather pour toutes sortes d’instruments. Hence, it is anything but clear which compositions were originally intended for oboe and at the same time, the amount of possible repertoire is significantly higher than is currently being practised. In the following, I have compiled a list, which naturally only represents a fraction of the repertoire but exemplarily covers different examples for soloistic oboe music in various European regions.

detail of a Gobelin carpet “Danse de Nymphes, de la gauche” manufactured in 1684. Paris, Louvre. source: wikimedia

A very special manuscript originates from the court of Ludwigsburg: It is the Sÿmphonia for oboe and basso continuo by Johann Christoph Pez (1664-1716), which presumably was composed in the first decade of the 18th century. Melodic lines and phrasings often point to the just bygone 17th century, so that, here, we are talking about the “stylistically oldest” manuscript of a sonata on which oboe is indicated as a solo instrument and which has stood the test of time. Even though another source proves that the composition was originally created for violin, it nevertheless vividly displays how an oboist adapted violin literature of the time and thereby made it executable on the instrument. This composition’s special character and source situation made me decide to include it in my CD’s programme. In the following article, I will go more into detail on this matter.

André Danican Philidor (1652 – 1730):
recueil de plusiers belles pieces de simphonie
Before there was music originally composed for them, oboists drew on compilations of airs as well as instrumental pieces from operas and royal balls. Apart from compilations by Lully, the Phildor collection exemplarily represents this.


Marin Marais (1656 – 1728):
Pièces de viole, troisième livre / Pièces en trio

Marais’s music became a touchstone of its time; only few compositions from the French royal court can compete with it. The pieces mentioned above dispose of an explicit reference to the oboe, but, in general, his earlier music can be played, too.


François Couperin (1668 – 1733):
La Pucelle et La Steinquerque, später Teile von Les Nations

In the 1690s, Couperin composes at least two trios, which are La Pucelle and La Steinquerque, impersonating an anonymous Italian composer. Later, he uses these compositions as Sonades of the collection Les Nations.


Jean-Féry Rébel (1666 – 1747):
Recueil de douze sonates à II et III parties avec la basse chiffrée

In 1695, Rebel, who is the maître de musique of the Opéra, composes the magnificent douze sonates. However, they will not be published until 1712. In 1724, Brossard writes about the compositions: „Elles sont toutes magnifiques …“ Even though Rebel himself was a violinist, he only write dessus for the upper parts. From the solo sonatas, especially No. 9 (D minor) and No. 11 (B flat major) work well on oboe.


Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713):
Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo (op. 5)

Even though Corelli did not leave an original composition for oboe behind, his sonatas op. 5 were so famous and influential throughout Europe, that it is well conceivable that oboists tried to adapt them for their instruments. The first six are not adaptable, but some of the second half of collection No. 10 can be played in their original keys and others in transposed form, like No. 9 in B flat major.


In Northern Germany (Hanover, Hamburg), countless obbligato oboe solos with singers are written, most notably these by Agostino Steffani (1654 – 1728) and Reinhard Keiser (1674 – 1739). Their complete oeuvre with oboe can be easily found in the Haynes online catalogue: www.haynes-calalog.net . There is also an entire cantata for soprano, oboe, obbligato bassoon and basso continuo by Steffani: Spezza amor l’arco, e li strali (http://imslp.org/wiki/Duetti,_Scherzi,_Cantate_%28Steffani,_Agostino%29) .


Georg Friedrich Händel (1685 – 1759):
Sonata pour l’hautbois solo

Händel’s early sonata in B flat major is written in the 1700s decade and was played for him during his stay in Rome.


Monsieur Barre ? :
Suittes (Concerts) ‘mise en partition par Mr. Barre à Hanover’

This excellent collection of French suites for a four-part ensemble was probably played by Ernst August’s hautboisten at the court of Hanover.


Johann Christoph Pez (1664 – 1716):
Sÿmphonia. Hautbois solo.

An unusually virtuous and large-scale composition and an original adaptation of a violin version. Other sonatas and trios by Pez are equally easy to arrange as well.


Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695):
oh let me weep (the plaint) from Fairy Queen

A duet with soprano, specified as a composition for oboe on the original manuscript lost today, leading Purcell’s melancholic style to highest expressivity.


James Paisible (1656 – 1721):
The Queen’s Farewell

A funeral march for a four-part ensemble, which was composed on occasion of Queen Mary’s death on 28 December 1694. Paisible was a French oboist and recorder player active in London.


Servaes de Konink (1653/54 – 1701):
12 Sonates
Konink’s twelve sonatas were published for flute, violin or oboe and continuo. The sole surviving source today is a manuscript located in Wolfenbüttel. The most interesting ones of the short compositions are No. 3 and 8.


sources / further reading

Bruce Haynes. The Eloquent Oboe. A History of the Hautbois 1640 – 1760 Oxford: University Press 2001

Bruce Haynes. Der hautbois (1630 – 1800) in: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Zweite, neubearbeitete Ausgabe, hrsg. von Ludwig Finscher, Kassel u. a. 1999

Bruce Haynes, Peter Wuttke. The Haynes Catalog. Bibliography of Oboe Music by Peter Wuttke: http://haynes-catalog.net/