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Like the rest of the office, I am a music person.  I played the oboe in school from the 4th grade until I graduated college, I added in some other instruments along the way but the oboe is the one I love the most.  When college rolled around and we were learning about the history of architecture I was interested in the parallels between Baroque architecture and the development of the modern oboe. 

four Baroque style buildings
The drama of Baroque buildings started from the exterior, with intricate sculptures, reliefs, and shapes. Intersecting spaces and shapes create contrasting lighting and dynamic interiors.  (From Left to Right: Church of the Gesù, Rome, Italy, by Giacomo Della Porta / Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy, by Baldassare Longhena / San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, Italy, by Francesco Borromini / Interior of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane)

Baroque architecture spanned from about the early 1600’s to the late 1700’s.   As a style, it was developed by the Catholic church in Italy as a new way to inspire awe and surprise through its emotional and sensory appeal. The dramatic nature of Baroque spaces often played up the contrast of dark and light with elliptical or oval shapes. 

The oboe began as a modification to the shawm, a loud and brash instrument used in outdoor military bands.  In the mid 1600’s instrument makers in Paris began to look at the shawm for use in indoor music.  Refining the reed and shape of the “hautbois” or baroque oboe, allowed it to be used in an orchestral setting where it was celebrated for its expressive and plaintive sound, which could convey emotion in the music much like a human voice. 

details of Baroque architecture
The decoration of Baroque buildings often involved Solomonic columns to give a sense of movement and energy to the space.  Quadrataura is often used to create awe of the space, drawing the eye upwards and giving a sense of “looking into heaven”. Can you tell where the architecture, sculpture, and painting begin or end?  (From Left to Right:  Interior of Church of the Gesù, Rome, Italy, by Giacomo Della Porta / Saint Peter’s Baldachin, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini / Portal carving of the Basilica y Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Merced, Lima, Peru, by Cristóbal Gómez)

A dramatic and ornamented style, Baroque architecture was a way to display wealth and power and was mainly used for public buildings but was used occasionally by the wealthy elite for personal properties.  Colonnades and domes feature prominently, often covered in scrollwork, sculpture,  or trompe-l'œil (an art technique that creates a 3D optical illusion from 2D realistic imagery).  

As the baroque oboe continued its transformation, keys were added, the interior bore was narrowed, and the exterior shape of the instrument became decorative with multiple sculpted pieces.  All these changes allowed the oboe a greater range of expression and to truly become an integral solo instrument in symphony, chamber, and opera music.  Composers such as Vivaldi and Albinoni were partial to creating music for the oboe during the Baroque period. 

the development of the oboe
The oboe has gone through many transformations from its origins in the shawm.  Personally I’m really happy to have all those keys to help me play well! (From Left to Right: A traditional shawm, used for outdoor performances / a Baroque oboe, used for indoor performances and introduction of keys for added range / a modern oboe, a thinner bore and many more keys create a brighter tone than previous versions.

The Late Baroque, often referred to as Rococo, took the ornamentation and drama of the early Baroque and brought it to the next level.  Curves, undulations of surface, and elements based in nature were prominent features.  The Baroque styles were eventually phased out in the 18th century in favor of styles like Neo-classicism which favored the simplicity and symmetry of Ancient Greek and Roman design.  

As Baroque architecture was meeting its decline the oboe continued to be a major player in the music scene.  The modern oboe is now used in all types of music from traditional symphonic works to pop songs and movies.  You can listen to a collection of oboe music here from the Baroque period to today.  

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