Hannah joined the Alderley Edge Orchestra in Spring 2014, after moving to the
area to work as a mental health social worker in Central Manchester.
She is originally from Bristol and started learning the oboe when she was at
school. She has played in amateur orchestras and wind bands in Bristol,
Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester. She enjoys playing a variety of classical,
chamber and light music.
Hannah lives in Cheadle with her partner and cat. Her other chief interest is
hill walking and she enjoys spending weekends locally in the Peak District and
time away in the Lake District and Scottish Highlands.
The Principal Oboe is the only member of the orchestra who plays a solo at every
concert in which he or she appears, for it is this player - who in terms of
tuning is in charge of the orchestra's quality control department - who is
required to deliver the piercing 'A' at the beginning of each concert against
which players carefully tune their instruments in order to achieve good
intonation. The only exception is a occasional concert for which the services
of the oboes are not required, in which case the responsibility is borne by the
first clarinet or, in string music, by the leader or principal. In truth, it is
sad to say that for much modern music, the principal oboist's efforts are in
vain because the principal aim of many contemporary composers seems to be to
achieve effects that are essentially discordant, the rare composer who deviates
from this party line being branded as 'naïve' or 'misguided'; but we must not digress . . .
It may be worth recording that the 'A' to which the Principal Oboe tunes his or
her own instrument (using either a tuning fork or, more often nowadays, an
electronic tuning device) represents a sound vibrating at a frequency of 440
cycles per second. This standardisation has not been achieved without a
struggle. In Handel's day, an 'A' was 422.5, and this pitch (plus or minus the
odd cycle) remained the standard throughout the period of Haydn, Mozart and
Beethoven. However, the development of brass instruments for military bands
(which were found to sound more brilliant at a higher pitch) led to the
orchestral 'A' rising to 448 (for example, at the Paris Opera in 1858) and as
high as 456.1 around the same time in Vienna.
In 1859, a commission was solemnly appointed in France to restore order from
chaos, and its worthy members (who included Berlioz, Meyerbeer and Rossini)
settled for a pitch of 435. Meanwhile, across the Channel, the London
Philharmonic Society preferred 433, although it would fortunately have needed a
very discerning pair of ears to detect the difference. But still the pitch
would not stabilise: the growth of international radio in the 1920s and 1930s
revealed embarrassing variations ranging from a dour 439.5 in Denmark to a
shrill 443.5 in the UK. To the relief of all concerned, an International
Conference in London in 1939 unanimously agreed to adopt '440 cycles per second
for the note A in the treble clef,' to which the British Standards Institution
thoughtfully added the qualification 'at 20 degrees Centrigrade'.
The oboe itself has its origins in the ancient folk instrument generally known
as the shawm, being developed into the instrument we recognise today by the
Hoteterre family who were very active in Paris during the seventeenth century
as makers of woodwind instruments including the oboe (or 'hautboy'), flute,
bassoon and bagpipes.
The two distinguishing characteristics of the oboe family are its conical bore
with a slightly flared bell and the use of a double reed; both these
differentiate it from the clarinets with their cylindrical body and single
reed. If oboe players themselves have a single unique characteristic, it is
their constant preoccupation with the correct functioning of their reeds; and,
because of this, they are for ever scraping and testing them in the hope of
producing one to take them safely through the next concert. The manufacture and
titivation of reeds is indeed almost as much a part of mastering the oboe as a
good technique with the keys.
The oboe has a range of just over two octaves, extending from B flat below
middle C to a high G. Its music is generally notated at concert pitch, the only
exception being the alto oboe (usually known as the cor anglais) which is
pitched in F and is played as a transposing instrument.
In terms of repertoire, the oboe's penetrating tone makes it a prominent
participant in any composition in which it appears. There are a number of
well-loved concertos by such composers as Handel, Haydn, Mozart and Richard
Strauss. The instrument also has many exposed solo passages in works such as
Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin and Kodály's Dances of Galanta, and the cor anglais's famous solo in the second movement
of Dvorak's New World Symphony must surely be amongst the most famous in the
entire musical repertory.