Bach, Christmas Oratorio
Collated responses from over 40 choralisters agree on a couple of
things: to perform Bachs Christmas Oratorio, I should plan to hire a
pair of English horns as well as a pair of oboes. I may hope to find
oboists who play two or three of the required instruments, but my idea
to substitute a recorder and a woodflute for any of the oboe parts must
be exterminated immediately!
The mention of a pair of helpful books and Bach websites is a wonderful
bonus. Also nice to learn about the Barenreiter (and other modern
publishers) editions that address the oboe situation.
For those who asked to share responses to the original question were,
here are the longer replies. I have removed responders email addresses
to preserve their privacy.
Thank each of you for the help lwj
From: Lani Johnson [mailto:Lani(a)Nysara.com]
Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2000 8:05 AM
Subject: oboes d'amore and da caccia
Just received my full score to Bach's Christmas Oratorio.
One movement requires 2 oboes d'amore (scored treble clef) and 2 oboes
da caccia (scored C clef). Several movements specify 2 oboes (= oboes
Can anyone point me to somewhere I can clarify the instrumentation?
My old orchestration book points out oboes d'amore were used in Bach's
time, but rarely now, and that they often sound a minor below the pitch
at which they are scored.
Must I find oboes d'amore PLUS oboes (it's tough to find 2 oboe
tooters), or might I consider putting woodflutes on the lower oboe
parts? That occurred to me because in Bach's time, I believe I remember
wood flutes were played.
What's an oboe da caccia? A plain, everyday oboe? Or a lower one? Or a
kind of English horn? Man, am I ignorant!
No doubt you have already received sufficient responses. But, just in
The Oxford Composer Companions volume of J. S. Bach is a handy and
extensive guide to all things Bach, arranged encyclopedically. It has
articles on each of the oboes about which you have questions.
College Church in Wheaton (IL)
The Oboe d'amore is in A, and the Oboe da caccia is in F, transposing in
the usual way to these keys. The tone of each is just enough different
from a standard oboe, that, when circumstances permit, it is good to
have the instruments specified. B-U-T !!! Circumstances almost never
permit (at least for me), so the choice is to use an English horn for
the O'da caccia, but that doesn't work very well (and the oboe player
hates it), OR to go through the oboe d'a and d'c parts and revise them
for the standard oboe, changing octaves when needed, or omitting a
phrase when the octave-transposition option is unworkable.
B-U-T again!! Check out the PARTS (not just the score) for the
Barenreiter edition. I haven't use that edition of Xmas Oratorio, but
have used Barenreiter for Bach Mag, and in that work, the part in
question has an alternative working out for regular oboe, very neatly
done. Solves all your problems. The score did not show this; it was
simply in the oboe part.
In any case, the modern oboe is not like its Bach-era version, so the
slight difference in tone between the various types is not really an
issue. I'm all for historically informed performance, but I am more than
happy with the wonderful modern-instrument players who play so well for
us, at AD0 in rooms which are heated in the winter.
Look into the Barenreiter parts.
Brooks Grantier, The Battle Creek Boychoir, Battle Creek, MI
Just one of the joys of doing Bach cantatas. Keeps us humble. I would
strongly suggest calling your favorite oboist for advice. Probably you
are correct that the English horn is the best modern compromise for the
oboe da caccia.
All the best,
Church of the Saviour (UM)
> Must I find oboes d'amore PLUS oboes (it's tough to find 2 oboe
> tooters), or might I consider putting woodflutes on the lower oboe
> parts? That occurred to me because in Bach's time, I believe I
ÿ wood flutes were played.
You do not need more than two oboists. The oboists change the
instruments to oboe d'amore if so indicated. In the score you should see
that the voices are then transposed to set off the basic tone a. Oboe
d'amore has a different sound caused by the pear-like bulb.
> What's an oboe da caccia? A plain, everyday oboe? Or a lower one? Or a
ÿ kind of English horn? Man, am I ignorant!
Yes, an oboe da caccia or a taille is a cor anglais and used for the
tenor voice. Today, the oboe players do not know the alto clef anymore.
The voice should be noted one fifth higher, because F is the basic tone.
Therefore, a normal oboist can play oboe, oboe d'amore and English horn,
but he needs of course the instruments. Good oboists usually own them.
Good luck and much fun,
Da caccia is a "hunting horn" and I've used English horns (get an
oboeist who doubles) in those places.
For da caccia, you can use English horn. For d'amores you can use
regular oboes. In the better editionns, like BArenreiter, the
instrumnetal parts come with two lines in the oboe d'amore parts, one
for d'amore, one transpoed a third so a regular oboe can play it. So
you can use oboes!
I have performed the Christmas Oratorio several times, sometimes with
oboes, sometimes with oboes d'amore, and also with oboes da caccia. If
you can find oboes da caccia and your players can handle them, they are
much superior to both the oboes and the d'amores in the pieces in which
they are specified.
In the alto lullaby, it is amazing how mellow they are, and how easy it
is for the vocal soloist to sing with them. If you can't find them, you
could use oboes, or d'amores, but I just would not even do the aria
again like that. With regular oboes the soloist has to sing full out all
the time to be heard above them, and even then sometimes disappears on
low notes. It is a frustrating piece that way. With the da caccia it is
You definitely need regular oboes, but you need either of the other
kinds of oboes for the pieces that specify da caccia because the range
of oboes is not low enough for them.
The da caccia are hard to come by, though you might rent them or borrow
them from an early music group or university. Let the players that you
hire determine what to do, but if they can get the da caccia and are
willing to do it, do it.
Let me know what you do, and how it turns out.
Oboe d'amore is pitched in A, and it has a pear-shaped bell like an
English Horn. The sound is somewhat of a cross between oboe and English
Horn. In modern performances the oboe can often be substituted (some
editions even have two sets of parts for that purpose), but you may lose
a few low notes. Oboists know what to do.
The Oboe da caccia is pitched in F, like the modern English Horn, which
is what is usually used to play these parts. The eighteenth century
instrument is different in character, but the substitution works fine.
Flutes will never work, because Bach, when he uses double reed
instruments, is depending on the buzzy quality. The parts are generally
low, and the flute would just disappear in that register.
Hope this helps.
Associate Prof. of Music, Univ. of North Texas, Denton Bach Society,
Arlington Choral Society
>One movement requires 2 oboes d'amore (scored treble clef) and 2 oboes
>da caccia (scored C clef). Several movements specify
>2 oboes (= oboes d'amore)
Bach often scored oboes d'amore in mezzo clef; be thankful!!
>My old orchestration book points out oboes d'amore were used in Bach's
>time, but rarely now, and that they often sound a minor below the pitch
>at which they are scored.
Yes, it's an oboe in A, with an English horn-like bell. Think of it as
English horn lite. Mostly very serious oboists or large college music
departments would have them. Given the realistic possibilities, using
English horns would be the closest to the sound Bach wanted.
>Must I find oboes d'amore PLUS oboes (it's tough to find 2 oboe
That depends on how many play at the same time. If they're always in
pairs, you only need 2 players.
>or might I consider putting woodflutes on the lower oboe
Flutes don't have the low notes that would be needed. This doesn't sound
like a very good idea unless it's an emergency, and in that case a flute
on the upper part and oboe on the lower would make more sense.
>What's an oboe da caccia?
A kind of English horn is correct. I've seen pictures of museum
instruments which have a flaring metal bell rather than the enclosed
bell of a modern English horn, which would have made for a brighter and
more projecting sound. The whole matter of alto and tenor oboes is
John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
If you are hiring a professional orchestra, most oboists are used to
"doubling" and have appropriate instruments: oboe d'amores (Or borrow
them) all oboists have English Horns.....
It is a general practice to pay the 10% over scale for "doubling" or 20%
for "tripling".....as I recall 2 players are adequate for covering "the
When buying or renting your orchestration check that all parts are
included....newest editions often have "C" (oboe) parts for the d'amore
sections, but you have to have English horns..the sound is necessary
You can use oboes in place of oboes d'amore--use of the latter is more
of a timbre difference than anything else, and unless your oboe players
have oboes d'amore (most don't) it is not a significant issue.
Again, unless you have some early/ancient music oboists in the
orchestra who actually own oboes da caccia, those parts can be played on
English horns--that is standard operating procedure for most St Matthew
Passion performances, for example.
I asked my daughter, a professional oboist (as well as oboe d'amore and
English horn player) for her opinion. Here it is:
According to Crozoli "Oboe Excerpts" Vol. II, all the solo writing in
the Christmas Oratorio is intended either for Oboe d'amore or Oboe. If
you intend for the oboe and oboe d'amore parts to be heard, do NOT
substitute wooden flutes! Also, the color of the oboe d'amore is quite
different from that of the oboe and you should make every effort to find
Use of this instrument has become much more common in the past ten
years, due to some technical improvements in its design. (There are four
d'amore players in the Denver area, for example) I suggest you contact
your local symphony orchestra or the union local to see if they have
players in your area who play both oboe and d'amore. (If they cannot
help you out, try one of the local universities - preferably one that
has someone who specializes in Baroque music.) Oboe da Caccia is the
forerunner of the English horn and its use in the Christmas Oratorio is
more in an accompanying role than a solo role.
Hope this helps.
Jean L. Smith, President
>One movement requires 2 oboes d'amore
You will need 4 oboists for the second cantata.
Talk to your favorite oboists about these early oboes. If they don't
have them, you can substitute English horn for both the amore and
caccia. Both parts should be in F (although some editions provide
transpositions). The parts will be too low for flutes.
Allen H Simon
Soli Deo Gloria
A traditional fix to your problem is to use two oboes and and two
English horns - that is what I did. Publishers will usually provide such
The sound is not exactly equivalent. I believe the da caccia was a bit
more ruckus sounding.
Doug & Ruth Bachorik
missionaries to the Philippines
89808 Surf Pines Lndg Dr
Warrenton, Oregon 97146