From the Charm of the Court: Weber’s Concertino for Oboe and Winds

by Andrew Filmer

If a form of punctuation were to be chosen to describe the authenticity of the Concertino for Oboe and Winds, it would definitely be the question mark. Listed under “doubtful and spurious works” of Weber in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the score has not been made available for scientific study by its owner, and markings in the copies are not always consistent with Weber’s works.

Nevertheless, there are musical indications that the concertino (or “small concerto”) was indeed composed by Weber, and Lauren Baker Murray’s doctoral dissertation for the University of North Texas is likely the most detailed study of the work, and from which a large part of the following program notes are referenced.

The choice of the oboe carries some historical significance. In the summer of 1806 Weber worked under Duke Eugen Friedrich, who was an oboist. In this setting, two symphonies with distinctive oboe parts were composed. Also written during this period was the first version of Weber’s horn concertino, which carries many similarities in form to the oboe concertino. Another possibility is that, based on diary entries, this piece could have been prepared for use by Anton Flad, the principal oboist in the orchestra in Munich of Weber’s time.

The use of winds as accompaniment to the solo oboe in this concertino mirrors the use of similar instrumentation to accompany opera singers. Indeed, the opening of the piece in aria form matches this style, and takes away the competition of a full orchestra from the solo line.

The third movement on the other hand moves away from the stately opera singer to that of the dance. Marked “polacca”, it refers to a courtly dance of the time, and is often in a more moderate tempo than one’s regular allegro. This is unlike the various suites by Bach, where movements such as the allemande and gigue were derived from dances but likely not meant for actual dance. The third movement of the concertino may very well have been performed for an evening of dance at the court.

Weber is described in the New Grove as musician and composer who “sought through his works, words and efforts as performer and conductor to promote and shape emerging middle class audiences to its appreciation”. Whether 19th century middle class, the class of the court, or audiences far removed from his generation, Weber’s works continue to charm and invite. That, for sure, is something one could add an exclamation mark.

With references to “The Nineteenth Century Oboe Concertino: An Overview of its Structure With Two Performance Guides” by Lauren Baker Murray, and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

One response

4 12 2015
Joost Flach

An interesting article. The instrumentation used as accompaniment reflects the common practise of composers in Paris to use no oboes in the wind ensemble. The wind arrangements of Charles Bochsa may confirm this. The enforcement of the bass line by a trombone was another characteristic. The Viennese octet followed a different line: almost never a flute was used as these instruments were too soft in sound to use as an outdoor instrument(?) The Viennese ‘school’ also used a contra-bassoon. The Bochsa arrangements show us a serpent in addition to the 2nd bassoon and trombone!
The question why Weber used this type of wind ensemble remains a question mark.

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