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PURE VIENNESE OBOE

ROMANTICAL OBOE

of Wolf­gang Küss (1779–1834), Vien­na

 

 

 

 

 

Sound samples

The sound of the oboe

Gen­er­al descrip­tion of the instru­ment

The instru­ment which I describe here is a very mature mod­el of an oboe made by Wolf­gang Küss, which is evi­denced by its tim­bre and char­ac­ter­is­tics of pro­duc­ing sounds (result­ing from the applied bore pro­por­tions), as well as by the out­ward fea­tures vis­i­ble to the naked eye, e.g. the mid­dle c key for the lit­tle fin­ger, and not for the ring fin­ger, as it was for­mer­ly; the carved thumb rest; the three-dimen­sion­al filed pro­files of keys (and not cut out of brass sheet as before); and also the round milling of the sound holes under the keys.
This is a remark­able and very impor­tant oboe of the Roman­tic era, an instru­ment sig­nif­i­cant from the point of view of not only nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Vien­na music, but also for the his­to­ry of oboe in gen­er­al, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Ger­man oboe.
This is an exquis­ite musi­cal instru­ment, most prob­a­bly made between 1825 and 1830, which proves its builder to be one of the most dis­tin­guished oboe mak­ers of the 19th cen­tu­ry. It was Küss who cre­at­ed the char­ac­ter­is­tic Vien­nese oboe with the typ­i­cal short bell (which was so will­ing­ly copied by oth­er mak­ers in Vien­na, Prague or Mainz; e.g. Schott, Lud­wig & Mar­tin­ka, Zenck­er, Horak). Such a solu­tion allowed much more reli­able oper­a­tion of the low B key, with­out uncom­fort­able con­nec­tions of keys between the joints, and pro­vid­ed greater pre­ci­sion in ream­ing the bore.
What is even more impor­tant, Wolf­gang Küss sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved the con­struc­tion of the tun­ing slide by shift­ing the place of extend­ing the bore between the tun­ing slide and the upper joint, which caused the oboe to have much bet­ter into­na­tion at dif­fer­ent posi­tions of the slide.

Küss by Fil­ip Frydrysi­ak, copy made of pear­wood (with light reed)
oboe: pro­fes­sor Tytus Wojnow­icz
piano: Han­na Kras­ki
record­ing: Maciej Zadro­ga
place: The Fry­deryk Chopin Uni­ver­si­ty of Music, 2019 War­saw

Küss by Fil­ip Frydrysi­ak, copy made of box­wood (with light reed)
oboe: pro­fes­sor Tytus Wojnow­icz
piano: Han­na Kras­ki
record­ing: Maciej Zadro­ga
place: The Fry­deryk Chopin Uni­ver­si­ty of Music, 2019 War­saw

Features of the oboe

The characteristic features of the Viennese Romantic oboe of Wolfgang Küss

Tone colour: deep, rich in aliquots, homo­ge­neous and much more focused sound than any oth­er sound of oboes from the entire first half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. True roman­ti­cal tone.

Range: from b to Ab 3

Carved body: hand-carved blocks in the upper joint (in one piece of wood!), hand-carved blocks and the thumb rest in the low­er joint (in one piece of wood!), a short bell with­out holes.

Keys: 13 — b, C, C#, Eb, left Eb, F, left F, F#, G#, B key/lever for left thumb, mid­dle C, octave key.

Tun­ing slide: the most advanced of all these mech­a­nisms; a com­bi­na­tion of wood and met­al. The nar­row­est part of the bore is made inside a very thin brass tube (placed in a wood­en, detach­able upper part of the upper seg­ment); the mech­a­nism slides into the low­er part of the upper joint, which is also lined with brass and works on a tele­scop­ic basis (the same way as the trom­bone slide). The upper part of that very thin pipe is cylin­dri­cal out­ward­ly, but con­i­cal inside, since it con­sti­tutes the bore of the oboe.

Pitch: from 442Hz to 430 Hz (thanks to the tun­ing slide). Pos­si­bil­i­ty of pre­cise tun­ing to oth­er instru­ments.

Reed/mouthpiece: very well work­ing togeth­er with mod­ern reeds!

Tuning-slide

A very impor­tant ele­ment of Küss’s oboe is the tun­ing slide (one of the ele­ments which are the most dif­fi­cult to make) and its spe­cial con­struc­tion. The orig­i­nal of this copy with the max­i­mal­ly slid-in tun­ing part plays at the pitch c. 442 Hz ‑445 Hz (obvi­ous­ly, it depends on the applied mouth­piece; the hard­ness of the reed, and its length); thanks to pulling the tun­ing slide out you can even obtain the 430 Hz tun­ing and, what is inter­est­ing, you can pre­serve quite a good into­na­tion! It is due to the fact that the retractable tun­ing upper part is in fact a part of the bore and, addi­tion­al­ly, it is divid­ed in a very advan­ta­geous place from the acoustic point of view. More­over, inside the wood­en body of the upper – tun­ing – part of the upper joint there is a very thin tele­scop­ic brass tube (which is cylin­dri­cal out­ward­ly and con­i­cal inside; com­pat­i­ble with the bore), which can be slid in and out of the low­er part of the upper joint, lined with brass. Apart from the sophis­ti­cat­ed music func­tion, this solu­tion has one more impor­tant qual­i­ty: in its most sen­si­tive, nar­row­est part, the bore is resis­tant to any changes caused by mois­ture, because it is made of met­al, but thin enough that it does not affect the sound adverse­ly. Such a solu­tion is bril­liant both musi­cal­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly, and even much bet­ter than many mod­ern attempts to sta­bi­lize the upper part of the bore of mod­ern oboes (resins, plas­tics, etc.).

Wolfgang Küss — the outstanding oboe maker

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, very few instru­ments made by Küss (oboes, clar­inets, bas­soons) have sur­vived. Wolf­gang Küss enjoyed such a rep­u­ta­tion in his times that many nine­teenth — cen­tu­ry mak­ers (both from Vien­na and from out­side Vien­na) tried to copy his instru­ments, with vary­ing degree of suc­cess. Fre­quent­ly, the copies were excel­lent­ly made from out­side, but the pro­por­tions of the bore dif­fered great­ly from Küss’s instru­ments. It was Küss him­self that warned against such ‘fakes’ in the Vien­na press of the time and informed that his instru­ments were always pro­vid­ed with his sig­na­ture mark.
It is well-known that the music of as late as the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tu­ry was still suc­cess­ful­ly played on Küss’s oboes; which is not sur­pris­ing, tak­ing into account the sound, pos­si­bil­i­ties and qual­i­ty of the oboes made by this builder.

Viennese oboe

Nat­u­ral­ly, the oboes by Küss which have sur­vived come from dif­fer­ent peri­ods of his activ­i­ty and obvi­ous­ly dif­fer much from each oth­er, which clear­ly shows that improv­ing both the sound and the con­struc­tion of the oboe was a pri­or­i­ty for this emi­nent mak­er. An overview of his oboes shows what direc­tion he fol­lowed and how he devel­oped the idea of the 13-key oboe, ini­ti­at­ed by the instru­ments of Koch/ Sell­ner.
These instru­ments were the first oboes of the so-called Vien­nese type, dif­fer­ent from all the oth­ers at that time, and Wolf­gang Küss’s mod­erni­sa­tions gave splen­did sound to them (the bore of the oboe I describe is formed by a dozen or so of con­i­cal pro­files, com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than in any oth­er oboes of those days!). It is obvi­ous that the oboes of Koch / Sell­ner, as well as of Küss, were the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary in com­par­i­son with their con­tem­po­rary ones and by that they obvi­ous­ly had the great­est impact both on the oboes made since 1825 in Vien­na and out­side it and on the late nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Viennese/German oboe, because all the lat­er nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry evo­lu­tions of the Ger­man type oboe were pos­si­ble thanks to those very first bril­liant Vien­nese builders.

Revolutionary bore

Some evi­dence that this instru­ment was so inno­v­a­tive for the peri­od in which it was built is the fact that if you put a reed from any mod­ern oboe, it plays very well with the instru­ment! That is excep­tion­al for the orig­i­nal oboes of the first half of the 19th cen­tu­ry.

In the orig­i­nal instru­ments, not in their mod­ern, fre­quent­ly altered, “copies”, the low­est reg­is­ter of the clas­si­cal and ear­ly-Roman­tic oboes usu­al­ly requires a very soft reed (just like in the eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry oboes ); oth­er­wise these sounds “roll” (that is, make a very unpleas­ant rat­tling sound “trrrr…” instead of the pure one).

In the oboe by Wolf­gang Küss even the low­est sounds of the reg­is­ter nev­er “roll”, even on the hard reed (like in the mod­ern oboes!) It is cred­it­ed to the pro­por­tions of the bore, that is, the appli­ca­tion of pro­files of numer­ous cones of which the bore is built.

Although soft­er reeds, sim­i­lar to those used in the clas­si­cal oboes ( Grund­mann, Grenser, Floth, etc.) can also be applied to this Roman­tic oboe, some of the sound pos­si­bil­i­ties pro­vid­ed by this instru­ment, that is, the beau­ti­ful dark and vel­vet sound, are then lost.

It is worth men­tion­ing here that there are wide dis­crep­an­cies and doubts as to deter­min­ing the actu­al ances­tor of the mod­ern oboe of the Ger­man sys­tem (the so-called Vien­nese oboe).

The construction of this oboe…

…irre­sistibly puts us in mind of the fact that actu­al­ly no more durable and sophis­ti­cat­ed con­struc­tion for min­imis­ing the risk of wood crack­ing and for sta­bil­is­ing the nar­row­est part of the oboe bore has been invent­ed to this day.
The oboe is strength­ened in the points most sus­cep­ti­ble to wood split­ting, the con­nec­tors of the joints are — as in the clas­si­cal and baroque oboe – thick­ened, in order to strength­en the wood.
Although Wolf­gang Küss must have known var­i­ous ways of fas­ten­ing the keys (met­al
sad­dle ones or on small met­al bars), he made reli­able lit­tle wood­en blocks; reli­able, since thanks to them no met­al inter­feres into the body of the oboe and, as a result, the risk of the wood­en body of the instru­ment split­ting is min­i­malised almost to zero. On the oth­er hand, how­ev­er, such a solu­tion cer­tain­ly involves the neces­si­ty of very hard work on the instru­ment — hand-made carv­ing of the blocks. It is the same with the thumb rest, which is carved by hand and made from one piece of wood of the low­er joint; and, in con­se­quence, it is very durable and pre­vents the risk of wood crack­ing while met­al screws are dri­ven into it, which is often the case with oth­er oboes, also the mod­ern ones.

The oboe by Küss…

…has a rich in aliquots and focused tone colour, strong at the bot­tom of the range, melo­di­ous in the mid­dle reg­is­ter and rather gen­tle at the top of the range. It is def­i­nite­ly deep than nasal. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, it can be said that this oboe has a very even sound through­out its whole range. What is char­ac­ter­is­tic, is the sound of the high reg­is­ter (from D2 to C3, D3), which is not as pun­gent as in the mod­ern oboe (nor as nasal as in the clas­si­cal oboes), thanks to which it can blend beau­ti­ful­ly with oth­er instru­ments in the orches­tra). For those who play it, it is a great plea­sure to enjoy, so to say, into­na­tion reli­a­bil­i­ty of the instru­ment, incom­pa­ra­bly greater than on any clas­si­cal oboe (e.g Grund­mann, Floth and oth­er.
The sound range of Küss’s oboe is from b to Ab 3. After a short time, it is quite easy to mas­ter fin­ger­ing with the use of its 13 keys. The numer­ous vari­ants of fin­ger­ing make it pos­si­ble to use either that ‘key’ appli­ca­tion or the baroque-clas­si­cal fin­ger­ings, which gives great tech­ni­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties, and also allows for achiev­ing inter­est­ing tones of the sound. Obvi­ous­ly, this oboe pos­sess­es full pos­si­bil­i­ties of chro­mat­ic play; it has the key for the left Eb, as well as for the left F, and also a change lever for the left thumb for the Bb sound, which is use­ful for both Bb and the vari­ant of the mid­dle c. Its octave key ful­fils its role very well for all the sec­ond octave sounds.

The original

The original oboe by Küss

Because of the excel­lent tech­ni­cal con­di­tion of the oboe by Küss and its mag­nif­i­cent sound and into­na­tion, my copies are iden­ti­cal with the orig­i­nal in every detail.

I do not apply any modernizations/adaptations of the bore pro­por­tions, fin­ger holes or any oth­er.

I have been a his­tor­i­cal oboes mak­er for over 20 years and it is my mis­sion to build the most faith­ful copies of these instru­ments which will bring the orig­i­nal sound of the first real­ly ’Vien­nese’ oboes clos­er to a wider audi­ence of music lovers and will make it pos­si­ble for the oboists to learn the tech­nique of play­ing and, above all, give them the plea­sure of play­ing one of the most inter­est­ing oboes of the Roman­tic era.

Handicraft mastery

Created by the artist for artists…

All parts of Küss oboes are hand-made, all made per­son­al­ly by me.

Every detail is refined with the oboist’s com­fort in mind. For exam­ple, the hand-carved thumb rest can be pro­filed by me indi­vid­u­al­ly, tak­ing into account the shape of your thumb.

The wood I use to make the body of Küss oboe is of the high­est of high­est qual­i­ty (dried only by nat­ur­al way), which is main­ly due to the extreme­ly long sea­son­ing peri­od — not like in mod­ern oboe fac­to­ries, a few years — but at least 20 and 30 years. Such wood gives excel­lent res­o­nance, and also min­i­mizes the risk of oboe’s warp­ing, which would, for exam­ple, threat­en to block the keys mech­a­nism and tun­ing-slide.
Every my Küss oboe lies in an oil bath for a peri­od of sev­er­al months, accord­ing to the art of crafts­man­ship of XIX builders, thanks to which the instru­ments gain mois­ture resis­tance and addi­tion­al dura­bil­i­ty.

One of the most impor­tant parts of the oboe, which is the bore, requires a lot of spe­cial­ly hand-made ream­ers, which in the case of Küss oboe must be incom­pa­ra­bly more pre­cise­ly made than tools for oth­er his­tor­i­cal oboes from the 18th or 19th cen­tu­ry (e.g. Grund­mann, Grenser, Floth).

The keys in this roman­ti­cal Küss oboe are not cut from a brass sheet (as in baroque and clas­si­cal oboes) but are full-size, forged in sol­id brass, com­pli­cat­ed pro­files. Thanks to this man­u­al man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nique, the keys do not bend so eas­i­ly, which trans­lates into their reli­a­bil­i­ty.
For a last­ing effect, the keys in Küss oboe I pol­ish by hand, final­ly with nephrite stones.

Unlike mod­ern oboe bod­ies, for the most part man­u­fac­tured entire­ly auto­mat­i­cal­ly, I do the entire process of mak­ing oboes after Küss entire­ly by hand, because all ele­ments sim­ply can­not be done oth­er­wise.
From the point of view of the art of build­ing oboes, Küss’s oboe is cer­tain­ly one of the most dif­fi­cult oboes in his­to­ry to do.

Due to the lengthy process of man­u­al pro­duc­tion of this oboe, I make only a few copies per year.

Wood to choose from:

  • Pear wood,
  • Box­wood,
  • Cocobo­lo,
  • King Cher­ry wood,
  • Ambrosia Maple wood,
  • African Black­wood.