Le Grand Hautbois Research Paper

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Le Grand Hautbois

During the reign of Louis XIII and especially Louis XIV, the courts were alive with new Baroque music and instruments. Many new wind instruments were being created with a variety of innovations and some other instruments were being newly invented. It was a time of experimentation, as these just introduced instruments had to be tried out for their range, sound and quality. Louis XIV from his childhood on throughout his life was always surrounded by music. He and musicians such as Lully would create ballets and compositions (Palisca 1968). During this time, King Louis XIV also revived and updated Le Grand Hautbois with the new instruments. Although little is written about Le Grand Hautbois, with Whitwell the compiler of the information that is available from writers during that period, this does not negate the importance of this twelve-player band to the French royal court and other European nations that copied it, such as the Germans.

Baroque Instrumentation

Many differences exist between the wind instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque periods and those of today. Some of them have evolved into newer forms and others are no longer played. The list below (Rhodes) describes some of these instruments from the 16th century, many which will be detailed in this report when covering les grand hautboy.

Renaissance Wind Instruments

Recorder: This was a very popular kind of end blown "whistle" flute, with a pleasing soft tone.

Transverse flute: As the predecessor of today's flute, it was held to the side of the mouth with a hole near the end of the tube. It was mostly used as a military instrument, until 1650 when its inside chamber or bore was changed to give it softer tone. It is also known as the German flute.

Fife: This small transverse flute, held to the side, was typically played in military bands.

Cupped Mouthpiece

Cornetto: This was played with a cup mouthpiece that was similar to a brass instrument. The wood was carved straight or slightly bent and then hollowed out.

Trumpet: A Renaissance horn, it was made of natural brass, had a cylindrical bore and a flared cone-shaped bell at the end. Unlike today, it was played without any holes, crooks, or valves, so the tones were limited.

Sackbut: This instrument evolved into the present-day trombone, with a similar design and use. However, it had a smaller chamber size and a narrow bell.

Double reed instruments

These were divided into those with the exposed reeds, with the lips having a direct contact with the reeds as with today's oboe and bassoon, or those that had a pierced cap over the double reed, so there was not any direct contact with the reed. The cap, like a wind chamber, made the reed vibrate like an organ's reed pipes. The instruments with the cap were more limited in their pitch range.

Exposed Reeds

Shawm: A European predecessor to the oboe, it came in a number of different sizes and had a loud and harsh sound.

Racket: This instrument had a reed on top of a short, thick cylinder of wood, about the size of a common drinking glass. It had ten channels have been bored out lengthwise to form a continuous tube. This instrument was not used for long due to a design flaw. The insides rotted out, because moisture could not escape.

Sordun: Similar to bassoon with a soft and pleasing tone, the air channel ran down and up the column of wood two or three times.

Dulcian: This was another example of an early bassoon.

Capped Reeds

Crumhorn: With its cylindrical tube made with an upward curve shaped like the letter "J," the name comes from the German term for curved.

Schryrari: This tapered bore instrument, with seven finger holes on the front and two thumb holes in the back, had a loud and high-pitched sound.

Rauschpfief: A German predecessor to the oboe, this was designed with a long narrow bore.

French Hautbois

The word hautbois comes from the Old French "haut" or "high" and Germanic "bois" or "wood." This instrument evolved from the shawm, but has three joints or sections and no pirouette to support the lips. It also did not have a wind cap over the reed, so it was instead used mostly indoors and began being played in bands and then orchestras. It was the primary instrument used in early military bands until replaced by the clarinet. Other names throughout Europe including England and Germany were hautboy, hoboy, hautboit, and howboye.

.Le Grand Hautbois

This band, which used the new French oboes and bassoons, consisted of 12-member players that became popular in the court of Louis XIV. Since everything that the "Sun King" did was envied and copied, this band was widely imitated in Germany with the partly French and partly German name of Hautboisten. As will be noted below, there are early forms of Le Grand Hautbois found in Louis XIII's reign.

Louis XIII

Unfortunately for Louis XIII, he did not have the best of lives. Not only was he very thin and unattractive, with an large head, nose and a lower lip that caused his mouth to continually hang open, he was very weak as a victim of tuberculosis and intestinal irritation. Unlike Louis XIV, who claimed his power from the advisors, it was Cardinal Richelieu who held the power during Louis XIII's time. No one expected Louis XIII to sire a child, because of his interest in men. Thus, his surprising legacy for the future was his son, Louis XIV (Moote, 1989).

Although Louis XIV is the king most related to music, it is surprising that the Le Grand Hautbois, which was very popular under Louis XIV time, may have actually been established much earlier. According to Whitwell (Web essays), this twelve-member royal wind band may have originated as early as 1580 under Henry III and then continued under the reign of Louis XIII. The engraving from the coronation of Louis XIII shows an eight-member wind band, but the twelve-member band once again is documented after the coronation. Most likely, when Louis XIII was enjoying music privately or in small groups, he listened to smaller wind ensembles that were part of the larger ensemble. An engraving that Louis XIII had of a ballet includes two cornetts, a shawm, a sordun, and trumpet.

There was also a group of trumpet players that were called on for certain ceremonial and state events, such as in the great Carrousel of 1612 that was honoring Louis XIII's marriage. The trumpets played for three days in a series of ballets, which depicted a number of different Greek gods, the legends of Amadis of Gaul and Perseus, the Seasons and the Hours of the Day. The celebration finally ended with a triumphant entrance of Roman warriors, who were leading captive African and Asian kings mounted on elephants, and a model of a palace alit with bursting fireworks (Whitwell essays).

It seems that it was not only the kings who enjoyed large wind instrument bands. Some of the French lords imitated their ruler with their own group of musicians. An illustrated De la Ruelle report of the funeral of Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, for example, includes two engravings that featured very unusual wind bands. One of the pictures shows singers in a church balcony along with the shawms and trombone players. One of the shawms is a huge bass instrument that had an up-turned bell, which resembled something like a seven-foot bass clarinet.

The other engraving depicts the whole inside of the church during the Duke's ceremony. There are at least thirty musicians standing on a huge balcony, with about a dozen of them who are clearly wind players. The rest, many of them hidden, may be singers. The strings are on another balcony (Whitwell essays).

Louis XIV

Who could have realized when Louis was born in 1638 that he would have had such an impact on the arts and music during his reign? In the midst of wars with other nations and internal strife, he brought new forms of musical composition, instrumentation, and dance. Louis was born to Louis XIII and his Spanish queen, Anne of Austria. He was only barely five years old when he succeeded his father as king and became ruler of 19 million subjects. Despite his title and designation as "a visible divinity," Louis was completely ignored by his mother and spent most of his time with the servants. Barely four years later in 1648, the nobles and Paris Parlement revolted against Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the prime minister. This began a civil war known as the Fronde, in which Louis became the victim of poverty, fear and hunger. It is no doubt that such childhood difficulties greatly influenced the rest of his life and his extreme dislike for both the nobility and commoners (Bernard 1970).

Mazarin, who continued his position in 1653, may have been hated by the nobles and populace, but he was the first to…

Sources Used in Document:


Anthony, James. French Baroque Music. New York: W.W. Norton, 1974

Bernard, Leon. The Emerging City: Paris in the Age of Louis XIV. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1970

Blunt, Anthony Art and Architecture in France 1500 to 1700. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1980

Buelow, George. History of baroque music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004

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