The 21st Century Howarth-Redgate Oboe – Christopher Redgate Discusses at the Howarth Workshop

Leading 21st Century Oboist – Christopher Redgate discusses his first impressions of the second instrument made to the Redgate-Howarth Oboe design! The Redgate-Howarth Oboe has been custom made by Howarth of London, built with the 21st Century musician in mind, featuring a multiphonic switch and the flexibility needed for this contemporary repertoire. Howarth of London are internationally known as makers of the finest oboes, oboes d’amore, English horns and clarinets.

Chris Redgate describes the nuances of the Howarth-Redgate Oboe

Some Notes on Some New Notes

The re-design of the key-work on the oboe has been stimulated by changes in the use of some of the keys and in the demands being made upon the performer. As part of my performance practice during the last 35 years I have rethought the function of some of the key-work; altering the primary function of specific keys from their traditional use to a new uses (the traditional uses then becoming secondary). On some occasions reverting to practices more common in baroque and classical period performance. The octave keys, the holes in the touch plates, the function of a number of the side keys and the trill keys all, to a greater or lesser extent, have taken on multiple functions; in some case the original function of the keys has been superseded by the new function. Some of the keys on the traditional oboe however are poorly placed for their new activities, creating a range of physical and technical problems.

The ‘hamburger key’ (situated where the trill keys are normally found) has enabled me to answer some of these challenges while, at the same time, expanding the potential of the instrument. It has enabled us to effectively add an extra hole in an area of the instrument which is particularly responsive to the production of the extreme high range, (it is very close to both the second and the third octave keys): an area which also enables many microtones and multiphonics. Because we have placed the touch pieces at the side of the 2nd octave key (and in the process redesigned this key to accommodate ease of execution of these keys) we have increased the facility with which the high range can be played. The three new touch pieces are used extensively for the high range (B, C, C#, and D), a considerable number of microtones and, in addition, have added a substantial number of new multiphonics to the instrument. They have also enabled a number of short glissandi.

The top plate (left-hand first finger) has undergone two significant changes. A very small hole has been placed at the side of the main hole as an extra vent and a new switch has been added which enables a very high-speed change to the distance this key moves from the tone hole. As a result there are now four potential height positions for this key: closed, rolled, lifted finger and open (depending upon how you like this key set up the switch can be used in either direction). This enables a much wider range of multiphonics than is possible on the standard oboe without recourse to unscrewing the regulating screw in performance! In addition, because of the way the switch is activated it is possible to create a number of multiphonic slides by moving it slowly. This is the second design we have developed for a switch in this area. The first prototype oboe we produced included a screw system which, while enabling the changes, proved too slow in performance; the new switch is very fast.

There are two additional side keys for the right hand. We have removed the G# – A trill key and instead added a side Bb key (a key which existed on many older thumb-plate instruments). This key, as well as offering an A-Bb and high F-F# trill also enables a wide range of extra multiphonics and microtones.

Above this key is a B ¼# key (this is not available on the conservatoire model but B ¼# can be produced in several different ways on the instrument).

The microtonal work has been improved by drilling the holes on the A, G and E touch pieces precisely to ¼ sharp. In addition we have modified the F# key (top finger right hand) by adding a split plate. The reason for this rather more complex addition is that this key is used extensively for a range of double trills that I did not want to lose. Therefore we created a split plate whereby if the lower part is fingered the standard F# is produced but if the finger is placed only on the upper plate then F ¾# is played.  This also enables a range of other microtonal fingerings in the upper register and a variety of multiphonics.

An extra bean has been added to the little key below the F# touch piece – this enables some micro tunings to a number of pitches.

We have also de-linked the Bb and B at the bottom of the instrument (left hand little finger). This removal of the enforced linkage has freed up the two keys so that they can be used independently of each other. As a result a wide range of multiphonics are available that were not possible on the standard oboe and it has generated a number of microtonal options. On some oboes there is also a B-C link but this has not been included on the new instrument as it also limits some possibilities.

Though available on some oboes we have added a long C# as standard and removed the banana C# trill key (played with 3rd finger right hand). The long C# is very useful not only as a trill key but also for a number of multiphonics and microtones.

On the thumb-plate version of the instrument we have re-sited the third octave key, placing it on the right-hand side of the first octave key. This enables the performer to roll the thumb on to the key rather than having to pinch backwards: a much more ergonomic position for the key. The octave keys are often used in fine microtonal tunings and so ease of execution for this key was very important.

The instruments are made of cocobolo wood that is less dense than the traditional Grenadilla wood (meaning that this oboe with its extra keys comes in at about the same weight as the standard Howarth XL) but also is particularly responsive to the demands of contemporary music.

A few statistics: There are now good quartertone and eighthtone scales from bottom D to the very top C ¼ #; I am also now developing a third/sixthtone scale.

On my standard instrument I have a catalogue of 833 multiphonics; on the new instrument I have currently 2548 multiphonics.

There are now fingerings up to top C that can be used without recourse to the teeth. There is also a C# and D fingering which require teeth.

The read more about Christopher Redgate, visit his website

Visit the Howarth of London Website

Howarth of London Workshop

19 Buckingham Road

Worthing, UK

BN11 1TH

01903 239219


About Howarth of London

Woodwind Specialists - Howarth are leading suppliers of oboes, bassoons, clarinets, saxophones and flutes. Makers of fine oboes, cors anglais & oboes d'amore.
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