MT to DB: Every note [fingering] has a color change within a line of color changes.
MT to DB: It is possible to execute 25 or 30 different tone colors on each note of the oboe.
MT: The tone must start from dark, and then can be allowed to get brighter from there.
MT: On the violin, the area from the finger board to the bridge constitutes color change as follows: 1-25-1. On the oboe, push the reed into the mouth further as you ‘reach the bridge’ in order to change the color of the sound.
JM: He always stressed a dark sound, and he had the most beautiful dark sound of anything you can imagine. It was such a dark quality but light weight. Many students misunderstood that, and as a result, they got a dark sound which was thick and heavy. It wasn’t light like Tabuteau’s sound.
LVB: Did he use his embouchure and reed placement to change colors?
JMk: Oh sure, and he would talk about it. He did talk about embouchure position and things like the chin must be down. I’m not talking about the jaw, but the meat on the outside thereof, so that your jaw would look like while playing as it would when whistling. He would discuss it. Yes, he absolutely would, he would say that it was with your lips that you were able to have the same range of color on the oboe on the same reed that a string player can get by playing nearer the bridge or nearer to the finger board. He could do it himself. I really don’t think I have heard any oboe player ever anywhere approach the range of tone color that he could have on the instrument and still having it sound just fine all the time.
LVB: How did he accomplish the change in color?
JMk: Well, by how much lips he had on the reed in different places. He always contended that it was best to have some kind of a scissors grip on the reed between the upper and lower lips, and that directly opposite, confronting upper and lower lips towards the oboe was something that gave you far less control than having something off-set somehow. It would give you more purchase on the reed. And, of course, after you have done that and you fool around, you find out what it is. Am I supposed to tell you what it is when he didn’t? Well, certainly having to do with how near one’s lip might be to the tip of the reed compared to the other, and that’s practically a filtration system. You can take noisy notes on the oboe and make them sound completely and perfectly civilized without any great difficulty if you touch the reed in the right place, in the right amount.
LVB (Laurie Van Brunt): How about the embouchure and reed placement in terms of the colors. Do you adjust – he talks about moving the reed in and out, how did he do this? How does that work exactly?
WR (Wayne Rapier): Well, he did it. I mean he literally moved his embouchure in and out; he was always talking about avoiding the crocodile bite. That meant to have a flexible embouchure so that if you wanted to play dark, you could surround the reed very much, and if you wanted to drown out the trumpet section, you could put very little lip on the reed and play straight out.
WR (Wayne Rapier): He would always compare our embouchure with being close to the bridge or close to the finger board and our breathing with the speed or pressure of the bow. It was always from a string player’s point of view or imitation, I should say.
LVB (Laurie Van Brunt): How great was Tabuteau’s variations in color in his playing?
JD: Well, [laugh] how great? They were greater than anything I have ever heard before or since, put it that way; I don’t know how else to express it. He had an enormous, enormous facility and a range on the instrument, an enormous range of color and dynamics, and he had the type of embouchure that allowed him to play the kind of a reed that gave him more of that than anyone else I’ve ever heard.
Joseph Robinson remembering his lessons with Tabuteau in Nice
From his book: Long Winded. Chicago: Joshua Tree Publishing, 2018.
With kind permission of the author