Tabuteau’s Lorée Oboes

LS (Laila Storch): By 1922 Tabuteau was buying oboes in groups of three at a time. In the 1930s he sometimes bought as many as six or seven oboes in the same year. Without doubt many were sold to his students, but he was also always looking for something more to his own liking and constantly tried new oboes or a combination of sections from different oboes. Even with oboes of a high level of workmanship, there are variations, and Tabuteau wanted to keep the best from each “batch” for himself. There were instances when Tabuteau would “sell” an oboe to a student, then begin to feel that it was better than his own, and pressure the student to accept a different one.

Marcel Tabuteau trying two oboes during a break in a Philadelphia Orchestra rehearsal.

Laila Storch reported the following in her article: “100 Years of F. Loreé: 1881-1981.” The Journal of the International Double Reed Society 1981: 28-42.  The de Gourdon mentioned is Robert de Gourdon.

DH (Donald Hefner): One day, in my brashness, I said to Tabuteau, “Sir, I may be late for my lesson next week as I am going to try oboes.” It was like the mushroom cloud, and Tabuteau replied, “Damn fool, I told you I had an instrument for you.” When I had previously asked if he had an oboe I could buy, nothing had come of it. But now, he said he had one, and I was so thrilled at the idea of getting an oboe from Tabuteau that I must have made about fifty reeds and finally came up with a beautiful one as I wanted to please him. I started to play high notes and how seemingly they became only better. Watching Tabuteau, I saw him getting redder and redder. Tabuteau jumped up, snatched the instrument, and broke the reed, saying, “It’s too good for you!” and I never saw that oboe again.

LS After the early 1930s, most of the instruments Tabuteau bought at Lorée appear in the records as Hautbois 1906 modéle Tabuteau. Tabuteau’s name was never put on these oboes, of which the identifying feature was the added left-hand F key but no F resonance key. He often said that the simple forked F fingering was “the most beautiful note on the oboe” and that it made possible an alternate, softer tone color on what is normally a rather loud and not-too-easy note to control, especially in the lower register. If you want the full sound of a strong F, you use the left-hand key. To add the E-flat key to the forked F was unthinkable, and in passage work (such as broken thirds), never was one allowed to employ the left-side F key. I believe that Tabuteau felt it necessary to retain the flexibility of being able to use the forked fingering.

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Tabuteau in the process of assembling one oboe from the parts of two instruments in order to come up with one that pleased him.
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Tabuteau trying various bells to get one to match the two upper sections he has already selected. Note the tuning bar, hopefully at A-440!

Hans Moennig

MS (Melissa Stevens): Was Tabuteau also instrumental in improvements being made on the oboe?

JM (John Minsker): Yes. He’d go to Lorée every summer and always come back with 3 to 5 oboes and out of that he’d pick one or two for himself, take them to Moennig and have them fixed up. Lorée did a poor job with the pads.

MS: How were those oboes back then?

JM: They weren’t like today’s oboes. The low notes were very low in pitch and the high notes were quite wild, especially the high A. We used to use the harmonic A very frequently. The oboes were not great, but he was more interested in getting a sound than anything else, so he tolerated the low notes and occasionally would crack on a low note. He experimented with the thickness of the wood and the bore and with bells.

MS: Was he into the repair of oboes?

JM: No, we were fortunate in Philadelphia to have Hans Moennig. He was a superb repairman. His father had a woodwind factory in Germany where he learned the trade before coming to the US. He was a cousin of Walter Guetter, who was the first bassoon player in the orchestra. It might have been through Guetter that Tabuteau sent his oboe to Moennig. Once Moennig fixed an instrument, you would not allow anyone else to touch your instrument. He was outstanding and recognized as such.

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JMk (John Mack): He used to bring six Lorée oboes back to Philadelphia with him every year from France. I remember going to Moennig’s the day before Tabuteau got back, and Moennig saying, “That son-of-a-bitch is going to show up with six oboes, and he’s going to think that I’m going to fix them up for him. Well, he’s wrong this time!” So, I go back the next day, and there’s Tabuteau, saying “My dear Moennig, what would I do without you?” And Moennig saying, “Yes, Maestro. Yes, Marcel.”

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The ‘other’ master: Hans Moennig in his shop at 15 South 21st Street in Philadelphia.
Sublett, Shelly and  Swiney, Alvin. “Great Oboes of the Twentieth Century: The Collaboration of W. Hans Moennig and Marcel Tabuteau.” The Double Reed. Vol. 22, No. 1   (1999): 102-104.   https://www.idrs.org/publications/70-the-double-reed-1999-22-1/#page=104; continued: Swiney, Alvin; Sublett, Shelly; and Fitch, Sarah. Great Oboes of the Twentieth Century: Evolution of Tone Hole AnatomyThe Double Reed. Vol. 23, No. 2 (2000): 65-70. https://www.idrs.org/publications/75-the-double-reed-2000-23-2/#page=68. Tabuteau referenced on  pp. 67-70.

JMk: Something happened during the war [when Tabuteau could not go back to France to bring back new oboes]. Tabuteau was having a great deal of problems with his oboe; it was changeable from day to day. He and Moennig, between them, decided to take a terrible risk. Moennig drilled out the top maybe two or three inches of the bore, replaced it with hard rubber, and re-bored it so that it would not change. And Tabuteau got through until after the war on this oboe that Moennig altered. The bore in the top joint is incredibly important, especially as it’s that small. Most people don’t have a clear idea how weensy the bore of the oboe is at the top. It is less than an eighth of an inch in size. It’s a conical bore and there are little things that can happen that can drive you crazy. What Moennig did for Tabuteau in this instance was to stabilize the top of the bore of the oboe so that Tabuteau was able to play without having this changeable business from day to day, which can happen on the oboe.

Oboe Bells

JMk (John Mack): Tabuteau was terribly interested in the bells. One time he sent me out in the hall beyond the frosted pane of glass with the door closed to listen to him play on the same oboe with three different bells and come back in and describe them to him afterwards. He could get testy very easily, so easily bored, you can’t believe. If you used the same terminology too much, he just—mmm-hmmm. Then, he sent me back out while he changed the order of the bells. I’m thinking: I’m gonna lose. There’s nothing I can do. I’m gonna get killed dead. Which I did. If I think about my distress and about Tabuteau’s incessant search for something, I know he wasn’t trying to play games with me. He wanted to get feedback from somebody whose ears he thought had something to offer. He was going to do this: he’s going to drive me crazy, maybe I’ll drive him crazy, he’s going to do it anyway, and I’m the one who is gonna get dumped on, so OK-fine. The man had such drive.

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RF (Rowland Floyd): Tabuteau had a Marigaux bell on his Lorée oboe. Plus he made alterations by hand on the bell for stability, clarity, pitch, and resonance on the lower notes.

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Lorée Oboes built at A-438

JM (John Minsker): If someone gave him trouble by playing sharp, he would hear about it. Not in front of the whole orchestra, but he would go to him and say, “You are playing sharp and I can’t play.” Tabuteau’s playing depended on a low pitch. If he had to play sharp he lost that dark sound and he lost the ability to maneuver his embouchure. There was no flexibility at all because he was pinching to get up to the pitch. French horns are notoriously known for playing sharp. If there was a background of French horns which was sharp when he had a solo and he had to try and come up to that, he let them know about it. Of course, he made many enemies that way. He had a pitch problem with Kincaid, our first flutist. Kincaid had a tendency to play sharp, especially after Stokowski left.

Ormandy had no respect for a low pitch. Ormandy had no understanding or the importance of the low pitch and dark sound. Stokowski did and tuned to 438. Whenever there was an intonation problem in the orchestra with Stokowski, I never once heard him say go up in pitch. It was always down. He’d pump the box, a little box with the bellows in it that you could put on the floor and pump with your foot. It was in front of Louie DeFulvio, the second oboe, and he would pump it.

Joseph Robinson remembering two disturbing Lorée situations during his time with Tabuteau in Nice:

From Joseph Robinson’s book: Long WindedChicago: Joshua Tree Publishing, 2018.

With kind permission of the author