Introduction to the New Barret Oboe Method

by Charles-David Lehrer

© International Double Reed Society: Boulder, Colorado, USA - 1999

Apollon Marie-Rose Barré (1804-1879)

One might say that Apollon Barré was destined for a career in the arts. In a singular Romantic gesture, his parents named him for the Greek god of Music and Poetry. As principal oboist of the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden in London, Barré rose to become one of the greatest oboists of the entire Romantic Era. One of the reasons for this lies in the fact that he played on instruments made to his personal specifications by the fabulous Triébert family. In addition, he had the most up-to-date reed making equipment of the day. But it is his considerable knowledge of music composition that truly sets him apart from the average oboist of his time. Certainly, he is the only one of that period whose name comes to mind daily, in its Anglicized form Barret, since every oboist in the world plays or teaches from his 1862 tutor on a regular basis.

A New Barret Oboe Method for a New Century

It is an amazing but true fact that the Barret tutor is still utilized in a facsimile edition made available at very modest cost by the firm of Boosey & Hawkes[1]There is nothing quite like playing from this wonderful piece of history. I believe that I will continue to use it as long as I practice the oboe.

So why a New Barret if the facsimile is so outstanding? Well, it seems that the old master, in order to be practical, only gave us part of his magnum opus. To be sure, he presented to us the solo line of four Sonatas, two opera scenes, sixteen Grand Studies, and forty Progressive Melodies. But then there is Barret's mysterious supporting bass line for these works: is it just a part for bassoon or cello? The editor believes that this line is really a piano part in compression, because Barret left at least two items from the Progressive Melodies with full piano parts that demonstrate this fact to us.

Another issue that puzzles many young students is the fact the Barret calls his tutor a method, for it is hardly that. Instead, we have before for us a book of remembrance. The master is handing down to posterity what he knew of music in 19th-century Europe. From the Viennese tradition he presents four three-movement sonatas. It is here that he demonstrates his mastery of large-scale structures such as sonata-form, rounded binary form with trio, and rondo. Clearly, Barret presents these works not only for their performance problems, but even more, to teach the student the rudiments of what one faces in such large forms. In a similar manner, from the tradition of Italian opera, Barret leaves two scenas, which he labels Airs Variés. For him, this is the most modern type of instrumental concerto[2].

Also, we should not be surprised to find the artifacts of French grand opéra and opéra comique among Barret's output, for in fact, he was educated at the Paris Conservatoire and in his early years would have heard many a sicilienne, bolero, and pastorale at the Opéra. To be sure his 40 Progressive Melodies are filled with this kind of music-making, although the bulk of it remains Italian: in a word, the master particularly enjoyed composing cavatinas, marcias, and Sicilian-style waltzes.

If the examples of Barret's works that come down to us with piano accompaniment are any indication, the man was quite a good pianist. And, to be sure, pieces that reflect an exposure to the keyboard music of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt, can also be found throughout the 40 Progressive Melodies and the 16 Grand Studies. The final item in the latter set demonstrates that Barret was familiar with certain of the toccatas of J. S. Bach. In addition, the influence of the supreme violinist of the early 19th century, Nicolò Paganini, is reflected in the 16 Grand Studies and the first two Sonatas.

The late Florian Mueller was quite aware of the problems that Barret's Oboe Method presented to the young oboist. While realizing the great musical worth of the earlier master's tutor, he sought to find a way to remedy the problem of equipping his beginning students with the tools they would need to begin work on the technical problems found in the 40 Progressive Melodies. For that reason he composed his own oboe method in 1957 during the period he was a professor in the School of Music at the University of Michigan[3].

Since the late 1980's four new inventions have became central to every music scholar's life: the computer, the printer, the music writing programs, and the synthesizer. With these tools, and specifically the Finale® music writing program, the editor began to intabulate and hear played back for the first time ever the complete trio sonatas of Dietrich Buxtehude[4], 14 in all. This led to the intabulation of dozens of other works including Frederick Delius' glorious Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Pianoforte[5]. The latter was worked into a piece for English horn and synthesizer and as such was sent to an old friend, the great English horn player and pedagogue, Louis Rosenblatt, who was completing his last years in the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was Prof. Rosenblatt who eventually suggested to me that a new edition of the Barret tutor was needed because of the many errors in the old facsimile. The new edition is therefore dedicated to him and his wife Renate as a token of thanks for the support they have given me for the last 40 years.

Specifics Regarding the New Barret Oboe Method

As Barret's original parts were intabulated into Finale®, slurs, articulation, dynamics, missing accidentals, and incorrect notes were put into order. Stenographic ornaments were realized in modern notation, and piano accompaniments generated from Barret's bass lines, were composed. In addition, each item in the tutor was set up for playback. A short explanation, covering both historical and practical matters, was then appended to every movement.

The entire project consumed the better part of a year and resulted in piano accompaniments for the 40 Progressive Melodies, the 4 Sonatas, the 2 Scenas, the 12 Mixed-Articulation Studies, and the 16 Grand Studies. Some materials found in the facsimile are not part of the New Barret since these areas have been treated extensively in other publications. For example, Philip Bates' volume, The Oboe[6], describes exactly how Barret interacted with the firm of Triébert to produce the Barret system oboe. The Reed Maker's Manual[7] by David Weber and Ferald Capps brings reed-making up to date. Evelyn Rothwell's, A Book of Scales for the Oboe[8], covers scales and intervals; and Clemente Salviani's Studi per Oboe[9], Vol. 2, easily replaces Barret's 30 articulation studies. One might wonder why Barret spends many pages on patterns that will assure the student a clean execution of the chromatic scale. This was an issue that plagued students of Barret's day who utilized Triébert's systems, some of them rather basic. The problem was eventually solved by the invention of more-advanced oboe systems, particularly those from the firm F. Lorée, Triébert's successor. Nevertheless, those who want work on the chromatic scale will find it, and much more, in Alamiro Giampieri's 16 Studi giornalieri di perfezionamento per oboe[10], and in Georges Gillet's Études pour L'Enseignement supérieur du Hautbois[11]. Barret's Principals of Music can be found in any modern theory book.

The New Barret has been presented to the International Double Reed Society in order that it might be easily downloaded from the society's website. It is the hope of the editor that the Barret works might now begin to appear on a regular basis in the concerts and recitals of our oboists, much as violinists play the 24 Caprices and Spanish Dances of Barret's great contemporaries Nicolò Paganini and Pablo Sarasate.

Charles-David Lehrer
Thousand Oaks, June 1999


  1. Apollon Marie-Rose Barret, A Complete Method for the Oboe (London: Boosey & Hawkes, facsimile of the 1862 edition). back to main text
  2. Charles Lehrer, The Nineteenth-Century Parisian Concerto (Ph. D. dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles, 1990) pp. 17-20; 30-39; 452-455. back to main text
  3. Florian Mueller, A Method for the Oboe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1957). back to main text
  4. Dietrich Buxtehude, Instrumentalwerke: Sonaten für Violine, Gambe und Cembalo, ed. Carl Stiehl (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1957). back to main text
  5. Frederick Delius, Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Pianoforte ( London: Forsyth Brothers Ltd., 1942). back to main text
  6. Philip Bate, The Oboe (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 3rd edition: 1975), pp. 70; 72-76; 204-205.back to main text
  7. David Weber and Ferald Capps, The Reed Maker's Manual (Phoenix: Weber & Capps: 1990). back to main text
  8. Evelyn Rothwell, A Book of Scales for the Oboe (London: Oxford University Press, 1953). back to main text
  9. Clemente Salviani, Studi per Oboe, Vol 2 (Milano: G. Ricordi & C., 1953). back to main text
  10. Alamiro Giampieri, 16 Studi giornalieri di perfezionamento per oboe (Milano: G. Ricordi & C., 1936) p. 5: Study No. 3. back to main text
  11. Georges Gillet, Études pour L'Enseignement supérieur du Hautbois (Paris: Alphonse Leduc, 1909) pp. 26-27: Study No. 11. back to main text

Back to Table of Contents