Introduction to the New Garnier Oboe Method

by Charles-David Lehrer

© International Double Reed Society: Boulder, Colorado, USA - 2000

Sometime between between 1798 and 1800, the firm founded in Paris by the composer Ignaz Joseph Pleyel, published François Joseph Garnier's Méthode raisonnée pour le hautbois, numbering it 461. Due to its seeming popularity, it was later reprinted by the houses of Offenbach and André.

One wonders if this was the very volume utilized by Gustave Vogt at the Paris Conservatoire when he taught Henri Brod and Apollon Barret, the two men who were to produce the most influential oboe methods of the 19th century. Both Vogt and Garnier are known to have been pupils of Antoine Sallantin at the Paris Conservatoire, and Garnier's Méthode is contained in the Conservatoire's outstanding music collection, housed nowadays in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. A look at the contents of Garnier's masterpiece reveals a structure quite similar to that followed by Brod and Barret in their respective methods for the oboe.

Perhaps the most important aspects of the introductory discourse found in each of these methods are the essays on reed-making, the information regarding the choice of instrument, and the fingering charts: each method carries excellent plates. It should be noted that Garnier's volume is among the earliest sources to describe reed making for the oboe, showing the actual tools in use. In addition, the master presents graphic measurements of his own Christophe Delusse oboe. In 1987, Peter Hedrick edited a facsimile edition of Garnier's Méthode for Early Music Facsimiles of Columbus, OH. It is here that one finds an English translation of Garnier's introductory discourse, which is of particular importance today's players of the Classical 2-keyed oboe.

Following Garnier's introductory essay there follow 55 Leçons or progressive melodies. Both Brod and Barret followed suit, but those two men composed only 40 melodies. Brod's are somewhat easier than Barret's but, overall, the progressive melodies of these two composers are far more difficult than those of Garnier. An unusual aspect of Garnier's progressive medodies is that they are set for two oboes rather than for oboe and unfigured bass as in the later composers' sets. Also, Garnier's usage of dynamics and stenographic ornamentation is sparce.

The remainder of Garnier's  Méthode includes the following:

(1) 6 Duo sonatas containing  two movements each for two unaccompanied oboes [Plates 461 A]

(2) 6 Sonatas containing  two movements each for oboe and unfigured bass  [Plates 461 B]

(3) 6 Airs with variations for two unaccompanied oboes [Plates 461 D]

(4) 18 Etudes for two unaccompanied oboes (the first three are for oboe and unfigured bass) [Plates 461 D]

(5) 3 Caprices and a Prélude for solo oboe [Plates 461 E]

(6) 12 Cadenzas for solo oboe [Plates 461 F]

The 12 sonatas are echoed in Brod's two sets of 6 each (as opposed to Barret's total of 4 sonatas), while the 6 sets of variations might have inspired Barret's inclusion of two sets in his method.

Garnier's 18 Etudes are difficult, but only a few strike the same terror in the oboist as the 20 by Brod or 16 of Barret.

The 3 Caprices and the single Prélude are similar to, but longer than the 12 mixed articulation studies composed by Barret. On the other hand, the 12 Cadenzas find no counterpart in either Brod or Barret. In fact, these are most curious: perhaps they make up for the lack of stenographic ornamentation in the greater part of Garnier's Méthode.

It must be said that Garnier's disposition of Oboes I & II in his Méthode reflects contemporary usage in the orchestra of the Classic Era. The title page of the Méthode indicates that Garnier, himself, was principal oboist at the Paris Opéra. The master was not known to be a major soloist, so one can easily understand his preference for an orchestral approach. Generally speaking, each oboe part maintains its orchestral tessitura and demeanor. Brod too, as principal oboist at the Opéra and the most important oboe soloist of the 19th century, was thinking of the orchestral usage of the oboe when he assembled part of his own Méthode, as he included 24 'orchestral' excerpts within its pages. It is most unusual not to find an orchestral orientation in Barret's famous method, particularly since he held the principal position in the opera orchestra at Covent Garden for so many years.

Considering the measured steps that Garnier takes in his progressive melodies, it seems a pity that these are not utilized by oboe teachers today who are engaged in starting students from scratch. The only volume that comes close to Garnier's systematic approach is the oboe method produced by Florian Mueller at the University of Michigan in the late 20th century. To be sure, Mueller's book is most appropriate for the modern mechanized instrument, and is wonderful preparation for starting work in the Brod and Barret methods. But, in the present author's experience, most beginning students need to practice additional easy etudes before approaching the difficulties of the Brod and Barret progressive melodies. The Garnier Méthode is one solution to the problem. In addition, players of the Baroque and Classic oboe finally have a method of their own, since Garnier designed his etudes for the two-keyed Christophe Delusse instrument.

Furthermore, the etudes contained within the Garnier Méthode are well-wrought compositions from the Age of Napoleon, and are, therefore, very useful for juries and recitals. For that purpose, the present editor has harmonized all of the unfigured basses for keyboard and, in addition, supplied keyboard accompaniments to all of the remaining material for solo oboe or for two oboes.

If François Joseph Garnier represents the Age of Reason, then the International Double Reed Society through its publications and website is a pure representative of the Information Age. Hopefully our members will take full advantage of the plethora of information now becoming available. The idea is to produce an educated group of oboists and bassoonists who are well aware of the ideas, not only of the present, but also from the past. It is important for oboists to consider that without Garnier, Brod, and Barret, there would have been no Georges Gillet and the fabulous school of oboe playing that ensued, from which, in one way or another, we are all descended.

Charles-David Lehrer
Thousand Oaks, California
September 2000

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