As a follow up to the question why does the orchestra tune to the oboe, I'm asking since when this became standard practice? For example, was it since the Modern oboe, or already since the Classical oboe used in Mozart time? Did Bach use the Baroque oboe to tune his orchestra?

If not (any kind of) the oboe, which instruments have been used to fulfill this function? Comments have identified: cello (which in turn is tuned by a chamber/continuo organ), clarinet, etc.

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    Part of the problem is, throughout the baroque period and into the classical, there usually was a keyboard instrument present in pretty much any setting that would also have an oboe. Jan 16 at 14:36
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    I don't know that it's historical, but I can speak to common practice in early-music ensembles today. That keyboard "continuo" instrument, be it portative organ or harpsichord, is joined in its role by low strings, esp. the cello. So, since the organ/harpsichord is too quiet for the whole ensemble to hear well, the cello first takes the pitches C, G, D, and A from the keyboard (one at a time, because temperament). It then plays them for the other low strings, then G, D, A for violins (and then the violone and violins take an E directly from the keyboard, or tune it by ear to neighboring Jan 16 at 14:37
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    strings), and then the cello gives a pitch to whatever winds might be present (typically an A, or maybe a D depending on key). Jan 16 at 14:38
  • @AndyBonner Who knows this style of portative organ was the one commonly used to tune the cello? It looks portable enough and dated back to the medieval period. Another demo with 21st century composition. Jan 16 at 15:03
  • I was speaking of the baroque period; that's a medieval hand-organ. Here's a video of what I had in mind, with our tuning procedure as well (though you can't see or hear much). You get some better shots of the organ once we start playing. So "portative" in the sense that it's not built into a building, but still something that takes two people to lift. youtube.com/live/sZb8f8mbwzA?si=i8x6Z0s2y91DAXk4&t=1854 Jan 16 at 16:24

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For baroque music you tend to have a preference for smaller ensembles (which is not to say that no large scale works exist), and you often to have a keyboard instrument (harpsichord or organ). It takes significant time to tune a harpsichord, and a lot more time to tune an organ. This means that usually you’d tune after the keyboard instruments, and with ensembles my experience is that people would tune after the cello (which tunes after the harpsichord). With larger ensembles you naturally get the problem that you need a lot of space, and this naturally means it is hard to hear a single instrument. The oboe naturally offers itself for this, as its high harmonic content makes the sound carry well, and due to coupling at the reed the overtones are harmonic.

So I suppose that with larger ensembles this would have been established quite quickly (though I do not know the exact history of this).


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