Louis CORNET was an obscure 18th-century wind-instrument maker who worked in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey enclosure. And this is why his legacy is so important.
Louis Cornet’s oboe, acquired by the Museum of Wind Instruments at La Couture-Boussey, is interesting both for its rarity and for its specific characteristics. Fewer than 3% of the oboes made between 1660 (date of the invention of the modern oboe) and 1750 are known to us today; so this one is all the more precious as an exceptional example of modest - and therefore little-known - instrument making.
This oboe came down to us thanks to Auguste Tolbecque (1830-1919): it featured in the vast collection of instruments owned by this great collector from Niort, who was also a musician and instrument maker, and one of the first to promote ancient music in the 19th century.
The oboe, a companion piece to the ivory flageolet owned by the Cité de la Musique, confirms the remarkable skill as a turner of Louis Cornet, an expert in wood and ivory work.
The aesthetic of the instrument, the perfect harmony of its proportions and the delicacy of the viroles are a tribute to the instrument making tradition from which Louis Cornet sprang. He came from La Couture, where his father was a wood turner, but moved to Paris, as did his famous cousins from the Lot and Martin families. He married Claude Garnier (1703) before setting up business in the enclosure at Saint-Germain-des-Prés in 1710. Until his death in 1745, only one other instrument maker worked in the vicinity, but his business did not flourish (we know of only one apprenticeship contract) and his workshop died with him.
Louis Cornet is a characteristic example of Parisian instrument making originating in the La Couture area.
The greatest Parisian flute, oboe and musette makers of the 18th century were Hotteterre, Lot, Martin, and Chédeville, and they all came from La Couture and the surrounding area. They contributed to the distribution and evolution of easily identifiable instruments: others emulated "The Parisian School" (which Cornet also represented).
From an organological point of view, Cornet’s oboe has the characteristic features of the first modern oboes: it has a large bore and two keys (C and B flat). On the other hand, the very wide cups (inside the tone holes) suggests acoustic mediocrity.
In addition to these significant details, an exhaustive analysis of the instrument has provided more complete information: the first step was inspection of the bore, for details of all the oboe’s (internal and external) measurements.
Complementary research carried out at the Cité de la Musique laboratory furthered structural knowledge of the instrument. X-rays revealed the bore’s perfect regularity, which is remarkable since boxwood is subject to deformation, and the bores and tone holes of antique instruments are often deformed, becoming ovalised. The turner’s choice and skill in working the wood was a decisive factor in the life span of such an instrument. X-rays also revealed the presence of 2 cracks which are invisible to the naked eye; this confirms the risk involved in playing antique woodwind instruments, as any hygrothermic shock would cause these cracks to split further, damaging the instrument irreparably.
This oboe, intact but for the bell ring, is therefore a remarkable testimony to the technical progress of instrument making in the most humble early 18th century workshops.