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Octet (music)

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Octet (music)

Autograph manuscript score of Schubert’s Octet

In music, an octet is a musical ensemble consisting of eight instruments or voices, or a musical composition written for such an ensemble.

Octets in classical music

Octets in classical music are one of the largest groupings of chamber music. Although eight-part scoring was fairly common for serenades and divertimenti in the 18th century, the word "octet" only first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century, as the title of a composition by Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, whose Octet op. 12 (published posthumously in 1808) features the piano, together with clarinet, 2 horns, 2 violins, and 2 cellos. Later octets with piano were written by Ferdinand Ries (op. 128, 1818, with clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass), Anton Rubinstein (op. 9, 1856, with flute, clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass), and Paul Juon (Chamber Symphony, op. 27, 1907) (Kube 2001).

Octets tend to be scored in one of the following arrangements:

  • String octet – This arrangement is made up entirely of strings. Dmitri Shostakovich.
  • Wind octet – Usually scored for 2 Franz Schubert (whose Octet is for clarinet, bassoon, horn, 2 violins, viola, cello, and double bass). A number of ensembles have been formed with this instrumentation, including the Octuor de Paris, for whom Iannis Xenakis composed Anaktoria (1969). By contrast, the Octet by Louis Spohr is scored for clarinet, 2 horns, violin, 2 violas, cello, and double bass. Paul Hindemith wrote a less well-known piece for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, two violas, cello and double bass. Another important 20th-century octet for winds and strings is Octandre by Edgard Varèse (1923), for flute (doubling piccolo), oboe, clarinet (doubling E clarinet), bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, and double bass (Griffiths 2001). Alec Wilder composed a series of crossover octets between 1938 and 1940 which are scored for a quintet of woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon) backed by a rhythm section of harpsichord, double bass and drums.

Octets in jazz

The Aman jazz octet

Jazz ensembles of eight players will frequently be termed an octet. These ensembles may be for any combination of instruments, but the most common line-up is trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone, guitar, piano, bass and drums, with guitar occasionally making way for another horn, for example baritone sax. The Jamil Sheriff Octet [1] is an example of a classic octet. Ornette Coleman's ensemble for the Free Jazz album (referred to as a double quartet) is an example of two quartets playing together at the same time.

Saxophonist David Murray leads a famous experimental jazz octet, the David Murray Octet.

The collaborations of trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding occasionally featured a trombone octet, most notably on their 1956 record Jay and Kai + 6.

Octets in popular music

  • British pop group the Dooleys were an eight-member group popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • British rock group Yes were an eight-member group during their Union tour in 1991.

Vocal octet

A vocal octet is a choir, or performance by a choir, of eight separate parts, for example, an SSAATTBB (1st & 2nd soprano, 1st & 2nd alto, 1st & 2nd tenor, baritone and bass) choir.

See also


  • Griffiths, Paul. 2001. "Varèse, Edgard [Edgar] (Victor Achille Charles)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Kube, Michael. 2001. "Octet". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Montagu, Jeremy. 2002. "Octet". In The Oxford Companion to Music, edited by Alison Latham. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Further reading

  • Antonov, Ivan Milkov. 2005. "A Catalogue of Twentieth-Century Cello Ensemble Music". DMA monograph. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College.

External links

  • Paris String and Wind octet 1973 visits South Africa
  • Muenchener Blaseroktet 1974 visits South Africa
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