Octet (music)

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:

Octets in jazz

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 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 an 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.

  • 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.
  • Wackerbauer, Michael. 2008. Sextett, Doppelquartett und Oktett. Studien zur groß besetzten Kammermusik für Streicher im 19. Jahrhundert. Regensburger Studien zur Musikgeschichte 6). Tutzing: Hans Schneider. ISBN 978-3-7952-1121-9.
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