Octobass

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The octobass is a very large and exceedingly rare bowed string instrument. It resembles the wooden structure of a double bass but it has just three strings instead of four and the player must use a system of pedals and levers to play. It stands approximately 3.48 metres in length and modern tunings allow the octobass to reach two octaves below a cello.
History of the Octobass
The history of the octobass begins in 1850 when reputable French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume set out to design an instrument capable of producing a low rumble sound for the orchestra. The octobass was reportedly designed for French composer Hector Berlioz who used it as an extension of the standard double bass tuning since, in the mid 19th century, a double bass did not reach these very low notes. Berlioz was a well-known supporter of the octobass and encouraged its adoption worldwide but it was never commercially produced. There are very few compositions that call for an octobass and just one from this era exists in Charles Goudnod’s St. Cecilia Mass (1855) Modern tunings with metal strings have allowed the octobass to reach two octaves below standard cello tuning and to reach notes that are impossible for a human ear to hear. While it is not in widespread use, the octobass remains an instrument of fascination for music lovers. Several musical instrument museums and orchestras still boast of owning an octobass including the Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix, Arizona, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and of course the Musée de la Musique in Paris.
Inventor: Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume

Where to Buy

$50,000 - $200,000

Hear the Octobass

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How to Play

A massive bowed string instrument, pitched two octaves below a c

In Popular Music

The octobass is one of the rarest classical music instruments in history and therefore has almost never been featured in popular music. Despite that it has appeared live in some orchestral performances such as Canada’s Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal performance of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. There are no records to suggest it has ever been featured on popular music recording.

Famous Players

François Rabbath, Joel Quarrington

Close Relations

Violone
Video Credit: Anais Drago
Understanding the Octobass
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