In music, a nonet is a composition which requires nine musicians for a performance, or a musical group that consists of nine people. The standard nonet scoring is for wind quintet, violin, viola, cello, and contrabass, though other combinations are also found. Composers of nonets often mix stringed instruments with winds, or woodwinds with brass, choosing the instruments so that each subgroup can form complete four-part harmony.
Although compositions had previously been composed for nine instruments (Joseph Haydn's four Divertimenti (or Cassations), for 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 violins, 2 violas, and contrabass, HII:9, 17 [2 clarinets instead of oboes], 20, and G1, Ignaz Pleyel's Nocturne of 1785, for 2 clarinets, 2 horns, 2 violas, contrabass, and 2 hurdy-gurdies, and Franz Schubert's Begräbnis-Feyer (Eine kleine Trauermusik) of 1813, for two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, and two trombones) the first work to actually bear the title was Louis Spohr's Grand Nonetto in F major, op. 31 (1813), for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Spohr's nonet was so successful that its instrumentation became the standard for subsequent emulation down to the present time. The many composers who wrote for this combination include Louise Farrenc (op. 38, 1849), Georges Onslow (op. 77, 1851), Franz Lachner (1875), Joseph Rheinberger (op. 139, 1884), and Tilo Medek (Nonet in Nine Movements, 1974), as well as other works not actually titled "nonet": René Leibowitz (Chamber Concerto, op. 10, 1944). In the 20th century this standard instrumentation was embodied especially by the Czech Nonet, for whom works were composed by Josef Bohuslav Foerster (op. 147, 1931) and Alois Hába, whose first two nonets are titled Fantazie, opp. 40 and 41 (1931 and 1932), followed by Nonet No. 3, op. 82, and Nonet No. 4, op. 97. Bohuslav Martinů dedicated his 1959 Nonet to the Czech Nonet on the occasion of its 35th anniversary (Kube 2001).
String-only nonets have also been composed, notably by Nicolai von Wilm (op. 150, 1911) and Aaron Copland (1960) (Kube 2001). Iannis Xenakis's Analogique A (1958) is also a string nonet, but must be performed with a companion tape work, Analogique B (Hoffmann 2001).
Many nine-instrument works for other combinations than the standard Spohr ensemble have been composed since 1900, but often depart from chamber-music textures and mostly are given titles suggesting small orchestral forces. Examples include Darius Milhaud's chamber symphony Le printemps, op. 43 (1917), Egon Kornauth's Kammermusik, op. 31 (1924), Ernst Krenek's Sinfonische Musik for nine solo instruments, op. 11 (1922), Bruno Stürmer's Suite, op. 9 (1923), and Anton Webern's Symphony, op. 21 (1928) and Concerto, op. 24 (1931–34). On the other hand, Heitor Villa-Lobos's Nonet, subtitled "Impressão rápida de todo o Brasil" (1923) exceeds the ensemble's nominal size by adding a mixed choir to the basic instrumentation of flute, oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, celesta, harp, piano, and percussion—the latter requiring more than one player (Kube 2001). Iannis Xenakis composed many chamber-music works for comparatively large numbers of instruments. Among them are the nonets Akanthos, for 9 instruments (1977), Kaï, for flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola, cello, and contrabass (1995), and Kuïlenn, for the classical 18th-century serenade scoring favoured by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, for whom it was written: flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, and 2 horns (1995) (Hoffmann 2001). Brian Ferneyhough's Terrain (1992), is scored for nine instruments, but id for solo violin accompanied by an octet consisting of flute (+ piccolo), oboe (+ cor anglais), clarinet (+ bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, and double bass.
Trumpeter Miles Davis formed a jazz group known as the "Miles Davis Nonet" in 1948. The group later recorded a number of tracks for Capitol Records that became the album Birth of the Cool. The lineup consisted of four brass instruments (trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba), two woodwinds (alto and baritone saxophone), and a rhythm section (piano, upright bass, and drums).
- Hoffmann, Peter. 2001. "Xenakis, Iannis". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillian Publishers.
- Kube, Michael. 2001. "Nonet". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillian Publishers.