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Playing range
Range octobass 16Hz.png
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The octobass is an extremely large bowed string instrument that was first built around 1850 in Paris by the French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798–1875). It has three strings, and is essentially a larger version of the double bass (the specimen in the collection of the Musée de la Musique in Paris measures 3.48 meters in length, whereas a full size double bass is generally approximately 2 meters in length). Because of the extreme fingerboard length and string thickness, the musician plays it using a system of hand and foot-activated levers and pedals. The instrument is so large that, sometimes, two musicians work together to play it: one to bow and the other to control the levers and foot pedals. It has never been produced on a large scale or used much by composers (though Hector Berlioz wrote favorably about the instrument and proposed its widespread adoption). In addition to the Paris instrument, another octobass is in the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. In his edition of Berlioz's treatise (Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 318) Hugh Macdonald lists another in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. He also states that Adolphe Sax created an 'outsize double bass going down to C' with four strings tuned in fifths'.

Berlioz writes in his Orchestration Treatise that its lowest string is tuned to C1 (32.7 Hz), equal to the lowest C on a piano, one octave below the lowest C of the cello (C2, 64.14 Hz). This note is the same as the lowest note of a modern double bass with a low C extension. The middle string is tuned to G1, a fifth above the lowest string. The uppermost string is tuned to C2, an octave above the instrument's lowest string. Berlioz quotes G2, a fifth above the top string, as the highest note playable on the instrument, giving it a compass of an octave and a fifth. However, Berlioz may have been mistaken because modern and surviving instruments are tuned C, G, C, with the low C string being 16.25 Hz (C0, one octave below the lowest C on the piano and two octaves below the lowest C of the cello).[1] The modern technique of octobass playing includes the technique of fingering up to A, plus higher notes possible by extended technique.[citation needed]

A similar but more recent instrument, the triple contrabass viol, has appeared on a recording by the American composer Roscoe Mitchell.


  • Berlioz, Hector & Strauss, Richard. Treatise on Instrumentation New York: Dover, 1991: 405
  1. ^ Octobass. Vimeo. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 

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