A duet is a musical composition for two performers in which the performers have equal importance to the piece, often a composition involving two singers or two pianists. It differs from a harmony, as the performers take turns performing a solo section rather than performing simultaneously. A piece performed by two pianists performing together on the same piano is a "piano duet" or "piano four hands". A piece for two pianists performing together on separate pianos is a "piano duo".
"Duet" is also used as a verb for the act of performing a musical duet, or colloquially as a noun to refer to the performers of a duet.
A musical ensemble with more than two solo instruments or voices is called trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, octet, etc.
When Mozart was young, he and his sister Marianne played a duet of his composition at a London concert in 1765. The four-hand, described as a duet, was in many of his compositions which included five sonatas; a set of variations, two performers and one instrument, and a sonata for two pianos. The first published sonata or duet was in 1777.
In Renaissance music, a duet specifically intended as a teaching tool, to be performed by teacher and student, was called a bicinium (see Étude).
Duets have always been a part of the structure of operas. Early 16th-century operas such as L'Orfeo and L'incoronazione di Poppea involve duets throughout the performance. In 17th-century Italy duets were often used in comic scenes within serious operas. In Baroque France the duet was popular in tragedies, such as songs of vengeance and confrontation. The love duet was characterized by singing in close harmonies of 3rds and 6ths, symbolizing unity after conflict.
Famous operatic duets
In pop music
Throughout the 20th century duets have been common in the popular music of the era. Some songs were written to be heard as conversations, such as "Baby, It's Cold Outside". Others were performed around a theme, for example New York in "Empire State of Mind". Occasionally duets are an improvisation between artists, such as "Under Pressure". David Bowie and Freddie Mercury reportedly composed the lyrics in a day by improvising together.
Famous pop duets
- "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams, and with roles reversed, Red Skelton and Betty Garrett, 1948
- "Dream a Little Dream of Me" - Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, 1950
- "I Got You Babe" - Sonny & Cher, 1965
- "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967
- "Jackson" - Johnny Cash and June Carter, 1967
- "Somethin' Stupid" - Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra, 1967
- "Waters of March" - Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim, 1972
- "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" - Elton John and Kiki Dee, 1976
- "You're The One That I Want" - John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, 1978
- "Endless Love" - Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, 1981
- "Under Pressure" - Queen and David Bowie, 1981
- "Up Where We Belong" - Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, 1982
- "Ebony and Ivory" - Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, 1982
- "Islands in the Stream" - Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, 1983
- "Don't Give Up" - Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, 1985
- "Always" - Atlantic Starr, 1987
- "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" - Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, 1987
- "One Sweet Day" - Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, 1995
- "Scream" - Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, 1995
- "It's Your Love" - Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, 1997
- "Tell Him" - Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, 1997
- "I'm Your Angel" - R. Kelly and Celine Dion, 1998
- "When You Believe" - Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, 1998
- "Where You Are" - Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, 2000
- "I Belong to You (Il ritmo della passione)" - Eros Ramazzotti and Anastacia, 2006
- "Beautiful Liar" - Beyoncé and Shakira, 2007
- "No Estamos Solos" - Eros Ramazzotti and Ricky Martin, 2007
- "Ta Voix (The Calling)" - Jennifer Paige and Lââm, 2008
- "Limpido" - Laura Pausini and Kylie Minogue, 2013
- "Hurt You" - Toni Braxton and Babyface, 2014
- "Bad Things" - Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello, 2016
- The dictionary definition of duet at Wiktionary