Wednesday 15 July 2020

So, you want to try some Chamber Music?

Chamber Music is instrumental classical music for solo, duet or small ensembles. If you don't know any, this is probably a good place to start: Schubert's piano trios - that is, the combination of piano, violin and cello:

It is a good combination, because there is a high and a low instrument and the piano bridges between the soprano violin and the tenor of the cello; plus all instruments are good at playing melody (although the basic 'thing' is that the violin plays the tune, piano the chords, and cello the bass-line).

Consequently, the piano trio was a favourite ensemble for playing in small public venues; the first time I heard one live was at the Pump Room in Bath, playing a selection of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Judged by the strictest criteria, the piano trio is, however - as implied above - something like a 'cheap' or convenient substitute for a full orchestra; and maybe this criticism applies to most chamber music, except the highest flights of the string quartet (two violins, viola and cello). Because chamber music is essentially designed for home use by amateurs, rather than for public concert performance*.

Nonetheless, there is a great deal of top-notch chamber music (e.g. this was justly made famous by the play/ movie Amadeus); since it brought-out the best in some composers. So there is good reason to become familiar with it, to explore it - despite that it lacks the immediate surface appeal of orchestral music.

Certainly, I find a continuous place for chamber music in my own life; ever since I made a deliberate attempt to get the hang of it in the long summer vacation of 1977.

*One way of explaining this is to state that Chamber Music is (in origin) designed to be played, rather than listened-to; it is written primarily for the people who are actually playing it. And in this respect it differs from orchestral music. That is the origin - but of course CM has developed - nonetheless the distinction explains why Chamber Music has never had the mass appeal of orchestral.


Pangloss said...

Great clear brief article. Beethoven's string quartets 13 and 14 are wunderbar. Renditions by The Lindsays, VĂ©gh and Emerson Quartet.

mareno said...

Thank you for the recommendation! My default chamber music selection has always been Mozart's violin sonatas. One piano, one violin. As a pianist, I am especially drawn to the recordings of Henryk Szeryng and Ingrid Haebler.