Chamber music

From New World Encyclopedia

Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any "art music" that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part.

The word "chamber" signifies that the music can be performed in a small room, often with an intimate atmosphere. However, it usually does not include, by definition, solo instrument performances.

Classical chamber music

Classical chamber music, or music written during the period of 1750-1820, was very airy and light in sound as compared to orchestral music and it was performed in more intimate settings or chambers. The form of early chamber music appeared to have begun from the writings of Joseph Haydn and consisted of four movements: fast, slow, a scherzo or minuet, and fast. The types of ensembles for this music was the string quartet, consisting of two violins, a viola, and a cello; a string quintet, consisting of two violins, two violas, and a cello; a piano trio, consisting of a piano, violin and cello; and a sonata for violin and piano.

The chamber music of Joseph Haydn

It is reputed that Joseph Haydn invented the form of the string quartet with its four movements and scholars place the 68 string quartets of Haydn as among his best works. In the summer of 1757, before Haydn composed for a string quartet, there was a difficulty finding musicians to perform, yet there were two violinists, a violist and cellist, available to perform since many amateurs played these instruments. Haydn thus began to compose for the instruments he had on hand which started his great interest in the transparency of the chamber music sound.

Twentieth century chamber music

Contemporary chamber ensembles are sought after instrumental mediums for the transparency of twentieth century tones with their unique consonance and dissonance chords. With an emphasis on a non-blended sound, the twentieth century technique of using different timbres with different lines of melody is brought out very well within a chamber ensemble.


This is a partial list of the types of ensembles found in chamber music.

Number of Musicians Name Common Ensembles Instrumentation Comments
2 Duo Piano Duo 2 pno
Instrumental Duo any instrument and pno Found especially as instrumental sonatas; i.e., violin, cello, viola, horn, bassoon, clarinet, flute sonatas).
any instrument and basso continuo Common in baroque music predating the piano. The basso continuo part is always present to provide rhythm and accompaniment, and is often played by a harpsichord but other instruments can also be used.
Duet Piano Duet 1 pno, 4 hands Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms (original pieces and a lot of transcriptions of his own works); a favorite domestic musical form, with lots of transcriptions of other genders (operas, symphonies, concertos and so on).
Vocal Duet voice, pno Commonly used in the art song, or Lieder.
Instrumental Duet 2 of any instrument, either equal or not Mozart's Duets KV 423 and 424 for vn and va and Sonata KV 292 for bsn and vc; Beethoven's Duet for va and vc; Béla Bartók's Duets for 2 vn.
3 Trio String Trio vln, vla, vc Mozart's Divertimento KV 563 is an important example; Beethoven composed a series of 5 Trios at the beginning of his career.
Piano Trio vln, vc, pno Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and many others.
Voice, Viola and Piano sop, vla, pno William Bolcom's trio Let Evening Come for Soprano, Viola and Piano, and Johannes Brahms' Zwei Gesänge für eine Altstimme mit Bratsche und Pianoforte, Op. 91, for Alto, Viola and Piano
Clarinet, Viola and Piano cl, vla, pno Mozart's trio K498, other works by Robert Schumann and Max Bruch
Clarinet, Cello and Piano cl, vc, pno Beethoven's trio Op. 11, as well as his own transcription, Op. 38, of the Septet, Op. 20; Brahms's trio Op. 114, Alexander von Zemlinsky's Op.3.
Voice, Clarinet and Piano voice, cl, pno Franz Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D965, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Schon Lacht Der Holde Fruhling, KV 580; Spohr's Lieder
Flute, Viola and Harp fl, vla, hrp Famous works by Debussy and Arnold Bax
Clarinet, Violin, Piano cl, vln, pno Largely a 20th century invention, but growing in popularity; famous compositions by Béla Bartók, Milhaud, and Khachaturian
Horn Trio hrn, vl, pno Nineteenth century works; specifically the Trio in E♭ Op. 40 by Brahms
Soprano, Horn and Piano sop, hrn, pno Franz Schubert's Auf Dem Strom
Reed Trio ob, cl, bsn 20th century composers
4 Quartet String Quartet 2 vln, vla, vc Very popular form. Numerous major examples by Haydn (its creator), Mozart, Beethoven and many other leading composers (see article).
Piano Quartet vln, vla, vc, pno Mozart's KV 478 and 493; Beethoven youth compositions; Schumann, Brahms
Violin, Clarinet, Cello and Piano vln, cl, vc, pno Rare; famous example: Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps; less famous: Hindemith (1938), Walter Rabl (Op. 1; 1896).
Saxophone Quartet s. sax, a. sax, t. sax, b. sax Twentieth century composers
Flute quartet 4 fls Examples include those by Friedrich Kuhlau, Anton Reicha, Eugène Bozza, Florent Schmitt, and Joseph Jongen
Wind Instrument and String Trio vn, va, vc and fl, ob, cl, bsn By Mozart you can find four Flute Quartets and one Oboe Quartet; Krommer wrote Flute Quartets (eg opus 75) Clarinet Quartets and Bassoon Quartets (such as his opus 46 set); Devienne wrote a Bassoon Quartet
Piano and Wind Trio pno, cl, hrn, bsn Franz Berwald's opus 1 (1819)
Voice and Piano Trio voice, pno, vn, vc By Beethoven you can find lots of Lieder on several folk roots for such a setting.
5 Quintet Piano Quintet 2 vln, vla, vc, pno Schumann, Brahms, Béla Bartók, Shostakovich, and others
vln, vla, vc, cb, pno An uncommon instrumentation used by Franz Schubert in his Trout Quintet as well as by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Louise Farrenc.
Woodwind Quintet fl, cl, ob, bsn, hrn 19th century (Reicha, Danzi and others) and 20th century composers
String Quintet 2 vln, vla, vc with additional vla or vc with 2nd va: Michael Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner; with 2nd vc: Boccherini, Schubert. Sometimes with additional db (Vagn Holmboe) instead.
Brass Quintet 2 tr, 1 hrn, 1 trm, 1 tuba Mostly after 1950.
Clarinet Quintet cl, 2 vn, 1 va, 1 vc Mozart's KV 581, Brahms's Op. 115, Weber's Op. 34, Hindemith's (in which the clarinet player must alternate between a B♭ and a E♭ instrument) and many others.
cl, pno left hand, vn, va, vc Schmidt's chamber pieces dedicated to the pianist Paul Wittgenstein (who played with left hand only), although they are almost always performed nowadays in a two hands version arranged by Friedrich Wührer.
Piano and Wind Quartet pno, ob, cl, bsn, hrn Mozart's KV 452, Beethoven's Op. 16, and many others, including two by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Anton Rubinstein. (The four wind instruments may vary.)
6 Sextet String Sextet 2 vln, 2 vla, 2 vc Important among these are Brahms' Op. 18 and Op. 36 Sextets, and Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 (original version).
Wind Sextet 2 ob, 2 bsn, 2 hrn or 2 cl, 2 hrn, 2 bsn By Mozart there are the two types; Beethoven used the one with cl
Piano and Wind Quintet fl, ob, cl, bsn, hrn, pno Such as the Poulenc Sextet, and another by Ludwig Thuille.
Piano Sextet 2 vln, vla, vc, cb, pno e.g. Mendelssohn's Op. 110, also one by Leslie Bassett.
cl, 2 vln, vla, vc, pno An example is Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes Op. 34.
7 Septet Wind and String Septet cl, hrn, bsn, vln, vla, vc, cb Popularized by Beethoven's Septet Op. 20, Berwald's, and many others.
8 Octet Wind and String Octet cl, hrn, bsn, 2 vln, vla, vc, cb Popularized by Schubert's Octet D. 803, inspired by Beethoven's Septet.
String Octet 4 vln, 2 vla, 2 vc Popularized by Mendelssohn's String Octet Op. 20. Others (among them works by Woldemar Bargiel, George Enescu, and a pair of pieces by Dmitri Shostakovich) have followed.
Double Quartet 4 vln, 2 vla, 2 vc Two string quartets arranged antiphonically. A genre preferred by Louis Spohr. Darius Milhaud's Op. 291 Octet is, rather, a couple of String Quartets (his 14th and 15th) performed simultaneously
Wind Octet 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 hrn, 2 bsn Mozart's KV 375 and 388, Beethoven's Op. 108, many written by Franz Krommer.
9 Nonet Wind and String Nonet fl, ob, cl, hrn, bsn, vn, va, vc, db Including one written by Spohr, and two by Bohuslav Martinů.
10 Decet Double Wind Quintet 2 ob, 2 English hrn, 2 cl, 2 hrn, 2 bsn (Mozart's set) or 2 fl, ob, Eng hrn, 2 cl, 2 hrn and 2 bsn (Enescu's set) After Mozart's Divertimenti KV 166 and 186 it's hard to find another example of 10 instruments. By convention, after nine players works cease to be considered chamber works, generally speaking, but the decet/dixtuor in D, opus 14 by George Enescu for 2 flutes, oboe, English horn, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons, written in 1906, will be included here.
Key: vln—violin; vla—viola; vc—cello; cb—double bass; pno—piano; fl—flute; ob—oboe; Eng hrn—English horn; cl—clarinet; s. sax—soprano saxophone; a. sax—alto saxophone; t. sax—tenor saxophone; b. sax—baritone saxophone; bsn—bassoon; hrn—horn; tr—trumpet; trm—trombone

The standard repertoire for chamber ensembles is rich, and the totality of chamber music in print in sheet music form is nearly boundless. See the articles on each instrument combination for examples of repertoire.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Beethven, Ludwig van and Albert E. Wier. The Chamber Music of Beethoven. New York: Longmans, Green, 1940.
  • Hefling, Stephen E. Nineteenth Century Chamber Music. New York: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-203-49308-7
  • Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan Publisher Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-561-59174-2
  • Ulrich, Homerm Chamber Music. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

External links

All links retrieved December 3, 2023.


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