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Article: Chamber Music - The spirit of collaboration

By Haresh Bakshi
  Chamber Music America defines chamber music as music for small ensembles, whose members generally perform one to a part without a conductor.

At the heart of chamber music lies the spirit of collaboration and the role of the individual performer. Chamber music places the highest order of responsibility upon the individual to engage in a close musical dialogue with the other performers in the ensemble without the aid of a conductor. As a collaborative expression, as in an ideal democracy, chamber music relies upon the collective musical instincts, experience, knowledge, and talents of its participants to guide the process of interpreting, rehearsing and performing.

Historically, chamber music has referred to western classical music written for small ensembles such as the string quartet. Today, however, many different kinds of musical styles and ensembles thrive in the diverse world that is chamber music.

It is serious music performed by a small group of musicians.

The phrase chamber music is now used to mean a piece of music written by a composer for a small musical ensemble in which no two instruments play the same music. It is opposed to orchestral music or opera, for example.

It is ensemble music for up to about ten players, with one player to a part.

It is music written to be performed by one player to a part - such as trios, quartets, and quintets. The string quartet is the principal form of chamber music.

chamber music is ensemble music for small groups of instruments, with only one player to each part. Its essence is individual treatment of parts and the exclusion of virtuosic elements. Originally played by amateurs in courts and aristocratic circles.

The string quartet remained the principal combination in chamber music. The string quartet, consisting of two violins, a viola and a cello, was written with four movements, closely resembling the structure of a symphony. Its defining characteristic was the balanced equality of each part. All parts were separate with no instrument doubling with another or adopting a subservient supportive role. Each delicately constructed part was crucial as an individual component within a precision machine. To write with such precision meant that only composers of true greatness were capable of mastering the complex technical requirements. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were the three greatest exponents of the string quartet.

The string quartet remained the principal combination in chamber music but other combinations also became available. Trios, quartets and quintets were assembled in various combinations:

  • String trio: violin, viola, and cello
  • Piano trio: piano, violin, and cello
  • Mixed quartet: piano (say) and three bowed instruments
  • String quintet: two violins, two violas and cello (sometimes two violins, viola and two cellos)
  • Mixed quintet: piano/clarinet/flute (say) and two violins, viola and cello.
  • It should be noted that while chamber music is frequently played in public concerts, it is usually heard in halls much smaller than those used for orchestral concerts. The more intimate acoustics of a smaller space, imitating the drawing rooms in which such music was originally played, are more suitable for a small group of instruments.




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