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Chamber Music

Chamber Music is music intended to be played in a room or small hall, rather than in a large hall or church or opera house, where large volumes of sound are needed.  It is played by a small group of performers, from two to rarely more than eight.  Chamber music is intimate and restrained in style, rather than dramatic or showy.  Whereas in symphonic music there may be numbers of players to a part, in chamber music there is a separate part for every player; all are of equal importance and the result is rather like a musical conversation between friends.

Formal Stucture

Most chamber music in the eighteenth and nineteenth century had four movements.  The following is a generalisation:

First movement: fast, but fairly serious; usually in sonata form

Second movement: slow and song-like; possible forms include modified sonata form, variations, ternary

Third movement: moderate and graceful (minuet and trio) or fast and lively (scherzo and trio)

Fourth movement: fast and light; usually rondo or sonata form


Chamber music for Strings

Probably the most intimate kind of chamber music is that played by stringed instruments, and the most satisfying and usual combination of strings is the string quartet: two violins, viola and cello.  Most of the great instrumental composers from Haydn's time onwards have written string quartets.  The words "string quartet" mean both the group of four players, and the work written for them to play.

If anyone can be said to have "established" the calssical string quartet as a genre it must be Haydn.  He wrote more than eighty, creating the style and form upon which other composers were to build.


Nineteenth Century Chamber music

Because chamber music is a particularly intimate and restrained form of musical expression, it did not figure as prominently in the output of romantic (nineteenth century) composers as it had for classical composers like Haydn and Mozart.  Nevertheless, some very fine examples of chamber music were written in the nineteenth century.

Chamber music in the nineteenth century tended to be longer and more dramatically and emotionally intense than those of the classical period.  With the rise in importance of the piano, many nineteenth century chamber works also included the piano.  The most common arrangements were the Piano Trio (violin, cello, and piano) and the piano Quintet (a regular string quartet and piano).  There are also some notable examples of works in which a woodwind instrument is included.