"Chamber music" is a special category
in the broad spectrum of classical music. Simply put, it is
music designed to be performed in a chamber, such as a room
in a house, rather than in a large concert hall. Consequently,
there is a constraint on the number of instruments and performers
that can be accommodated in the relatively small space in which
the music is played. Usually this space limitation necessitates
a group of three to eight musicians, although sometimes as few
as two can be present.
Chamber music is usually applied to instrumental music, although
it can also apply to vocal. The mix of instruments can be almost
anything, up to and including a piano, but there is no conductor
to direct the proceedings.
The most common types of chamber groups are string quartets
(two violins, viola, and cello), piano trios (violin, cello,
and piano), and woodwind quintets (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn,
bassoon). Sonatas for two instruments are also a form of chamber
music, as in a violin and piano combination, or a piano with
clarinet or french horn.
In recent years, an increasing interest in "ancient music" and
in works composed prior to 1600 has broadened the spectrum of
chamber music. Additionally, the classical guitar also frequently
appears on the contemporary chamber music scene.
Originally "invented" by Franz Joseph Haydn--who composed over
100 such works--the string quartet has dominated chamber music
over the centuries, primarily because of the enormous body of
works by Haydn, Beethoven, Shostakovic, and Bartok. Nearly all
composers of significance have written works, and played them, in
the string quartet idiom, as well as in the second most popular
form, the piano trio.
Indeed, classical music lovers have long noted that many composers
reserved their finest creative efforts for the chamber music
format. Few would argue that among the greatest classical music
of all time are the string quartets of Beethoven, the piano
trios of Brams and Schubrt, and Mozart's glorious quintet for
piano and woodwinds.
Newcomers to chamber music may wonder how chamber musicians
manage to stay together without a conductor. While it is difficult,
the key to success in this endeavor is contained in the old
joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! Practice!
Practice!" Entrances are cued by one of the performers, commonly
the first violin (though not always). The players don't "follow"
someone; they play together, and each has to anticipate when
the next beat is coming and when his or her instrument is to join
the flow. This requires careful and constant listening to what
each of the others is doing.
It has been frequently remarked that chamber music audiences,
other than those attending music-school concerts, are generally
older than patrons at symphonies, band concerts, and other musical
events. This may result from the generally lower decibel level
of chamber music and the greater comfort such audiences have
with the often quieter and more contemplative nature of these
Age aside, it is safe to say that all who come to know chamber
music eventually grow to love it and long for more!
in Oklahoma requires a concert-quality piano for use by piano
trios and quartets that play for us each season. Christ the
King Catholic Church has graciously agreed to store such an
instrument and to bring it out for concerts. If you have a
concert-quality piano you would like to donate for tax purposes,
or if you would like to contribute to a tax-exempt fund we
have set up for this purpose, please write to us at email@example.com
or to Chamber Music in Oklahoma