The A B C’s of Chamber Music

Originally, chamber music referred to a type of classical music that was performed in a small space such as a house or a palace room. There were far fewer instruments then found in an orchestra and no conductor to guide the musicians.

Today, the tradition of chamber music remains very similar to its origins in terms of the size of the venue and the number of instruments used. Typically, a chamber orchestra is composed of 40 or fewer musicians. Because of the limited number of instruments, each instrument plays an equally important role.

The term “chamber music” evolved from the French chanson, a vocal music comprising of four voices accompanied by a lute. In Italy, the chanson became known as canzona and evolved from its original form of vocal music into instrumental music often adapted for the organ.

During the 17th century, the canzona evolved into the chamber sonata performed on two violins plus a melody instrument like a cello  and harmony instrument like a harpsichord.

From the sonatas, specifically the trio sonatas, evolved the string quartet which uses two violins, a cello and viola. Examples of string quartets are works by Franz Joesph Haydn.

In 1770, the harpsichord was replaced by the piano and the latter became a chamber music instrument. The piano trio (piano, cello and violin) then emerged evident in the works of Mozart,Beethoven and Schubert.
In the late 19th century, the piano quartet (piano cello, violin and viola) emerged with the works of such composers as Dvorák and Johannes Brahms.

During the 20th century, chamber music took on new forms combining different instruments including the voice. Composers such as Béla Bartók (string quartet) contributed to this genre.

By Espie Estrella