What is Chamber Music?

Joseph Haydn playing quartets. Anonymous, before 1790. Painting from the StaatsMuseum, Vienna
Joseph Haydn playing quartets. Anonymous, before 1790. Painting from the StaatsMuseum, Vienna

Chamber music is a form of performing art where musicians play together in an ensemble generally consisting of two to nine players. There is one player per part and aside from the musical skills necessary to execute the part, a social aspect is more pronounced than that of performing solo or in a symphonic orchestra. In a letter from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Carl Friedrich Zelter (the teacher of Felix Mendelssohn), he wrote that string quartet music was like “four rational people conversing.” [1].

The “chamber” in chamber music is derived from the setting in which these works were performed, in a small chamber. For centuries, chamber music was played by amateur musicians in their homes. Even after chamber music has grown to be performed by professionals in concert halls, it is still widely enjoyed by amateur musicians today [2].

 

  1. Christina Bashford, “The string quartet and society” in Stowell (2003), p 4. The quote was from a letter to C.F. Zelter, November 9, 1829.
  2. Estelle Ruth Jorgensen, The Art of Teaching Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008): 153–54. ISBN 978-0-253-35078-7 (cloth); ISBN 978-0-253-21963-3 (pbk).