Classical Era Chamber Music And The Romantic Composers

Classical era chamber music and the composers; Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. Masters of the musical style.

Chamber music by definition is music for small ensembles, two to ten players usually, with one instrument per part. It was named thusly during the 18th century due to the performance restraints placed upon the players, i.e. that of a small chamber. Chamber music was particularly popular among the rich aristocrats who hired musicians for private home engagements.

Because chamber music emphasized a group expression rather than virtuoso soloists, its proponents were generally those composers who still aligned themselves with the more traditional style of the Classical period. Romantics like Liszt and Wagner were uninterested in chamber music, opting for more powerful orchestral presentations. Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, however, were masters of the quieter tones that were the essence of chamber music during the Romantic Period.

The string quartet was a principle element of the chamber music style. It consisted of a viola, cello, first violin, and second violin. Some chamber music was written just for strings, with no woodwinds or brass to add color or texture. In other instances, piano and wind instruments were a part of the small ensemble.

Schubert modeled his quartets after the Classical Period chamber music of Mozart and Haydn. His pieces were written in subtle tones for the pleasure of a small circle of friends. Some of his more well-known chamber music includes "Quartet in E-flat," "E major Quartet," and "Allegro in C minor." Schubert's quartets "A minor," "D minor," and "G major" are melodious and full of modulations from key to key. The quartets are serious in tone, but offer skillful movement and harmonies. Schubert's music was often characterized by somber first, second, and third movements followed by a cheerful allegro finale.

Brahms' music was fluid and emotional in all genres, so it is certainly no surprise that his chamber music is remembered as some of the best examples of the time. He composed twenty-four works, with a half-dozen considered masterpieces. Brahms' work often contrasted slow movements against moderate and even vivacious finales. His most popular chamber pieces include "Piano Trio in B," "Piano Quintet in F minor," and "The Trio Op.40" for piano, violin, and waldhorn.

Mendelssohn and Schumann were among the contributors to chamber music but to a lesser degree than Schubert and Brahms. Mendelssohn leaned toward the descriptive tones that the Romantic Period ushered in, yet he wrote fluidly and smoothly in the more Classical forms and techniques as well. His published chamber music primarily includes pieces for string ensembles: six string quartets, two quintets, an octet, and a sextet for piano and strings. He also wrote three sonatas, one for piano and violin, and two for piano and violoncello. Mendelssohn's forte in chamber music was the scherzo, a lighter, faster, movement that was reminiscent of the Italian balletto dance. Scherzos of note in Mendelssohn's chamber music contributions can be found in "Piano Trio in C minor" and the "String Quartet in A major."

Schumann's marriage to Clara Wieck seemed to bring about his most productive years as well as his most varied contributions in style. From the years of 1840 to 1843, Schumann dabbled in several areas that were clear departures from his usual piano compositions. A divergence of six months devoted to chamber music sum up Schumann's entire chamber music offerings; however, the outcome was prolific. Of note are Schumann's three string quartets, a piano quartet, and a piano quintet. His movements are particularly slow and beautiful, influenced by the Romantic style of the period. Others of Schumann's chamber music include "Op. 127," the "Piano Quartet, Op. 47," and "Piano Quintet, Op. 44."

As the Romantic Era developed and evolved, music turned to imagination and fantasy. The inclination was that balance and restraint be replaced with unusual sensual experience. Chamber music, by its very essence, was the epitome of hushed balance and therefore became a musical setting of the past.

© High Speed Ventures 2010