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Famous Chamber Music Compositions
Famous Chamber Music
Note: you’ll find a ‘youtube’ link below every composition discussed. If not, it’s because I wasn’t able to find a ‘youtube’ performance of the piece...
Famous chamber music compositions - there are not as many famous chamber music compositions as there are orchestral or piano solo music compositions. Chamber music is much more personal and exclusive than orchestral or piano solo and requires much more patience, as well as a some degree of understanding from the listener...
What is chamber music? Chamber music originated in the 16th/17th centuries. Before the romantics showed up on the scene, most compositions could have been arguably dubbed 'chamber pieces', because, orchestras were quite small - 18 players was a good size orchestra before Beethoven and Weber came into the scene...so, before the beginning of the 19th century, small ensembles were the norm....
Here’s a list of some very famous chamber music pieces...
Mendelssohn - Octet for Strings
As the name of the piece implies, 8 performers are needed: 4 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos. Mendelssohn wrote this lovely work at the tender age of 16 - up until this day, no composer has surpassed him in writing a composition as innovative as this one is and at such a young age at that. Mozart didn’t write anything musically as structured as this piece is until he was 19 years old, which would have made him 3 years older than Mendelssohn was when he wrote the octet...
Cesar Franck - Sonata for Violin
This is one of the most harmonically innovative chamber music piece ever written. However, unlike Mendelssohn, Franck was in his twilight years when he wrote this piece. (60’s, although today they say 90 is the new 60, however, not when Franck was around 150 years ago...) One of the funniest stories (sarcastically speaking) told is Franck’s attitude when he finally got a hit for the first at the ripe old age of 68, proceeded by an even bigger hit - an omnibus ran him over and he eventually died from complications of the accident a few days later... Franck is one of music’s quintessential geniuses, however, his music was not recognize at all during his lifetime, and he had to support himself by teaching and playing the organ, which he was quite good at... This is one of the most beautiful sonatas ever written for the violin...
Schubert - Trout Quintet
Another top hit by the other wonder boy, Schubert. Schubert died 2 months before his 31st birthday, which makes him one of music’s greatest prodigies alongside Mozart and Mendelssohn... This piece is quite famous, and like 99% of Schubert’s music, entertaining to listen to as well... Schubert was 22 years old when he wrote this composition for piano and string quartet (Piano solo, 2 violins, 1 viola and 1 cello = 5).
Tchaikovsky - Waltz from Serenade for Strings
One of the most famous chamber pieces ever written. A must for any beginner to the world of classical music (late Romantic actually). Tchaikovsky wrote this piece at the same time he wrote the ‘1812 Overture’ and preferred it by saying that the overture was too loud and rambunctious, whereas the serenade was mellow and serene. (get it serenade)
Borodin - String Quartet No. 2 "Nocturne"
The problem I have with the music of Borodin is that you don’t know when he stops and Korsakov, and the other members of the Russian Five start?... Borodin was a scientist, and music came second to him, so he left many unfinished compositions which would be taken up and eventually finished by members of his group known as ‘The Russian Five’. All said, the slow movement of this work is very beautiful...
Smetana - String Quartet No. 1 “From My Life”
One of the most personal compositions ever written (as it’s typical of chamber music to oftentimes be more personal than other types of music). The beginning of the first movement has a viola solo which Smetana said was the melody he kept on hearing just before he went mad and was sent to an asylum to die there (syphilis)... Smetana wrote this sad and dramatic composition around the time he lost his daughter and wife...
Barber - Adagio for Strings
One of the saddest compositions ever written. A must for beginners to the world of classical music...
Dvorak - String Quartet No. 12 “American”
Dvorak was one of the most normal and down to earth individuals that has ever lived, so wonder that he was such a great genius?... Nevertheless, Dvorak was also one of the most successful composers that has ever lived - a composer that managed to get world wide respect, while at the same time making an exuberant amount of money...unheard of for his day...
There are many other wonderful chamber music compositions which I did not mentioned in this article. Myself, I’m not very familiar with chamber music; the symphony is my favorite musical genre of all, and, piano solo music, because, I play the piano myself. Nevertheless, these are some of the most famous chamber music pieces ever composed... (Barber's 'Adagio for Strings', lovely as it is, has virtually become a cliché of classical music)