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Why you should like chamber music

Why you should like chamber music

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Published by hopeyj
Comic essay on chamber music.
Comic essay on chamber music.

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Published by: hopeyj on Mar 29, 2007
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01/01/2013

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Proceeding in our quest to become wealthy and having determined that wealthy peopletend to patronize the arts and that if one wants to become wealthy it is probably smart tohang about in venues in which wealthy people might be found, we have beeninvestigating various artistic genres in which the affluent take an interest. Foremostamong these genres is chamber music. And that’s what we will explore today.Chamber music, apparently, almost always involves a violin. Sometimes it doesn’t, like if you are attending a concert by a brass ensemble. But it is usually the case that when youthink chamber music, think violins. And other strings. Like violas and cellos andsometimes a double bass. Schubert uses a double bass in his famous piano, violin, viola,cello and double bass Trout Quintet, which is supposed to conjure up images of that fish.Fish don’t play a major part in chamber music except for Schubert and only in thatquintet, I believe, and only that fish, as far as I know. He wrote many, many songs manyof which are very beautiful and it could very well be that other kinds of fish appear inthose songs. But I can’t say as they are in German, Schubert being Austrian.Which brings up the question of nationality in chamber music. What nations. Oop.Actually, empires during the great blooming of the chamber music genre, produced thegreatest chamber music composers? And actually some of them didn’t come fromempires as Schubert did. In his day (1797-1828), the multinational Habsburg Empireruled so yes, he did live in an empire although he probably would have identified himself as Austrian. So, one can say that some of the greatest composers of chamber music wereAustrians, like Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) who is credited with fathering the modernform of chamber music or chamber music period. Haydn spent part of his life under theHoly Roman Empire, but was basically an Austrian. So what with Haydn and Schubert,the Austrians make a pretty good showing in the chamber music race for the gold.There are also pretty good composers of chamber music who were born in what becameAustria-Hungary or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both, really. That was in 1867,Schubert and Haydn long since dead. In 1867 and even now. But it lasted until around1918, which covers the lifespan of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) who lived in it and wasactually Czech as was Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) who wrote what is consideredtopnotch second rank chamber music which is not so great as the definitely not secondrank chamber music of Beethoven and Schumann, who were Germans except for the factthat Germany wasn’t a nation state until 1871, before that being a hodgepodge of kingdoms and principalities. But culturally Schumann and Beethoven were Germans. Sothe Germans give the Austrians a run for their money in the chamber music department inthat Beethoven is considered the real genius of chamber music, which is so like him inthat he is considered a genius in so many other genres (e.g. symphonies and piano music).Bur Mozart was basically an Austrian and he wrote great chamber music but wasn’t asinnovative in that genre as Haydn and, being dead much of the time, Mozart couldn’t build on the foundation that Haydn laid although they knew each other before Mozartdied. Bach couldn’t either. Not die but build, having lived well before the great floweringof chamber music in the 19
th
century. But he did pretty well in other genres and Mozartthought a lot of him.
 
Another German who did really well chamber music-wise was Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) with string quartets, the Octet and some of his piano trios. We’ll get to quartets andall that in a minute. Right now we are sticking to the matter of what nationalities reallyaced the chamber music test-a-roo.The Italians don’t seem to have been much interested in composing chamber music, probably figuring that the Germans and the Austrians owned it. Verdi wrote a stringquartet, which is said to be really good, but he and Wagner didn’t write much chamber music even though Wagner was a German and Germans seem to be really good at writingchamber music. Wagner was busy with other stuff, though.The French do okay with Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), Ravel and Debussy, but they seemto have had major productivity problems and so aren’t really factors except toconnoisseurs and their countrymen.The Russians make a good showing what with Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Prokofievwhich goes to show you that chamber music can be written in creaking empires and inStalinist states and in temporary exile in Prokofiev’s case.Americans don't really excel at chamber music. Indeed, we seem to really stink at itexcept as performers of it especially foreign-born ones.One of the major challenges in getting the hang of chamber music is remembering thevarious combos. For example, a piano trio isn’t three pianos. Noooo. It is a piano, a violinand a cello. See, what did I tell you about violins. The standard grouping, though, is thestring quartet and a string quartet means the piece and the group playing it. You wouldn't,for instance, have a string quartet playing a trio unless someone is out sick. Stringquartets have four players with two violins, one viola and one cello. I mean two violinistswith one violin each and a viola and a cello. I mean two violinists and a violist and acellist. You have to have a good grasp of numbers to understand chamber music.There is also the piano quartet, which consists of a piano and a string trio. And what is astring trio? A string trio is violin, viola, and cello so what you have is a quartet whichmeans four made of up of three plus a piano although if you have a quartet and a triothat'd make seven but not in chamber music.There are also string quintets, which are the same as string quartets except that they havetwo violins and play music written for quintets, usually string quintets.If you aren’t into violins you might like wind quintets which consist of a bassoon,clarinet, flute, French horn and an oboe or, if you don’t like oboes you might like brassquintets, which consist of two trumpets, French horn, trombone, and tuba and whichmake for a nice change but which are not part of the standard chamber music repertoire,which is violin-heavy as noted elsewhere in this essay and in essays by people other thanmyself.

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