Chamber music unduly almost forgotten


Whoever listened to this piece at a live event? Congratulations if you’ve ever heard the piece, or even if you’ve listened to chamber music more often than by sheer coincidence.

As the name suggests, this type of music has never been intended for a very wide public. A violin sonata, or a string quartet is difficult to enjoy in a stadium, an amphitheater, or in the open air in general, where huge masses can enjoy Strauss polkas with Sir Simon Rattle at the head of the full Berlin Philharmonic though. This is reflected on concert programmes around the world as well, where chamber music is rarely played.

It is, however, highly suitable for smaller concert chambers, like those in former or present palaces in rural areas almost anywhere in Europe or elsewhere. But musical life is also driven by money, so chamber music is still a rarity. Besides, it hasn’t got such a wide repertoire as the piano or the orchestra, and as a result, audiences that do frequent chamber events are served a limited palette of pieces for, for example, piano trios, quartets and quintets, which I’d like to deal with in this post.

This limitation in scope is probably a result of the little chance for the musicians to be heard. If a trio or quartet can only get 2 concert opportunities per year, they can’t afford to time to learn a new, however wonderful, piece for every concert down the years. So they learn the compulsory round of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Dvorak, Brahms and perhaps the great Tchaikovsky trio, and if they get busy, they may add Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Ravel, or Debussy. To get as far as Smetana, Fibich, or Arensky is probably too much for all but the most stable formations.

A few groups, however, do try to research for rarities, and when they find gems like I’m going to include below, and their productions somehow make it to youtube, we can but be grateful to them. High kudos and great thanks to all musicians who make our musical horizons wider. There’s a dazzling array of romantic, late romantic and post-romantic chamber pieces for piano trios, quartets and quintets out there.

I’m not going to include any pieces by the above-mentioned composers as I presume my reader is already reasonably familiar with those pieces. I’m going on with my favourite piece on my list: Xaver Scharvenka’s piano quintet put on separately in three movements, and I’m not going to say much more, as the music does enough of the speaking. Hope you can enjoy all in due course.

Women classical composers may have got into the limelight recently, but I wonder who’s heard their chamber pieces. Here go a few:

Another set by another favourite of mine, Joachim Raff:

Then one that is not such a rarity among musicians perhaps, yet, it is still rarely heard in concert live:

With this we are already in the 20th century:

by P.S.

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