The roots of the Chamber music can be traced back to the Renaissance era, where music-making were about playing together by small groups of varied or similar instruments. It had undergone many developments and changes to become of what we are seeing today. Let’s take a brief tour.

Renaissance Chamber Music
During the Renaissance period, most music was dance-like in style, such as a pavane or galliard, intended for dancing. The two dances are usually performed together. Some of the chamber music are played by small groups of varied instruments of the same family or from different families. One of the popular group of instruments were the viols family - a group of string instruments.

In England, the performance of a group of instruments of the same family was known as a ‘consort’; and the performance of a group of instruments from different families was known as a ‘broken consort’. A consort of viols, for instance, consists of instruments from the string family.
The use of sophisticated syncopation is also commonly employed by the composers.

Barqoue chamber Music
Baroque Suite and Baroque Sonata are two of the dominating styles in this period.

Baroque Suite inherits the dance-like quality of the Renaissance period. It often begins with a French overture, which has two sections – slow-fast. It is then followed by a baroque suite that is made up of various dance movements of the same key but of different tempo, character and time signature. The group of dances are performed one after another.

The Baroque sonata was written for two violins and basso continuo. Two violins will play the upper two parts, a cello playing the bass line notes and the continuo would be played by a harpsichord improvising on a figured bass. (i.e. using the bass part and bass figures as a guide to do harmonisation)

In short, a baroque trio sonata involves four players.

There are two types of baroque sonata. Sonata da camera is a chamber sonata to be performed in a private courtroom which would frequently involves dance movements. In contrary, Sonata da chiesa is an instrumental piece of more dignified music intended to be performed in a church.

Classical Chamber music
By this time, the viols family of the previous era had completely gone out of fashion.  They were replaced by violins, violas and cellos.

There are many varied combinations of the instruments of the chamber music. One of the most popular being a string quartet which is made up of two violins, a viola and a cello.
Clarinet is a newly introduced instrument in this period, and Mozart loved the tone qualities of it.

Sonata form is one of the important styles for chamber music, instrumental music and even classical symphony of this period.

Romantic Chamber music
During the Romantic period, the variation of groupings of chamber music instruments took a further step in development and it also reflected the changes in style of composition during that period.

The progress of chamber music style was greatly advanced by the newly improved piano, hence giving rise to the popularity of the piano ensembles, such as piano duo, piano trio or piano quintet.

Composers of this period were attracted to the chamber music because of its warm and intimate nature, much aligned with the style of the romantic composers, of which one of the important characteristics is emotional subjectivity.  Two of the most important inspirations of the romantic art is the love for nature and a fascination for fantasy.

20th Century Chamber music
Many different styles of solo instrumental music as well as chamber music had evolved in the 20th Century and it is sometimes not easy to categorise them. Various groupings of instruments and different types of composition are reflected in the wide variety of styles of music.

However, various combinations of wind instruments had shown a significant popularity in this period. Some of the more common instrumentations include flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. French composer Francis Poulenc’s sextet promptly displayed the beauty of the wind quintet with the piano.

Some the more significant developments of the 20th Century Chamber music includes dissonance, more contrasting dynamics, sequence and repetition.

~Written by Boon Sin Ler

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