Chamber music groups vary widely in size and instrumentation. The style of chamber music pieces also has a broad reach, since its presence had an early start in music history. Chamber ensembles date back to the Renaissance Era, when small music groups were a popular form of entertainment. This collaborative style of music emerged in the beginning of the 17th century. Chamber music referred to a handful of singers or instrumentalists who created music in a social and informal setting either in royal courts or salons. People gathered together to contribute their musical skills for the enjoyment of the musicians and the listeners. As the chamber genre progressed, more music was written for extremely skilled musicians, not only amateurs as in years past. The development of the sonata in the 17th century marked an increase in idiomatic composition (music composed for specifics instruments to display player’s virtuosity). Today, small chamber groups involve two or more players, but are not as large as a symphony orchestra or wind ensemble, and encompass many instruments. A popular form of chamber music is the modern sonata, consisting of a piano and solo instrument, as seen in our recording of Beethoven’s violin sonata in G minor. Chamber music pieces are often written for instruments with similar tones or which are categorized similarly (like string quartet, percussion ensemble, or brass quintet). Composers use these instruments because they compliment each other, and can match each other dynamically and tonally. Chamber musicians are very important to the music world. They play beautiful pieces, demonstrate the importance of collaboration, and play music from all musical eras, old and new.
Musicians in chamber groups learn their parts separately, then rehearse together to blend their parts together. Tuning is very important for chamber groups because musicians often play notes in unison or play intervals that would sound displeasing if out of tune. To tune in a string, wind, or brass chamber group, one student begins by tuning to a reference frequency. Then, they offer one note to each of the chamber members, who tune to that one student. In a guitar chamber group, all members tune to the reference frequency, then check their tunings together with tuning chords. Our recordings of two guitars tuning and a string quartet tuning demonstrates these basic technique of tuning. In rehearsal, the highest instrument is usually the leader, and gives suggestions to the group. When they rehearse, musicians play the pieces, and smooth over and work on difficult sections. After extensive rehearsal, groups can be “coached” by their master teachers, who help coordinate parts, suggest dynamics, and use their experiences to give helpful advice which will round out the music. In a coaching, students perform their pieces for their coaches, discuss ideas, and polish their pieces with the help of the teachers. Our recording of a string quartet coaching and rehearsal show the interaction between the teacher and the students in an ensemble along with the collaborative efforts of the students to create meaningful music. When students perform chamber pieces, their hard work pays off because they are able to give emotional and professional chamber concerts.
Playing chamber music is important now because it is a way to preserve the music history of small ensembles. Composers' ideas and messages are immortalized through their specific use of dynamics, style, tuning, instrumentation, etc. Teachers are vital to this preservation of history because they aid the student's understanding of the music's style, character, and intricacies by suggesting techniques particular to the style of a composer or era.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his third quartet in 1876 and was written as a memorial for his friend Ferdinand Laub, a violinist who performed in the premiers of his first two quartets (see more about the piece in "Coaching (Tchaikovsky Quartet2)" below). In this recording, you will hear a portion of the first movement, Andante Sostenuto - Allegro moderato. This excerpt is right before the climax of the movement and features the two violins playing in octaves and dotted rhythms, with contrasting triplets in the viola and strong downbeats in the cello. This quartet is the epitome of Tchaikovsky’s Russian style, featuring dramatic music that draws from traditional Russian folk songs.
This recording begins with the chamber coach advising the group about how to convey the character and feelings of this section of the piece. As the coach points out, it is very energetic, and should be played strongly, with bow speed as the main source of the energy, excitement, and movement of the piece, the speed elevating the intense contrast of the rhythms.
This recording features Emily Monroe and Dmitri Shteinberg playing an excerpt of the the first movement from Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Presto, at UNC School of the Arts. Beethoven's influential sonatas serve as standard repertoire for young instrumentalists who are developing their musicianship skills and expanding their knowledge of music history. Students who continue to prepare and perform these sonatas keep the music of Beethoven thriving and alive. Beethoven composed his fourth violin sonata in 1801 and dedicated his work to Count Moritz von Fries. In contrast to the reviews of his first three violin and piano sonatas, Beethoven’s fourth violin sonata received warm critical reception. The Presto, the first movement of this sonata, employs sonata form and accentuates short thematic elements passing between the hands of the piano and the violin. In this clip listeners can hear the energetic melody exchanged between the two instruments as the dynamic level increases and peaks before falling to a mezzo-piano, or medium quiet, once again.
Since the birth of the sonata genre during the Baroque era, when a soloist played with a basso continuo, sonatas have comprised an essential role in the musical world. This form of chamber music has evolved in instrumentation, style, and structure and shaped generations of composers, musicians, and audiences. During the Classical Period the sonata went from simply being a genre to being used as a term used to describe works composed for two or less instrumentalists, typically a piano and another instrument. Through the use of sonatas, composers are able to accentuate the virtuosity of both pianists and soloists. Instead of simply acting as an accompaniment, the pianist assumes an equal role with the other instrumentalist and the two musicians collaborate to create harmonious music. While Beethoven's impressive body of sonatas popularized the sonata in his time, his works continue to captivate musicians and audiences today.
This recording is of two guitarists tuning their instruments before rehearsal. Guitarists use an “A” reference note from a tuner, then tune each string to the reference string. This is a more accurate tuning method than others, such as using harmonics, a method which can cause each string ascending string to be more out of tune than the last. After each guitarist has tuned their own strings, they play a tuning chord, usually an E or A tuning chord, to make sure their strings match. It is important for musicians to be in tune with one another so unison notes, perfect frequencies, and chords are in tune.
This topic is relevant to Music Literature because the evolution of instruments and music made it necessary for musicians to develop certain tuning methods. Small Chamber Groups are vital to the evolution of Music Literature and music history, and tuning methods have changed dramatically since the beginning of tuned instruments. In the Middle Ages, musicians tuned using Pythagorean Tuning. Soon, the idea of temperament emerged, which counteracted quirks of an instrument. Mean-Tone Temperament was systemized, where the interval of a third is made perfect, and a slight problem in fifths is spread out. Well-Tempered instruments also became popular, and now, Equal Temperament rules. Musicians tune their instruments in order to get the most harmonious sounds possible when they play together.
This recording is of a UNCSA (University of North Carolina Schools of the Arts) chamber group and was documented at the UNCSA campus in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. An important stable of musical life at UNCSA, chamber groups allow students to learn and perform musical works of art that would, most likely, otherwise be unknown to the players. Talented UNCSA professors coach chamber groups once a week and work to evolve the individual players technique and sound as well as the overall unity of the group. Coached by one of UNCSA’s violin professors, JanetOrenstein, Danny Malawsky, Eva Wetzel, Delephine Skiene, and Emi Sharpe play Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat minor. This string quartet was composed in 1876 and is well known as Tchaikovsky’s last string quartet. The work is in four movements, containing an Andante Sostenuto and Allegro moderato, an Alleretto vivo escherzando, an Andante funebre e doloroso, ma con moto, and a finale: Allegro non troppo e risoluto. Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3 was written as a memorial for Tchaikovsky’s friend Ferdinand Laub, whom Tchaikovsky called “the best violinist of our time”. Laub was the first violinist in the premier’s of Tchaikovsky’s first two string quartets, and his passing explains the sad and sorrowful themes within the third quartet. The two funeral themes of the Andante sostenuto and the repetition of the initial chords in the Andante funebre e doloroso support the themes of grief and despair that are prevalent throughout the whole quartet, although glimpses of optimism do, finally, appear in the finale. Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat minor’s potent, melancholy themes are powerful not only in sound but in meaning, expressing the timeless feeling of sorrow humans are subject to after the death of a respected friend.