Nineteenth-Century Chamber Music

Nineteenth-Century Chamber Music

Nineteenth-Century Chamber Music

Nineteenth-Century Chamber Music

Excerpt

Chamber music, in the sense that we think of it today, is a concept that crystallized gradually during the course of the nineteenth century. In 1802, shortly after the thirty-year-old Beethoven had boldly staked his claim to the heritage of the Viennese string quartet with the six works of Op. 18, music lexicographer Heinrich Christoph Koch still found it appropriate to define chamber music chiefly from the perspective of its traditionally upper-crust audience:

Chamber music, in the proper sense of the word, is that music which is only customary at court, and to which, since it is contrived solely for the private entertainment of sovereigns, no one is granted entrance as a listener without special permission. In various courts, however, this expression is also taken to mean the so-called court concerts, which, to be sure, are actually intended only for the court and those associated with it, but at which other people may take part as listeners, isolated, however, in the concert hall from the court.

As several contemporaries confirm, courtly chamber music in Koch's day included not only small genres but concerto and symphony as well. Although the long-standing stylistic categories of church, chamber, and theatrical music had already been substantially blurred, Koch nevertheless offers the distinction that the chamber composer is like “the painter who shades and colors a picture destined to be viewed at close range much more delicately than, for example, a ceiling painting, which is far removed from the eye, and in which these details would not only be lost, but might even weaken the effect of the whole.” Displacement of the exclusively aristocratic clientele by larger and more heterogeneous groups of the bourgeoisie had a major impact on all aspects of nineteenth-century art, and chamber music is no exception. In addition, the tensions and interactions between private and public values, amateur and professional players, and, in Koch's simile, delicate canvases versus vast frescos were especially influential—often fruitfully so, yet at times almost to the point of stagnation. The process was gradual and complex.

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