Author Topic: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music  (Read 1629 times)

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Offline Florestan

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Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« on: November 12, 2017, 09:27:23 AM »
my feeling of the most prominent mid to late romantics is that their more overt concert works for large ensembles are preoccupied with some idea they had of grandeur, and there was also, overall in the times, a general fascination with 'gigantism.'  Those larger and more overt works strike me as somehow labored and self-conscious, and it is in the chamber works where I think we find 'the real person,' or at least the one who is not consciously aware of grandeur, gigantism, the public, etc.

I should have never thought a day would come when I'd be in total agreement with Monsieur Croche --- and yet it just happened today!  :laugh:

I think and believe and feel that, few and notable exceptions notwithstanding, for any given composer irrespective of era the chamber music output is more interesting and varied than the orchestral music output (and this includes such names as Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven) --- and those composers whose chamber music output is negligible or non-existent are far from being my favorites.

How about you? What are your thoughts on this topic?
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Offline BasilValentine

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2017, 09:51:41 AM »
I should have never thought a day would come when I'd be in total agreement with Monsieur Croche --- and yet it just happened today!  :laugh:

I think and believe and feel that, few and notable exceptions notwithstanding, for any given composer irrespective of era the chamber music output is more interesting and varied than the orchestral music output (and this includes such names as Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven) --- and those composers whose chamber music output is negligible or non-existent are far from being my favorites.

How about you? What are your thoughts on this topic?

More of a case by case basis for me. I'm fine with large forces in Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Sibelius, for example. But with Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, and Shostakovich I have a strong preference for chamber music. I too tend not to like composers with little or no chamber output. Bruckner I can't stand, I like only a couple of Mahler's symphonies.

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2017, 09:57:18 AM »
My thoughts are actually changing (albeit slowly) on this matter.  I had and still have a preference for smaller ensembles because it is much easier to percieve details in compositions.  My perception of orchestras has until recently been one big mass of sound.  However modern recording techniques have improved this siruation dramatically as it is no longer difficult to pick a clarinet or flute melodic line out of the overall orchestra.  In some way modern recordings introduce a chamber music quality out of larger orchestra.  This is especially true in operas where the orchestra is no longer behind the singers acting as a barely necessary supporting element.
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Offline Mahlerian

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2017, 10:10:10 AM »
It's true that up until the mid-Romantic era or so, the orchestral music was primarily a public genre, and composers would save their more daring, idiosyncratic writing for chamber ensembles.  Still, there are plenty of brilliant works for large forces by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schumann, and so forth.  After that, starting with Berlioz and Wagner and leading from Bruckner and Mahler through to Stravinsky, composers felt much freer to experiment in an orchestral setting, in many cases in spite of opposition to their works.  I really don't make that much of a distinction between chamber-oriented and orchestral or operatic composers.  The question is whether or not the musical ideas are there, and whether they are interesting.

I haven't seen him mentioned yet, but Berlioz is a composer with next to no output in smaller ensembles.  The voice and piano version of Nuits d'ete and an obscure piece for violin and piano(?), and that's it.  Far less than either Mahler or Bruckner in that regard.

My thoughts are actually changing (albeit slowly) on this matter.  I had and still have a preference for smaller ensembles because it is much easier to percieve details in compositions.  My perception of orchestras has until recently been one big mass of sound.  However modern recording techniques have improved this siruation dramatically as it is no longer difficult to pick a clarinet or flute melodic line out of the overall orchestra.  In some way modern recordings introduce a chamber music quality out of larger orchestra.  This is especially true in operas where the orchestra is no longer behind the singers acting as a barely necessary supporting element.

I listen to all music in terms of polyphony, so when I'm listening to an orchestral work, just like a chamber work, I will hear it as having multiple lines, several interacting voices.
« Last Edit: November 12, 2017, 10:13:22 AM by Mahlerian »

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2017, 10:14:53 AM »
I love both orchestral and chamber music, so the idea of preferring one over the other is pointless. They both reveal the composer in a different kind of light.
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2017, 10:20:25 AM »
It depends on the epoch and the composer. There is not so much difference between genres in baroque music. Bach, Handel and Vivaldi sometimes used the same material in chamber music as in orchestral and most of the time orchestral music is chamber music for only slightly bigger ensembles (say 6-15 musicians instead of 1-5). Even with Haydn and Mozart I feel that they are not writing all that differently for chamber ensemble or orchestra.

In the 19th century the composer most easily associated with the "gigantism" in the quote above wrote little or no chamber music: Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner. Some others wrote "gigantic" scale chamber music (some late Beethoven and Schubert, Franck...)
In the case of Brahms I don't think that he is a typical example of late romantic gigantism in his orchestral music; although his piano concertos are huge, his symphonies are all on a smaller scale than Beethoven's 9th and it has often been claimed that especially his symphonies 3 and 4 are chamber-like in some respects.

Most of the very best composers are IMO as good in their best orchestral music as in their best chamber music, e.g. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bartok, Berg...
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Offline some guy

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2017, 10:34:04 AM »
The interesting thing about Berlioz, I would say, is how he uses the orchestra. Very seldom does he have the whole ensemble playing, but it's there, whenever he needs it. The main reason his forces are so big (and they're not even all the big much of the time) is to give him a multitude of different combinations. His music is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of chamber works, the chamber "ensemble" a different combination of instruments each time. It's one reason (only one) that he's remained one of the least popular of the major composers, because he doesn't have the big, homogeneous, Germanic sound so favored in that century.

(All attempts to prove me wrong about that last bit will be welcomed.)

Anyway, I would almost describe Berlioz as the chamber composer par excellence, even though he never wrote much proper chamber music.

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2017, 10:53:36 AM »
I should have never thought a day would come when I'd be in total agreement with Monsieur Croche --- and yet it just happened today!  :laugh:

I think and believe and feel that, few and notable exceptions notwithstanding, for any given composer irrespective of era the chamber music output is more interesting and varied than the orchestral music output (and this includes such names as Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven) --- and those composers whose chamber music output is negligible or non-existent are far from being my favorites.

How about you? What are your thoughts on this topic?

It is nothing new for me, I have always preferred chamber music to orchestral, even though I have made a devoted effort to adopt orchestral music. And the orchestral music I DO like tends to be from the Baroque and early Classic Eras when "orchestras" as we know them today barely existed, and the music was really written for just a large chamber group. Haydn's symphonies up to ~1780, excluding the big C Major special works were called then, and still are today by cognoscenti, 'chamber symphonies'. As for 19th century music, all of my favorite works are chamber music.

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Offline Monsieur Croche

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2017, 12:24:47 AM »
I should have never thought a day would come when I'd be in total agreement with Monsieur Croche --- and yet it just happened today!  :laugh:

Yep, my self conceit has me liking to think I can occasionally surprise, in a positive manner, of course.

I want to first grab anyone reading this who thinks that in listening to chamber music they will miss out on the sensuous effects had when listening to larger orchestral ensembles.
Once in, and within moments, the ear gets use to the scale of the number of players, and any decent performance then takes on a sound quite resplendent in the variety of timbres:  ex:  with a good group, a string quartet takes on colors that can make you think you are hearing specific winds, brass, etc.  Similarly, maybe more surprising, a wind ensemble can have the same effect.  Mixed ensembles offer no less, no more of a variety of same.  Fear not, the genre is rich in instrumental color palette.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Commenting upon, or paraphrasing, some of the other entries:

The 19th century orchestra was really an expanded chamber orchestra, most often without a 'solo conductor', with either first violinist or soloist with that ensemble being the director.  Along with that more transparent texture and the nature of the writing, you get more of the inter-dynamic of the players as 'chamber players,' who can (because of the more transparent texture) and do know and listen more acutely to the other parts of the whole and interact accordingly.  (A concert pianist friend said that playing any of the Mozart Concerti was playing chamber music, just with a bigger band.)

In Mozart, Berlioz, Mahler, Stravinsky (a good handful of early 20th neoclassical composers fit in here as well as many others) and a handful of others, we still get from them music for larger ensembles that often does not use the full number of instruments and frequently enough drops down to a handful of players.  One reason I like / love Mahler and don't care much for Bruckner;  Mahler often relieves the larger texture, where the music, sounding like it is inexorably right in its instrumentation and organic to the whole, scales down to but a handful of players.  (I think this is as necessary in longer works of a larger texture as is a bit of comic relief in a tragedy.)

Many chamber works were written not so much with an eye to performance; they were for direct publication and sales to an audience of highly proficient amateur players for music making in the home.  I think it is safe to assume these were written with less regard toward general audience popularity and intended more for connoisseurs and the cognoscenti.  Other chamber works were commissioned, again by more adventurous players than what might be written for larger ensembles and wider audience accessibility.

Chamber music is this (already mentioned):  often much more interior, reflective and 'personal' than many a large orchestral work.  It is like following a conversation (that is an analogy, music is not a language, lol) among a handful of friends.  The import of immediate and intimate communication is palpable.

[The Beethoven piano sonatas:  A friend (Julliard grad, retired orchestral player) told me he took an online course on the sonatas, taught by a highly reputable musicologist / historian.  He told me that there he learned that all but one of those 32 sonatas got a public performance in Beethoven's lifetime (Your guess is as good as mine as to which).  Here too, is music made for amateur consumption via publication and sales, and an area thought to be 'where Beethoven worked out new ideas for himself,' at the same time, i.e. as populist as he could be, many of the sonatas were written without much thought to that effect.  That puts these in the arena of very personal / private musings, setting up problems he wanted to solve.] 

One fantastic definition I've heard for chamber music, almost always true as rule of thumb...
"One player, One part; no doubling." 
This is so pared down that whether it is melody and chordal accompaniment or polyphonic. there are absolutely no notes which do not count, pretty equally, toward making up the whole.  This kind of writing demands a fuller attention, and presents itself immediately as such, without much extra effort on the listener's part re: 'sorting out what the hell is going on.'  This also means that there is little room for anything like a weakness, anywhere, in the piece itself or in its execution.  A large symphonic group, written for in that more late romantic full bore all the instruments chugging away manner, like the damper pedal of a piano when down, can cover 'a multitude of sins' within that texture.  Chamber music is, I think, that much more demanding and exacting for both composer and players.

I wouldn't give up a lot of repertoire for larger ensembles and full orchestral works that I love or find engaging, but I do very much like all the traits and aspects of chamber music, whether it is one facet of a larger work for full ensemble, or for a handful of players.


Best regards.


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Offline Le Moderniste

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2017, 12:44:28 AM »
Interesting thing to think about.

I do tend to feel that earlier centuries underused the facets of the orchestra (compared to the recent and current century), musically speaking.

Compared to today, as a composer I find ensembles to be more rewarding detail-wise. Compared to orchestras which tend to be a GIANT blend of colors. The ensemble gives more of an intimate chance to explore things and things that would need to be amplified in a orchestra context (more subtle sounds and quiter instruments), so yes to the comment about that.

Also, as someone who is not yet an internationally acclaimed composer  :laugh: Thinking about ensemble writing is a more productive use of my time  :D


Offline Florestan

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2017, 05:14:41 AM »
Thank you all for the interesting replies.
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Offline andolink

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2017, 06:21:28 AM »
I've read in several sources that logistics are the key factor, that composers, knowing that chamber sized ensembles are able to devote far more rehearsal time to the music they're performing than an orchestra ever could , have tended to focus on chamber music for presenting their most personal and innovative ideas in the confidence that it will most likely be the truest representation of their intentions.
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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2017, 07:33:23 AM »
Personally, I have written much more chamber music than I have orchestral music.  Even if in future I write as much orchestral music as I intend, the imbalance will probably remain to the advantage of chamber music.
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Offline kyjo

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2017, 10:42:11 AM »
I love both orchestral and chamber music, so the idea of preferring one over the other is pointless. They both reveal the composer in a different kind of light.

+1 I used to prefer orchestral to chamber music but now I love both pretty much equally.

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #14 on: November 13, 2017, 03:56:42 PM »
Bigger is always better! A thousand is too small!!! Always looking for that next wall (of sound)... :) 

There is nothing like turning up the stereo to near breaking point and blasting forth, especially when there is vocal music included (like Puccini's Tosca when the tenor sings "Vittoria!", the Verdi Requiem or Prokofiev's Battle on the Ice, as examples). I generally find string symphonies to be the most disappointing genre - they lack the weight and sound of an orchestra, but lack the intimacy and clarity of a chamber group.

Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #15 on: November 14, 2017, 06:37:37 PM »
Boy do I know how to shut down a thread!!!  :o ??? ::)
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline Uhor

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #16 on: November 15, 2017, 02:17:57 PM »
Fux used to say three voices and the truth.

Offline jessop

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #17 on: November 15, 2017, 03:04:48 PM »
Cross posting from the 21st Century music thread because it seems relevant.......Crudblud asked about a 'swimmy' aesthetic in orchestral music which certainly seems to have become popular since the 90s.

I think this kind of thing may have begun, or have begun to take over the previous Lutosławski kind of orchestral piece, in the mid-90s or thereabouts, so a couple of decades, anyway.

It's a smoother, duller sound than Lutosławski favored--though I was still hearing a lot of the bright, brassy stuff with lots of percussion until well into the new century.

As Brümmer put it to me once, the problem with instruments is that they take over--an orchestral piece almost always sounds like "an orchestral piece." The brass are brassy, the flutes are flutey, the percussion is percussive, the strings are stringy. And the music, however interesting or different the composer may have wanted to be, slips into the old, familiar patterns because it's old, familiar instruments that are playing (being written for).

I advanced Lachenmann and Andre, but he wasn't having any of it.

Anyway, as I've thought of it since, it's true that each machine has certain things that it does that over time come to be seen as the normal things, the natural things, for that machine. Pizzacato was seen by some, even hundreds of years after its introduction, as unnatural. And a fairly prominent violinist once went off on how she and her classmates would laugh at Penderecki pieces when in uni because they were so "unviolinistic." I said "What constitutes 'unviolinistic'? If a violin can do it, it's violinistic," but she wasn't having any of it. And Cowell's and later Cage's "unpianistic" adventures with pianos made one or two people deeply unhappy.

It takes a keen, imaginative mind and a willing performer to push the bounds of what is accepted as natural for each machine. I think we've actually been pretty lucky at having so many of those two types of people. Still, they are undoubtedly outnumbered by the "this is what a trumpet does, the end" crowd.
I, too, have noticed the 'swimmy' aesthetic, and although I enjoy much of the music it would be good to have some more variety. Orchestral music being so time consuming to compose (not to mention the fact that symphony orchestras are much more in the 'mainstream' than, say, JACK Quartet) may simply result in composers falling back on patterns they know work for them and also have some similarity with other recent repertoire........probably owing to less of an idiosyncratic sound. I feel like somehow it has always been like that. A Beethoven symphony might sound a lot closer to an Arriaga symphony than a Beethoven string quartet sounds to an Arriaga string quartet.

I maintain that orchestral music from composers living around a similar time period will sound more similar in style than chamber pieces from those same composers

Offline Monsieur Croche

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2017, 12:32:28 PM »
Fux used to say three voices and the truth.
+1 Prize Winner!
:laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

Fux penned a catchy mellifluous motet on that very maxim which was highly popular for over a decade in his day, his In tribus voces veritas.
 
Unfortunately, the convention of the day had tunes like that only copied in parts, no score, and of the numbers of copies made and circulated, none have survived.
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Offline Monsieur Croche

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Re: Chamber Music vs. Orchestral Music
« Reply #19 on: November 16, 2017, 12:41:53 PM »
Interesting thing to think about.

I do tend to feel that earlier centuries underused the facets of the orchestra (compared to the recent and current century), musically speaking.

 ???

I think you've completely overlooked how relatively few viable instruments were at hand in those earlier centuries.
 
Rameau is noted as one of the first composers to think of the orchestra in terms as instrumental timbre palette, and was one of the first to regularly use the 'new' clarinets of his time -- an instrumental colorist of his day, so to speak.

As technology and want added to the instrumental families, and vastly improved - increased what those instruments were capable of executing (and without so many problem areas where intonation became difficult for even a virtuoso player) composers began to take advantage of the newer capacities, including timbrel possibilities.
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