The History of Chamber Music

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The History of Chamber Music

What is chamber music?

It is ensemble instrumental music for up to about ten performers with typically one performer to a part.

Since circa 1450, there has been instrumental music designed for private playing. These pieces used many instruments and (in Germany) it was common that the folk songs would contain 2-3 countermelodies to expand and elaborate the whole, and to arrange the outcome for groups of instruments. Although the pieces were never written for particular instruments, we can, through art/paintings, reasonably guess that the viol was a predominant early chamber music instrument.

A more important source of later chamber music is to be found in the
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Parallel to the developments that led from the vocal chanson, in France, to the instrumental canzona, primarily in Italy, was the development of the dance suite. Early sixteenth-century dance tunes in all countries of Western Europe usually had appeared in pairs: one was slow, stately in mood and in duple metre (i.e., with two beats to the bar); the other fast, lively in mood, usually in triple metre, and often melodically similar to the first. Through much of the sixteenth century, composers in the several countries sought to expand the dance pair into a unified dance suite. Suites based on variations of one movement appeared in England; suites in which each of four dances had its own rhythmic character, melodically based on the first dance, were written in Germany; sets of dances with no internal relationships to each other were common in Italy. The most influential steps were taken in France by composers for the lute or the clavecin (harpsichord). Consisting essentially of four dance forms that were then popular – the allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue – the suites they composed were based on contrasting tempos, metres, and rhythmic patterns. The French version of the dance suite became the prototype for later chamber-music forms.

It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that two types of composition –

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