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A Conversation Among Friends

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Commonly analogized as "a conversation among friends," chamber music invites the listener in to a conversation between the musicians.

It’s always great rocking out to a big ol’ symphony, and who doesn’t love getting sucked into a real adventure of a solo piano sonata? But sometimes, both of those extremes can get stale after a while, and you crave something more in the middle. That’s where chamber music comes in – but what exactly is it?

The term “chamber music” comes from musicians performing in a small room, or chamber – necessarily, then, it allowed for only a small number of performers. The earliest incarnations of this genre date back to the medieval era, and became a popular form of music early in the baroque era, under the name sonata da camera. During the baroque era, these pieces were typically written for two string or wind instruments with harpsichord accompaniment.

The genre exploded in popularity with Haydn, dubbed as the “father of the string quartet.” This arrangement of instruments became the most common form of chamber music in the Classical era, and composers as notable as Mozart and Beethoven began to fall in love with the genre as well. Each of the “big three” of the Classical composers – Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven – also began experimenting with piano in chamber music, which led to piano trios and quartets, most commonly.

What I wanted to share with you today is the Romantic (the era that came after Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven) side of chamber music, in particular, one piano trio that holds a particularly fond place with me. The German composer (and child prodigy) Felix Mendelssohn was no stranger to any genre of music composition, including chamber works. His Piano Trio No. 1 has a little bit of something for everyone: it begins with a gorgeous, soaring melody over a bed of nervousness and uncertainty, moves to a serene, operatic aria-like movement, then a lively dance-like scherzo, culminating in a recollection of the irresolution and anxiety of the first movement.

Check it out here – I have an all-star cast for you in this one with Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax.