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Why chamber music is not "popular"


MANFIO
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Sometimes the repertoire is less familiar, for one thing. I know that I, as a string player, love listening to any chamber music involving strings, but am less enthusiastic about a brass quintet, for example, or woodwind ensemble.

I love the intimacy of chamber settings. --I don't enjoy it played in large halls.

J.

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I may be wrong, but perhaps the musical "message" contained in chamber music is more complex than that contained in orchestral music. You need more concentration, the musical information is greater, I think.

I've got a piano sometime ago. I'm eager to call a trio to play here (paying, of course), perhaps some trios by Brahms, Beethoven and Shostakovich. Perhaps they can play in one of the violins and cellos I have made myself!

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In reply to:

perhaps the musical "message" contained in chamber music is more complex than that contained in orchestral music


--More introspective, at any rate! Complex, too: the late Beethoven SQ's come immediately to mind. It requires a tremendous level of sophistication to access those.

J.

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I don't know, I don't think I have come across anyone that loves classical music but doesn't like chamber music. I'm sure there are some out there, though, eheh. Chamber music is my favorite too! The great string quartets are SO much fun to listen to! But, like Jane, I really don't go much for brass or woodwind chamber music, so maybe I am just biased, eheh.

--Alistair

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My theory:

(1) Not as many celebrities to pull in audiences. (Audiences like stars. You notice that when Bell or Ma or Ax play chamber music, they have no trouble drawing a crowd.)

(2) Less advertising and publicity -- chamber music series have much smaller budgets.

(3) Smaller venues. Even if a group draws a sell-out crowd (say, the Eroica Trio), you just can't fit as many people into a chamber music hall.

(4) Performances are not usually "prime time." Orchestra concerts are generally Friday and Saturday nights, when people like to go out on the town, have dinner, do something. Chamber music performances are often on a weekday evening or a weekend afternoon when people have other things going on.

(5) Repertoire is not as familiar to the average person.

I wouldn't say chamber music is elitist; it just tends to draw a more dedicated audience.

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I ultimately trace the problem to what is played on the radio stations that play classical music. Relatively little chamber music is played. The people who listen to these stations are probably the same ones that go to the concerts. They go to hear what they are used to hearing and like, and when the stations survey to find out what people like, it is the same stuff that is played (look at a station's list of the top 50). I sent an email to the Music Director of my local radio station to take a several month moratorium from Haydn symphonies, Mozart symphonies and piano concerti, Bach Brandenburg and key board concerti, as well as Romantic period orchestral pieces and only play chamber music of those composers. This stuff has gotten overplayed and becomes boring. The station, needless to say, never responded.

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Could the explaination by this: Concerto and Orchestral music was designed to be performed, but a lot of chamber music (Schubert springs to mind) was written for the players to play and enjoy in a home privately, for themselves. Thus, the music didn't need to be so flashy or whatever it is about some pieces of music that make them 'performable.' Perhaps this is why many people seem to like playing chamber music more than listening to it.

Carlo.

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I don't buy the premise of this thread, because my observation is to the contrary.

I see consistently large turnouts for chamber music (and early music, too) where I live, in the lower left-hand corner. I see audiences with a nice mix of ages, too. Finally, I am aware that a major part of the chamber music touring circuit is comprised of college venues, which demonstrates that the attraction of the music is not restricted to old geezers like me.

I think the audience appeal would be even greater if greater care were taken to program a variety of instrumental combinations in a single program. Although the great quartets are an essential part of my affective life, a program devoted to three quartets leaves me dying to hear a trumpet or oboe toward the end of the evening. After all that friction, I want a little spit.

Crazy Jane and I have both posted on this subject recently.

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I don't get it at all. I don't know about the general public, but I can't imagine anyone not liking great quartets. The sonority of the Quartetto Italiano playing Beethoven was amazing, just to name one of hundreds of examples. And I can't imagine living without Mozart's music for woodwinds, or Schubert and Dvorak quartets, The Trout, or chamber orchestra music -- Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances (how the heck do you spell all that?), sonatas for violin and piano, Renaissance music, Schubert songs, and on and on. I think brass is just fine too.

The comment about late Beethoven quartets is a special mystery to me. I know I'm out of touch, but I'm amazed that it's considered difficult. I don't intellectualize it at all. I just immerse myself in the sound, and it's pure music to me, on a purely emotional level. I guess you're right that there's something about getting used to it, but I never really heard most of this stuff from an early age, and I didn't have to get used to it at all. I just liked it instantly.

Having said that, I haven't been to a chamber music concert for a long time. We have orchestra season tickets, but I don't get around much to chamber performances. I have no idea. It's just habit.

As for popularity, I did go to an I Musici concert of Vivaldi recently. It was held in a cathedral, and the place was fairly packed. I'm told it's a popular series, in spite of the fact that the music was almost completely inaudible because of an unbelieveable amount of echo. I guess chamber music is like orchestral music. Some of it is great--a lot, especially that played on the radio, is uninspired. Speaking of the radio, you're right. I seldom hear much except for orchestral music and inane DJ chatter.

I don't think I answered your question. I'm just amazed -- that's all. How did we miss telling the world?

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Artie Shaw said this regarding the downfall of instrumental jazz recently and it applies equally to chamber music; people like lyrics, silly wordplay, no matter how dumb or false the words are. Non-musicians hang onto what they know - words -and this is a universal that leads to mass popularity." It's only a paper moon"- Artie Shaw said "c'mon! let's get real!"

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I recently returned form a vacation to Britain, and was amazed that so many people there attend chamber music programs - many of them not even musicians! (Rather like the orchestra audiences in the US.) The concensus among those we tallked with seemed to be that chamber music began in Europe, and that was all there was for a long time, and they just never got over likeing it! So, maybe it was the full orchestra that caught on in the US because by the time most of us were civilized enough to have time for anything except folk music, orchestras were in vogue. Well, maybe!

PS - I've really enjoyed this thread! (And I agree with"K," sometimes after a long period of listening to strings, I yearn for a human voice, or some "spit.")

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I think chamber music has never been more popular. 50 years ago there were very few first rate groups and the audience base was not very large. If you read the book about the Budapest Quartet, Con Brio, you get a good idea of what they had to go through before they achieved worldwide fame. But these days, many top quartets have solo caliber players in them. They aren't funded or backed the way orchestras and soloists are, it's much more difficult for chamber groups to forge a career.

Chamber groups do often play in the same halls that orchestras play in, but most people like to hear them in slightly smaller halls.

Certainly the late Beethoven quartets are in a similar vein to the 9th Symphony (opus 125), Missa Solemnis (op 123), and also late piano music the Bagatelles (opus 119 and opus 126) and the Diabelli Variations. I've been to many chamber concerts and only a few of them had a late Beethoven on the program.

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I had the ocasion to listen to Beethoven late quartets with the Amadeus, but it's rare to see them played.

Here I have a list of chamber music I know a lot only by CDs and I would love to listen in a concert:

Ravel: andante e allegro for harp, string quartet, flute... and his trio;

Kodaly: pieces for cello and piano,capriccio for cello solo, duo celo and violin;

Brahms trios with piano, trios with horn and clarinet;

Debussy: trio for harp, viola and flute;

Shostakovich cello sonata, quartets and his trio;

etc. etc. etc.

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Many chamber works take repeated hearings to really appreciate, although there are certainly works that are instantly accessible, like the Dvorak "American" Quartet.

However, I think it might be a result of marketing. With the exception of a handful of groups like the Guarneri Quartet, chamber groups are neither as well-known or as sought-after.

Pure marketing can make an awful lot of difference -- witness the success of "bond".

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In my expericne audiences love chamber music. The problem is classical radio, which everywhere shuns chamber music. I read an article in a magazine about this. Much of the audience for classical radio is people who are not really classical music lovers -- they use a classical radio station as unobtrusive background music at work. Chamber music requires more atention and does not seve this purpose well. So the radio stations fill their programs with symphonies that are easy to listen to. The problem with this is that it drives away the true classical music audience.

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There was a very interesting article in Atlantic Magazine a year or so ago about the state of classical radio. It accorded exaclty with my own obesrvations, which are that many classical radio stations have dumbed down their programming mercilessly.

Mostly, this means slashing large amounts of repertoire that the nabobs who determine programming on these stations believe is not suitable for their purpose -- which seems to be to provide a kind of glorified muzak. Chamber music is out. So is most unaccompanied music -- you won't hear a Bach unaccompanied Violin Sonata on these stations. Not much solo piano music either. Maybe an occassional Chopin etude. They like big symphonies, even if they are by obscure composers. Movie music is also in. So is baroque music, which they seem to feel is unobtrusive. And they manage to come up with a slew of baroque and roccoco composers I've never heard of. Mozart is fine -- he is billed as "stress relief."

I live near Boston and the commercial classical station here, WCRB, is horrible in this respect. At least they haven't resorted to playing parts of works, though I don't listen to it any more and they may be doing that now. In general, the public radio stations are better than the commercial ones, but even those are declining.

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I bet this is a phenomenon associated with commercial classical stations. In our area our only classical station is the statewide public radio station. While I am not 100% satisfied with their programming, we get a wide variety of classical including quite a bit of chamber music. I listen quite a bit and I would have to say that almost every day I get to hear something that I am not familiar with.

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