Franz (Peter) Schubert
Death and the Maiden
The String Quartet is perhaps the most obvious ensemble that springs to mind when speaking about chamber music.
The combination of two violins, viola and cello is a very flexible combination of instruments, first used at the beginning of the 18th century by Scarlatti and Tartini.
Since then most composers have written string quartets, and for many it was the outlet for their most adventurous compositions.
Even Verdi and Puccini, otherwise known almost solely as composers of opera, explored the medium of the string quartet.
Death and the Maiden was written in 1825, and is certainly the best known of Schubert's 15 quartets. It takes it name from the second movement, which comprises a set of variations on his song, Der Tod und das Madchen, written seven years earlier.
Brahms wrote the Horn Trio in the summer of 1865, shortly after death of his mother.
It is often said that his grief can be heard in the mournful melody of the Adagio third movement.
The combination of horn, violin and piano is an unusual one, although since Brahms wrote this enchanting work, a number of other composers have written music for the ensemble. Quite openly inspired by Brahms, Gyorgy Ligeti's trio is perhaps the best known of these.
When it was written, the virtuosic horn part would have been played on a natural horn, which had no valves. The only ways a player could change the pitch of a note was by altering the pressure on their lips or opening and closing their hand in the bell.
This was, understandably, rather difficult but in certain keys it did give the sound an atmospheric veiled character which Brahms exploited to great effect. The work is heard here played on a modern instrument.
(Wilhelm) Richard Wagner
Richard Kapp (Conductor)
Wagner is not a name normally associated with chamber music, indeed he spent much of his career as a composer writing some of the longest operas ever performed.
This delightful chamber piece was written after the birth of Wagner's son, Siegfried. It was intended as a gift for his wife's birthday, and was given its first performance on the morning of Christmas Day, 1870.
Having rehearsed the music in secret, Richard Wagner sneaked fifteen musicians onto the stairs outside Cosima Wagner's bedroom, so that he could wake her with some of the most tender music he ever wrote.
The personal and romantic nature of this musical gift was such that the Wagners did their best to keep it private, but it was eventually published in 1877 during a period of financial hardship.