The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music survey: What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved? And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now? | January 28, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The weekend always seems like a good time for a reader survey or poll.

So this week, here is what The Ear wants to know:

What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved and that really hooked you on chamber music?

And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now? (Below is the UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet.)

ProArte 2010 1

There are so many pieces to choose from in such a rich repertoire that covers all instruments and the human voice as well.

There are sonatas and duos for violin and cello with piano, for example, and songs for voice and piano or other accompaniment, There are piano trios and string trios. There are string quartets and piano quartets. There are wind quintets, string quintets and brass quintets as well as piano quintets. And there are even wonderful sextets, septets and octets. (Below are UW faculty members pianist Christopher Taylor and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.)


So what pieces or performers or qualities hooked you on chamber music?

And what pieces or performers or qualities keep you listening?

The “Trout” Quintet or the string quartets or the piano trios by Franz Schubert? For The Ear it was a magical and entrancing performance of the beautiful Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert, performed outdoors. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was it the Baroque trio sonatas  by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel? Or various Classical-era sonatas and string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven? Maybe more Romantic string quartets by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms. Or more modern ones by Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich? Perhaps even contemporary string quartets by Philip Glass? (Below are the Willy Street Chamber Players, who regularly program new music.)

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

Leave word in the COMMENT section with link to a YouTube performance if possible.

Maybe your choices will even help win over new converts to chamber music.

And be sure to tell us what appeals to you about chamber music versus other music genres such as operas and orchestral works.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. The piece that really hooked me on chamber music is Wayne Livingston’s Suite for 5 Brass; standard BR 5TET. Wayne wrote it for a composition class @ Fresno State U, CA. Far as I know, it’s never been published but I’ve programmed it in California & Japan & never tire of it. It’s about semi-pro level [i.e., not overly difficult but still challenging.] Over a long life I’ve collected many BR 5tets, some of which I’ve yet to be able to get a group together to read, but I’ve played in br 5tets @ the National Music Camp/Interlochen Arts Academy, as well as CA & Japan. The thing I love about this chamber group is the responsibility demanded by 1 player per part. No excuses.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — January 28, 2017 @ 10:48 pm

    • Good point that when we tend to think of “chamber music” we think of string quartets.
      There’s lots of wonderful music (and many fine performers) featuring small brass groups. Here’s one from Youtube. And I would define “chamber music” as a small group of musicians suitable for playing in a chamber- home atmosphere.

      Here’s a very unusual Austrian group:

      Comment by FFlambeau — January 29, 2017 @ 12:10 am

  2. The first chamber piece I remember loving was Brahms’ Horn Trio. It was a recording but I don’t remember the artists. Right now a favorite that comes to mind is Schubert’s “The Shepherd 0n The Rock.” The recording I am listening to is one from the Marlboro Music Festival 40th Anniversary.

    Comment by Melinda Certain — January 28, 2017 @ 10:20 pm

  3. Not the first string quartet I have ever heard but one that I very much admire is Alan Hovhaness, String Quartet #3 “Reflections on my Childhood”. The Shanghai Quartet has recorded this beautifully along with some other nice string quartets by Hovhaness.

    It also presents another side to Hovhaness (most readers might only be familiar with his symphonies, and especially his Symphony #2 “Mysterious Mountain”).

    Comment by FFlambeau — January 28, 2017 @ 7:56 pm

  4. Cannot recall a 1st piece.
    My #1 chamber work (if such a thing is possible) is the Beethoven C-sharp minor string quartet – the Opus 131

    Comment by Marius — January 28, 2017 @ 10:34 am

    • An outstanding choice.
      That was also the favorite string quartet of Franz Schubert, who asked for it to be played just before he died at 31.
      Or so the story goes.

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 28, 2017 @ 10:38 am

  5. Brahms Piano Quartet with Rubinstein.

    Comment by Musicophile — January 28, 2017 @ 8:55 am

  6. The first piece of chamber music I loved was the first Violin & Viola Duo by Mozart, K.423, which I played with a friend in high school. Perhaps next came the Dvorak Op.81 Piano Quintet. Both are still among my favorites today. Added to my list might be the Brahms Piano Quintet Op.34, the three Beethoven String Trios Op.9, the String Quintets by Beethoven (Op.29) and Schubert (already mentioned by another listener), and the G Minor Piano Quartet by Mozart K.478. For me the common denominator is not only that I like to listen to them but that I really enjoy performing them. Chamber music is not just for the listener but was also designed to appeal to the musicians themselves.

    Mozart K.423, Mvt 1 =

    Dvorak Op.81 =

    Comment by Steve Kurr — January 28, 2017 @ 8:22 am

  7. It was many years ago, and as I age, I have more difficulty retrieving names and places, but I will never forget the work, which I had not heard before: Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet. I think the Tokyo Quartet performed it, and I think it was in Washington, D.C., but I can’t remember the venue. In the middle of the performance, the 2nd violinist broke a string, and after he changed it, they began at the beginning again, there being no way to take up where they left off without damaging the performance. Prior to hearing that, although I had heard many works which created a sense of exaltation, this was the first time I’d heard music which spoke so clearly of dread. It’s particularly appropriate music at this time in our own country.

    Comment by slfiore — January 28, 2017 @ 8:07 am

    • Outstanding selection with a memorable story and a very relevant comment to accompany it. Thank you.

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 28, 2017 @ 9:45 am

      • VERY bleak work.

        Comment by FFlambeau — January 28, 2017 @ 7:49 pm

  8. Schubert’s Cello Quintet in C major and Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2, both heard in Mills Hall in the last three years.

    Comment by Steve Holmes — January 28, 2017 @ 7:52 am

    • Thank you for replying.
      I agree with you about one of the works.
      The Cello Quintet by Schubert is right at the top of the all-time list of the greatest chamber music ever composed.
      I never tire of hearing it. And the slow movement is the one that the pianist Arthur Rubinstein said he would like to listen to in his dying moments. So sublime!!

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 28, 2017 @ 9:47 am

  9. Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings
    Misha Rachlevsky
    Chamber Orchestra Kremlin
    YouTube link:

    Comment by John J — January 28, 2017 @ 7:14 am

    • Thank you for reading an replying,
      You off a fine choice that raises an interesting question: Does a chamber orchestra really qualify as chamber music?
      Iris it just a smaller version of a symphonic orchestra?
      In any case, the Tchaikovsky is a wonderful work.

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 28, 2017 @ 9:49 am

      • The general definition of “chamber music” implies 1 player per part. And in the case of the Tchaikovsky, the composer specified that the Serenade should be played with as many string players as possible. So the fact that a chamber orchestra plays it should not lead to the idea that this is chamber music (just like assuming that the Bruckner Symphony No.3 is chamber music because the WCO performed it the other night). But it is indeed a marvelous work.

        Comment by Steve Kurr — January 28, 2017 @ 11:09 am

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