If an orchestra is like a giant horde of laborers erecting a mighty pyramid and a recital by a soloist is like a spider weaving an intricate web, then a chamber music performance is like a few proud workers building a well-crafted cottage.
Often when folks think of chamber music, they think of string quartets. For you classical music neophytes, the string quartet is traditionally 2 violins, a viola and a cello. It’s a well regarded ensemble with lots of works written for it: from the Haydn and Mozart string quartets of the classical era to the masterpieces of Beethoven to the 20th century cleverness of Shostakovich and beyond.
But let me be almost sacrilegiously honest. All that stringy sawing in my ears can sometimes be a bit much. I feel the same way about the incessant plinking of solo piano works. What’s a composer or listener to do? Combine the two.
Thus I’m a fan of piano trios and piano quartets. The piano trio is not 3 pianos but rather violin, cello and piano. And the piano quartet is not 4 pianos; it’s violin, viola, cello and piano. And of the two, the piano quartet is somewhat neglected so let me recommend some for you to check out:
- Perhaps begin in the 18th century with Mozart’s piano quartets in G minor (K. 478) & E flat major (K. 493) because that’s what I started with and what made me fall in love with this instrumental form.
- Then maybe move on to the 19th century with Brahms. I suggest his third piano quartet, in C minor (op. 60).
- Take a side trip to France and try the lovely piano quartets of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924).
- Though most people associate Richard Strauss with grandiose opera and tone poems for gigantic orchestras, he composed some chamber music, including a piano quartet early in his career.
Of course, there are many more piano quartets in our CD collection, but that should give you a start with this fine art form.