Chamber Music

The top 20 chamber pieces

Vera Quartet performs.Nate Ryan

January 08, 2020

We asked you to tell us your favorite chamber pieces to celebrate our new Chamber Music stream. We've tallied the votes, and here are the top 20 chamber pieces, as voted by you.

Here are the final results:

20. Nielsen: Woodwind Quintet

This work embodies a conversation, with composer Carl Nielsen putting in his program notes that he "attempted to render the characters of the various instruments. At one moment they are all talking at once, at another they are quite alone."

LISTEN — Nielsen: Wind Quintet I. Allegro ben moderato

Wind Quintet I. Allegro ben moderato

19. Mozart: Gran Partita

W.A. Mozart's Serenade No. 10, more commonly known as "Gran Partita," showcases his ability to masterfully combine different themes and textures. Scored for twelve winds and string bass, this is the work in the movie Amadeus that convinced Antonio Salieri that Mozart was the voice of God.

LISTEN — Serenade No. 10 "Gran Partita": IV. Adagio

18. Haydn: String Quartet Op. 76, No. 3 "Emperor"

One of Haydn's most famous quartets, the second movement features the melody from "God Save Emperor Francis," which is now used in the German national anthem. This melody will easily get stuck in your head, in the best way possible.

LISTEN — String Quartet Op. 76 No. 3 "Emperor" II. Poco adagio, cantabile

17. Grieg: String Quartet

Edvard Grieg is able to create a thick texture and soaring melodies in his String Quartet. An important piece to bridge the quartets of Beethoven to those of Debussy, the composer Franz Liszt said "it is a long time since I have encountered a new composition, especially a string quartet, which has intrigued me as greatly as this distinctive and admirable work by Grieg."

LISTEN — String Quartet No. 1: I. Un poco andante

16. Schubert: String Quintet

This work is considered one of Franz Schubert's best, and one of his last before his untimely death. The addition of a second cello creates a depth in the lower register that is haunting and lush. It's no wonder why this is considered one of the greatest chamber works of all time.

LISTEN — String Quintet in C Major: I. Allegro ma non troppo

15. Schumann: Piano Quintet in Eb major

Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet is considered one of the works to revolutionize the form, making it a staple of the Romantic Era. He dedicated the work to his wife and fellow composer, Clara Schumann, who was the pianist for its premiere.

LISTEN — Piano Quintet: II. In modo d'una marcia. Un poco largamente

14. Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time

Olivier Messiaen wrote this piece while he was a prisoner of war in a German camp. First performed by fellow prisoners, the work draws from a passage in the Book of Revelations and is now considered one of his most important works.

LISTEN — Quartet for the End of Time: I. Liturgie de cristal

13. Debussy: Sonata for flute, viola, and harp

Although Debussy is known for being a very impressionist composer, he actually looked to the styling of French Baroque music for his sonata for flute, viola and harp. The result is a beautiful painting of sounds, some structured and intentional, while others are more abstract.

LISTEN — Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp: II. Interlude; Tempo di minuetto

12. Brahms: Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano in Eb major

Johannes Brahms wrote this piece to commemorate the death of his mother, exploring his grief through the four movements. He is able to express the different ways in which this emotion can be felt, with the second movement recalling happier memories of days gone by.

LISTEN — Horn Trio: I. Andante - poco piu animato

11. Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1

The second movement of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 has become famous in its own right — it's melancholic sounds are said to have brought author Leo Tolstoy to tears, and the melody was used as the basis for the tune "On the Isle of May."

LISTEN — String Quartet No. 1: II. Andante cantabile

10. Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 "Death and the Maiden"

The "Death and the Maiden" quartet is one of Franz Schubert's most famous works. It was written after he suffered a major illness and realized he was dying. All movements are written in a minor key, driving home the urgency and fear of death as well as highlighting the few respites in major motifs.

LISTEN — String Quartet No. 14 "Death and the Maiden" Andante con moto

9. Janácek: String Quartet No. 2 "Intimate Letters"

Leos Janáček wrote his String Quartet No. 2 as a sort of manifesto on love to a woman 38 years younger than him. They exchanged over 700 letters through his life, and this work was meant as a testament to their relationship. The result is a work filled with passion and longing.

LISTEN — String Quartet No. 2 "Intimate Letters" III. Moderato

8. Mendelssohn: Octet

Felix Mendelssohn was 16 when he wrote this work as a gift for a friend. You can hear his youthful excitement and brilliance throughout the work, but especially in the first movement. It's melodic swells highlight his brilliance and promise as a composer.

LISTEN — String Octet: I. Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco

7. Dvorák: Serenade for Winds

Antonin Dvořák's Serenade for Winds evokes the Rococo style, combining the worlds of aristocracy and common folk. It's easy to picture yourself walking around a Baroque castle while listening to this regal piece.

LISTEN — Serenade for Winds: I. Moderato, quasi marcia

6. Debussy: String Quartet

The only string quartet Claude Debussy ever wrote marks a true departure from classical harmony to a more freeing view of composing. Composer Pierre Boulez even said that Debussy freed chamber music from "rigid structure, frozen rhetoric and rigid aesthetics" with this work. Listen to how the second movement utilizes pizzicato and strumming.

LISTEN — String Quartet: II. Assez vif et bien rythme

5. Ravel: String Quartet

Like Debussy, Maurice Ravel only wrote one string quartet. It is greatly influenced by Debussy's, but blazes a new path in a different way. Even so, listen to how the second movement utilizes pizzicato and strumming just like Debussy's. Instead of rejecting traditional forms, Ravel works within them to create a quartet that has stood the test of time.

LISTEN — String Quartet: II. Assez vif. Tres rythme

4. Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A major

One of the best-known and earlier pieces written for clarinet, W.A. Mozart's Clarinet Quintet was written for the clarinetist Anton Stadler. Their working relationship produced another work for clarinet — Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra — and changed the history of the instrument forever.

LISTEN — Clarinet Quintet: II. Larghetto

3. Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 7 "Archduke"

The composer was the pianist at the premiere of his "Archduke" piano trio, and it was one of his final performances due to his increasing deafness. The work is written beautifully for piano, violin and cello, with each instrument trading off the melody seamlessly.

LISTEN — Piano Trio No. 7 "Archduke": I. Allegro moderato

2. Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major, "Trout Quintet"

Franz Schubert's "Trout Quintet" gets its name from the fourth movement, which is based on variations of his lied by the same name. Its childish playfulness and textures make this work a lasting classic in the chamber music repertoire.

LISTEN — "Trout Quintet": IV. Thema with Variations; Andante

1. Dvorák: String Quartet No. 12 "American"

It's no wonder Antonin Dvorák's "American" quartet topped our list — it embodies his compositional style from his stay in America, where he encountered musical influences from all across the country. You can hear hints of folk music, spirituals, and indigenous melodies, all tied together in a magical bow. Although Dvořák only lived in the U.S. for a few years, he captured the spirit of American classical music and influenced it for years to come.

LISTEN — String Quartet No. 12 "American": I. Allegro ma non troppo

You can hear all of these works, and more on our new Chamber Music stream. Is your favorite one missing from this list? Let us know!