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Classical era chamber music and the romantic composers

Classical era chamber music and the composers; Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. Masters of the musical style.

Chamber music by definition is music for small ensembles, two to ten players usually, with one instrument per part. It was named thusly during the 18th century due to the performance restraints placed upon the players, i.e. that of a small chamber. Chamber music was particularly popular among the rich aristocrats who hired musicians for private home engagements.

Because chamber music emphasized a group expression rather than virtuoso soloists, its proponents were generally those composers who still aligned themselves with the more traditional style of the Classical period. Romantics like Liszt and Wagner were uninterested in chamber music, opting for more powerful orchestral presentations. Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, however, were masters of the quieter tones that were the essence of chamber music during the Romantic Period.

The string quartet was a principle element of the chamber music style. It consisted of a viola, cello, first violin, and second violin. Some chamber music was written just for strings, with no woodwinds or brass to add color or texture. In other instances, piano and wind instruments were a part of the small ensemble.

Schubert modeled his quartets after the Classical Period chamber music of Mozart and Haydn. His pieces were written in subtle tones for the pleasure of a small circle of friends. Some of his more well-known chamber music includes "Quartet in E-flat," "E major Quartet," and "Allegro in C minor." Schubert`s quartets "A minor," "D minor," and "G major" are melodious and full of modulations from key to key. The quartets are serious in tone, but offer skillful movement and harmonies. Schubert`s music was often characterized by somber first, second, and third movements followed by a cheerful allegro finale.

Brahms` music was fluid and emotional in all genres, so it is certainly no surprise that his chamber music is remembered as some of the best examples of the time. He composed twenty-four works, with a half-dozen considered masterpieces. Brahms` work often contrasted slow movements against moderate and even vivacious finales. His most popular chamber pieces include "Piano Trio in B," "Piano Quintet in F minor," and "The Trio Op.40" for piano, violin, and waldhorn.

Mendelssohn and Schumann were among the contributors to chamber music but to a lesser degree than Schubert and Brahms. Mendelssohn leaned toward the descriptive tones that the Romantic Period ushered in, yet he wrote fluidly and smoothly in the more Classical forms and techniques as well. His published chamber music primarily includes pieces for string ensembles: six string quartets, two quintets, an octet, and a sextet for piano and strings. He also wrote three sonatas, one for piano and violin, and two for piano and violoncello. Mendelssohn`s forte in chamber music was the scherzo, a lighter, faster, movement that was reminiscent of the Italian balletto dance. Scherzos of note in Mendelssohn`s chamber music contributions can be found in "Piano Trio in C minor" and the "String Quartet in A major."

Schumann`s marriage to Clara Wieck seemed to bring about his most productive years as well as his most varied contributions in style. From the years of 1840 to 1843, Schumann dabbled in several areas that were clear departures from his usual piano compositions. A divergence of six months devoted to chamber music sum up Schumann`s entire chamber music offerings; however, the outcome was prolific. Of note are Schumann`s three string quartets, a piano quartet, and a piano quintet. His movements are particularly slow and beautiful, influenced by the Romantic style of the period. Others of Schumann`s chamber music include "Op. 127," the "Piano Quartet, Op. 47," and "Piano Quintet, Op. 44."

As the Romantic Era developed and evolved, music turned to imagination and fantasy. The inclination was that balance and restraint be replaced with unusual sensual experience. Chamber music, by its very essence, was the epitome of hushed balance and therefore became a musical setting of the past.

Written by Elaine Schneider -

Short Takes: Desi

In this edition of Short Takes we shall investigate Desi ('Deshi'), a rAga of highly vakra build and independent swaroopa. Like other rAgas in this genus, there is a measure of 'abstraction' involved in its manufacture. That is to say, a simple Aroha-avaroha set barely conveys its essence nor is it a simple pastiche of tonal sentences sown together. Considerable thought and tAleem go into the mastery of such rAgas. Perhaps that is one reason why Desi is seldom heard on the concert stage today despite its tremendous aesthetic appeal.

Desi is sometimes denominated as 'Desi Todi' but the modern form carries no trace of the Todi-anga. A version known as Utari Desi or Komal Desi uses both the rishabs, komal in the avarohi mode, thus opening up the possibility of a Todi-anga.

Throughout this discussion, M =shuddha madhyam.

Raga Desi

Desi's kernel is obtained through a chalan-bheda on Raga Kafi. This is not to say that its originator conceived it with a conscious and deliberate intent of turning Kafi around. Nonetheless, Ragas don't happen in a vacuum; the accumulated corpus of rAgAngas colour and influence the active imagination. The process of accretion of rAgAngas and other distinct 'melodic molecules,' and their manifestation in several disparate melodies are potentially rich areas of study awaiting inauguration of a serious effort by Hindustani and Carnatic researchers. I dare say that there is a much deeper and common thread uniting rAgas across the two systems than is currently understood and appreciated.

Desi comes in three primary flavours subject to the type and proportion of the dhaivats employed. The D -only flavour enjoys the most circulation followed by the version with both dhaivats but where D preponderates. The d -only type of Desi is less common. With the D -only Desi, the choice of thAT is clear (Kafi) but along with the Kafi-anga, a measure of Asavari-anga may be advanced through a deergha use of the komal gandhAr, as we shall shortly see. In the case of the d -only Desi, the Asavari association naturally suggests itself but the attack on the rishab is through the agency of Kafi. Let us now amplify on these themes. First, the key tonal sentences are written out. For purposes of illustration, we shall work with the D -only flavour.

The definitive poorvAnga phrases are:

S, R (R)n' S, R M P, M P (M)g, R, R g S R (R)n' S

R M P D M P (M)g R, R P (M)g R, R (R)g, S R (R)n' S

Notice the strong rishab, its Kafi-like behaviour, and the trailing S R (R)n' S cluster. The pancham and rishab are nyAsa swaras. The kaNs (graces) informing the ucchAraNa are critical to Desi. The soft landing on the gandhAr from P through a grace of M and the eventual repose on R sweep a delicious arc. The gandhAr may be elongated (deergha bahutva)judiciously to create a brief chhAyA of Asavari and then dissipated by the nyAsa on R.

The uttarAnga activity is now characterized.

R M P D M P S", S"->P, D M P (M)g R

The gandhAr and dhaivat are varja in Arohi prayogas. The nishAd is often given short shrift as seen above. The avarohi meeND from S"->P is a stand-out.

M P n S", P n S" R", R" n S", S"->P, P n D P, D M P (M)g R

The nishAd is weak and must be carefully treated. A straight P D n S" and S" n D P are not recommended since they tend to strengthen Kafi's influence.

In the two-dhaivat Desi flavour, a soupçon of d is introduced occasionally through clusters such as P d M P (M)g R.

<-- Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande

It should to be evident by now that Desi's tonal space is not easy to get a handle on. Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande has chosen to place the rAga under the Asavari thAT (a somewhat questionable call) but the swaroopa and nuances of the different flavours have not escaped his critical gaze in his monumental exegesis, Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati. Bhatkhande has also documented the views of two of his gurus, Mohammad Ali Khan of Jaipur and Wazir Khan of Rampur, including a dhrupad, dekho ri eka maiN jogi, taught to him by the latter.

Wazir Khan of Rampur -- >

The ability of the peerless Pandit Ramashreya Jha "Ramrang" to cleave through and illuminate the rAga's core with precision, clarity and economy of thought is astounding.

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