Chamber music can be defined as a music genre designed for a small group of instruments (from three to eight) and without a conductor. The name came for the place in which this chamber music groups held their shows: palace rooms. The first information about this genre dates from around 500 A.D. in Greece. There were two dominant music groups: the cult of Apollo and the cult of Dionysus. They both used few instruments and accompanied poems and singing.
In the early Medieval period religious song were dominant. They were performed in churches by priests and did not use instruments. The lyrics were passed from one generation to the next verbally, so we have little information about those times. In the late Medieval period appears one key character in the evolution of chamber music: the minstrel. This was a nomad performed that went from city to city with his musical instrument and performed for money and food. By the late 11th century minstrels started their own guild and performance schools. These can be considered some of the first forms of music schools. Troubadours appeared in France in the 13th century and were a permanent entertainment tool at the royal court.
During the Renaissance period musicians became a professional class. Music notation was more standardized, and this allowed instrumental music to spread through Europe. During this period the performance space was usually a patron’s house where musicians were hired to entertain. During the Baroque period chamber music blasted through Europe. The trendsetter was King Louis XIV of France. He liked to entertain his guests in the most exquisite way and soon the Royal French court was filled with musicians.
The classical period allowed mid-class citizens to enjoy art as well. The upper classes were not so influent anymore and musicians adapted accordingly. The most renowned musicians of this period are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Shubert. This period is considered by some the true birth time of chamber music. During this period professional musicians were hired to accompany an aristocrat during a reception. The trend of music as an entertainment method still remained.
Slowly, the chamber music moved to larger places. The aristocracy realized that concerts are an important social event themselves. From this moment on musicians performed mostly in front of large crowds even if the number of instruments remained the same. The technology behind music developed immensely during this period. Instruments were rigorously made, and sound efficient concert halls were built. This is the emerging time of music schools as well.
During the romantic period performance spaces became larger thanks to the economic capacity of the middle class to purchase concert tickets. People were interested in music and so music adapted for them. During the 20th century new cultural waves shaped chamber music, adapting it to the changed public. Chamber music will remain an exquisite form of art and entertainment for a very long time. If you ever have a chance to see a performance, we highly recommend it.