Chamber Music and Orchestral Music

To say that music has progressed into the 21st Century would be an understatement. Every aspect of modern life has been thoroughly permeated by music, from avid consumers of music who sit clutching their very trendy and very new iPods listening to rock, pop or soul to those whose tastes run more classical lines. But asked whether we prefer Chamber music or Orchestral pieces and conversations come to a stand still. The awkward silence which ensues speaks the question that resides on everybody's mind: What is Chamber music and what is orchestra music?

To begin, Chamber music is music performed by a group of up to ten musicians with the name implying that it is often played in a small room. Most compositions by classical masters such as Brahms and Mozart can easily be played by Chamber Orchestras. In fact, certain pieces were written with a specific number of players in mind. For example, the decet/dixtuor in D, opus 14 by George Enescu was written for ten players (flutes, oboe, English horn, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons). However, ever since its emergence in the 18th century (Baroque period), the most common instruments in a chamber orchestra are those of the violin, viola, cello and the piano. Stemming from the same ideals as that which brought on the French Revolution, the number of players lends itself particularly well in expressing individual emotions. In addition, the size has the added benefit in that it gives the impression of a more intimate presentation.

On the other hand, Orchestral music is that played by a larger group of players, often comprising of a string, bass, woodwinds and a percussion section. Larger ensembles are called "philharmonic orchestras" or "symphony orchestras" and smaller ones (40 players) called "chamber orchestras". The name, like that of chamber music, derives from its location which is that of the area of the stage traditionally occupied by the greek chorus. Originating from the 15th Century, orchestral music has moved from operatic performances such as Wagner and more traditional pieces by those such as Haydn, to more contemporary mediums. As the size of the orchestra increases (Betthoven prefers a standard complement of double winds and brass for his pieces written in the 19th century) and technology progresses, orchestral music has filtered through onto the big screen. Most motion pictures now call for background music in order to underline the emotions being depicted on celluloid and these scores have now become as much a part of contemporary pop culture as the movies themselves. Who could ever forget the rather intimidating sounds of the "Imperial March" or Darth Vader's theme from the "Star Wars" trilogy? Composed by John Williams in 1977, few would know that in fact, William's music is largely based on Wagner and Stein. Other famous orchestral scores are the songs from "Lord of the Rings" (Howard Shore and performed by the New Zealand Philharmonic Orchestra).

Finally, to compare Chamber music to Orchestral music would not only be hard but rather erroneous. Musical pieces are rather diverse and to confine one's opinion to statements such as "chamber music is better¡­" would be to overlook the fact that certain compositions may lend itself better when played in an intimate setting while other pieces have been composed specifically with a full orchestra in mind. In the end, what matters most is that the true purpose of music is fulfilled: to create music as an expression of an emotion, an idea that surpasses the need for words or physical interpretation.

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."
Victor Hugo