The need for chamber music

Why do audiences get less exposure to the classical guitar than to, for example, the piano or other string instruments? Even in college music programs, the guitar is not as pervasive in the academic community compared to other instruments. Having studied music for over 26 years and reflecting upon my experiences first as a music student, and now a professor, I am ready to point the finger at a possible culprit for the guitar players--isolation: a lack of involvement in chamber music, encouragement (or making it a requirement!) in music schools, especially during the early stages.

Upon beginning guitar study, classical guitar students will soon find themselves immersed in its wonderful repertoire covering all time periods, from the Renaissance to contemporary composition. Like the piano, the guitar is a polyphonic instrument, meaning that we can play multiple lines of melody at the same time (bass, middle voice and treble voice). This is a great advantage, and because of it the guitar and the piano both enjoy a vast repertoire of solo pieces. While playing solo pieces is an indispensable part of the classical guitar, we also have a substantial amount of rich and sophisticated chamber music--which, unfortunately, very few guitar students are exposed to during their formative years. It is my opinion that exposing guitar students to chamber music at an early stage is extremely beneficial and necessary to help them become a complete musician. Think about it! Every string player is required to participate in a string quartet; winds, strings and percussion all participate in the symphony orchestra, and virtually every orchestra instrumentalist is required to play pieces with piano accompaniment. Numerous benefits come with playing chamber music; students will gain specific skills that cannot be addressed through the solo repertoire. Let's talk about some of the most important skills gained when participating in chamber music.


The value of chamber music

The most obvious (and fun!) aspect of playing chamber music is the social aspect: making music with other people and making friends through music! Have you ever noticed when during a concert, two musicians smile at each other while playing a fast passage, or breathe at the same time during a slow and passionate piece? Working together with other musicians to produce a beautiful piece of music is an experience like no other!

One of my favorite composers is Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829), an Italian guitarist that mesmerized his audience with his virtuosity. Giuliani is very well known among guitar players for his beautiful solo works for guitar which cover all playing levels,from etudes and short pieces for beginners to large works like sonatas and opera transcriptions that demand countless hours of practice even from the most advanced players. In my personal opinion, Giuliani’s most treasured works lie in his chamber music. Giuliani composed three concertos for guitar and orchestra (The concerto op. 30 in A is the first and most famous of them), as well as many other compositions for guitar and an assortment of other instruments including guitar and string quartet, guitar and voice, guitar and piano, guitar and flute among others.

Perhaps one of the most attractive attributes about Giuliani is the relationship he had with other great composers of his time. Giuliani worked in collaboration with two of the greatest pianists of the 19th century: Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) and Johan Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837). Both collaborations culminated with the composition of some of the greatest music composed for the piano/guitar duo format: Grand Duo Concertant, WoO, G&P-1 composed by Moscheles and Giuliani and the Grand Pot-Pourri National, Op. 93 composed by Hummel and Giuliani.


Accuracy and rhythm are also drastically improved when working with other musicians. The flexibility and rhythmic freedom we have while playing solo pieces are limited when we play chamber music. Making music with other musicians, we have to take in consideration not only our part but also to the other musicians parts as well. This means we have to be rhythmically accurate at all times, and that we have to share and articulate our ideas to make decisions together rather than by ourselves.

Finally, we develop awareness of volume, projection, and dynamics. Guitars are not loud instruments when compared to other classical (acoustic) instruments. When we play solo pieces this is not a problem, as other instruments are not overpowering us. In contrast, when we play with other musicians we immediately become aware of the importance of producing a powerful sound that can be heard together with the other instruments. Although we might not be able to compete with them in terms of volume, through chamber music we can learn how to use different instrumental colors and to focus on producing a clear sound. These issues are addressed during private lessons, but are much more consistently and effectively developed through participation in chamber music.



NEXT: Guitar Ensembles and Guitar Orchestra at Bloomingdale




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Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)