Popular Classics (221 works, 40 composers)

The list of "classics" captures works that are listed in six or more sources lists and, as such, are the chestnuts, the war horses, the essential works of chamber music in the "popular" canon. A bit longer than a typical "top 100" list, this collection is the smallest set of recommended chamber works on earsense intended as a compact, indisputable list. While these are the classics, influenced by popular (vs. scholarly) opinion (see ABC FM 100 Classic), they are not the only classics. See "Approaching the Canon" for a much broader sample of the living repertory. But, this is a good place to start with apologies to other works that missed the "arbitrary" cut.

Approaching a Canon: 3-6 Players (426 works, 83 composers)

These are works from Approaching the Canon for 3 to 6 players. This is a useful subset representing the most often presented and performed works from the most common ensembles. Works for 2 players are often excluded by chamber music presenters and sometimes even from the strict definition of chamber music. Works for more than 6 players are rather rare, require extravagant resources and begin to blur the boundary between chamber and orchestral textures. Within the practical range of 3 to 6 players, these are the masterworks you are most likely to hear live, perhaps the most relevant of all. In the service of the smallest high priority list, this excludes numerous masterworks for 1, 2, 7 and 8 players that are also worthy of your attention eventually.

Approaching a Canon (559 works, 84 composers)

A derived list of "canonical" chamber music works. These works are found on four or more source lists suggesting that they are standard works in the living repertoire. This is a reasonable if not conservative list but it is a reliable corpus and it is one of the main goals and achievements of the chamberbase lists. If you have ever wanted to know what chamber music is and what music to listen to, this is your answer. Want to dive into chamber music and hear the best? Here's your list. This is not a definitive or final list; it is a reasonable list automatically derived from a variety of other reliable lists. It is an experiment. Naturally, it is a dynamic list, always subject to change as the underlying information is expanded, as the living sense of repertoire changes, as time moves on. But, like all arbitrary music histories, it is a snapshot. For additional works that might easily be considered part of the canon, see the Outliers list for works that just missed the cut.

Outliers (272 works, 105 composers)

"Outliers" are those works on precisely three lists, mentioned twice but not enough to make the canon. It is an arbitrary cutoff part of a simple but imperfect way of "calculating" the canon and therefore, those works that fall off the list. As such, the outliers list may include some of your favorites, works that you might consider canonical, or, wonderful works with which you may not yet be familiar.

All Listed Works (4,615 works, 978 composers)

This final derived list is a union of all source lists below: a list of all works mentioned on any list at all. The list includes the beloved chestnuts as well as special individual favorites unique to a particular list. This is the broadest possible list (shy of the entire earsense database) suggesting works to investigate and enjoy, works that at least one source found worthy. At present, this list comprises roughly 10% of the total earsense chamber music database.

Harenberg Kulturführer (1,068 works, 109 composers)

Harenberg Kulturführer: Kammermusik is a modern German handbook of chamber music published in 2007. It is included to represent both a comprehensive base of chamber music selections but also to capture anything specific to a German viewpoint, ensuring the derived canon is properly international. For more information, see Amazon.de

Chamber Music. Radice (743 works, 88 composers)

Chamber Music, An Essential History by Mark A. Radice, 2012. The most recent addition to the earsense lists project, published by University of Michigan Press, Radice's book presents an up-to-date history of chamber music with some refreshing choices both old and new. This list comes from an appendix titled "Table of Chamber Pieces According to Ensemble Size" which one presumes is a table of recommended or "worthy" pieces.

Chamber Music. Berger (227 works, 54 composers)

Published in 1985, Melvin Berger's "listener's guide" to chamber music is perhaps the most popular book on chamber music in the English language and a handy, familiar reference. The list of works covered in his work is a worthy starting point for the "canon" if not with slight American bias. For details, see Amazon.

Chamber Music. Keller (192 works, 56 composers)

Published in 2011, James Keller's book is another wonderful American "listener's guide" to chamber music written in English. It lists many of the works in Berger's book, adds others and omits some perhaps already covered. As such, the union and the intersection of these books starts to make a more interesting picture of "the canon." For details, see Amazon.

Music@Menlo (532 works, 139 composers)

Music@Menlo is a world-class, international summer chamber music festival and teaching institute at the Menlo School in California. For over a decade, Music@Menlo has presented hundreds of concerts, master classes, lectures and workships fostering a mighty community of chamber music professionals, students and enthusiasts. The Music@Menlo list includes nearly every work ever performed at the professional evening concerts, carte blanche concerts and the prelude concerts by students. This list takes us out of the books and into the field representing what is professionally programmed and performed and what repertoire is applied to mentor emerging artists. Note, this list is not complete, though nearly so: With rich and creative programming, Music@Menlo features works for piano (solo and 4-hands), art songs for voice, as well as a variety of chamber treatments of works that fall outside the scope of the earsense chamberbase. As such, these works are not necessarily included. For more information, see Music@Menlo.

Edition Silvertrust (1,774 works, 563 composers)

Edition Silvertrust is a Chamber Music publisher with a vast store of wonderful, if lesser known, chamber music works. A brief quote from their website explains: "We publish unjustly neglected music by over 400 composers, such as those you see below. Many were once as famous as those whose names you know. Their works were often played and held in high regard, and are fresh and original sounding, often as good as the most well-known masterworks." As such, links to Edition Silvertrust scores are integrated into chamberbase and form a valuable list of "outliers" to explore. Of course, many of their scores represent undeniable masterworks. We are grateful here at earsense for the vast amount of historical information Edition Silvertrust has helped us to collate. For more information, see Edition Silvertrust.

The String Quartet. Griffiths (220 works, 45 composers)

Paul Griffiths has written several extraordinary books about music featuring an encyclopedic scope, a fine projection of historical narrative and a worthy survey of masterworks. His eloquent book titled The String Quartet: A History (1983) is a standard reference in the English, and to my knowledge, the only work of its kind. The book includes a rich chronological appendix that is fully recorded in the earsense database. This particular list features the subset of quartets Griffiths highlights in the chronology with a typical descriptor: “Particular importance is suggested by the use of bold type."

Forgotten String Quartets (139 works, 136 composers)

The string quartet and its enduring history is at the core of chamber music. There are so many extant string quartets! (see here). With "only" a few hundred in the active repertoire (see here), one wonders what other wonderful string quartets might be "out there." Here's one answer: A Guide Forgotten String Quartets is a fascinating selection of intentionally unfamiliar (unjustly neglected!) works that are worth discovering and possibly re-evaluating. Here's more information about the project and the folks that put this together: Forgotten String Quartets: Exploring unjustly neglected masterpieces.

The Piano Trio. Smallman (117 works, 69 composers)

Prof. Basil Smallman has written and assembled at least two marvelous surveys of chamber music genres: the piano trios and the piano quartets / quintets. As a historical and analytical survey highlighting key works, his books are rich lists in themselves serving a since counterbalance to the predominance of the string quartet. For more information, see Amazon: Piano Trios and The Piano Quartet and Quintet.

The Piano Quartet / Quintet. Smallman (89 works, 66 composers)

Prof. Basil Smallman has written and assembled at least two marvelous surveys of chamber music genres: the piano trios and the piano quartets / quintets. As a historical and analytical survey highlighting key works, his books are rich lists in themselves serving a since counterbalance to the predominance of the string quartet. For more information, see Amazon: Piano Trios and The Piano Quartet and Quintet.

Sonatas. Berger (143 works, 26 composers)

Melvin Berger gives us another invaluable resource for duo and solo sonatas, a crucial part of the chamber music repertoire perhaps less often programmed for the stage outside of a recital or the pleasure of domestic musicmaking. Berger's Guide to Sonatas: Music for One or Two Instruments is an admirable survey of the great works in this genre, fodder for calculating the canon and a wonderful list all on its own. Note: sonatas for solo piano and some solo instruments are not included in this list as they are outside the scope of earsense chamberbase. For the full list and more information, see Amazon.

Great Haydn Quartets. Keller (46 works, 1 composers)

The heart of chamber music is the string quartet and Haydn is the father of the genre. He wrote so many string quartets and they are nearly all engaging masterworks and important models if not beloved favorites. But, there is always the crème de la crème. There are several lists of Haydn's "great" or "famous" quartets. From the great Hans Keller, The Great Haydn Quartets: Their Interpretation is a whole book about them, or, at least, his passionately argued list. Thank you Hans Keller for at least helping us focus on "only" two-thirds of the quartets. This is a great list in itself, but also important weight to make all of Haydn's worthy quartets relevant in a theoretical "canon." For more information, see Amazon.

Haydn: Great Piano Trios (12 works, 1 composers)

Haydn's piano trios are generally under-appreciated and under-played. They deserve a special list and a "boost" towards the ideal canon. Dover's book of scores, "Haydn: Great Piano Trios", is a perfect list. It is a miniature case study in highlighting a subset of masterworks from an otherwise daunting list of possible discoveries. Again, the list is conservative but reliable. It is a great list all by itself. For more information, see Amazon,

J. S. Bach's Chamber Music, Vogt (45 works, 1 composers)

To many, the chamber music repertoire begins with Haydn and the classical age. Chamberbase reaches back to c.1500 and the rise of published instrumental part music. There are reams of great chamber music from the Baroque era (c.1600-1750) but they tend to form a performance and historical tradition separate from contemporary notions of classical chamber music and the sonata form. Regardless, the pre-classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach is a crucial exception: His music is alive in all contemporary chamber contexts, whether literally or by implication in terms of his incalculable influence and presence in all music since his. This includes works Bach wrote for solo instruments, also not normally considered chamber music (for ensemble). Which music of Bach's time was/is considered "chamber music" is a complicated issue, but we can easily accommodate a widely-held modern view, here, based on Hans Vogt's Johann Sebastian Bach's Chamber Music. This list highlights and brings several of Bach's "chamber music" works into the chamberbase canon. See more at Amazon.

ABC 100 Chamber (100 works, 36 composers)

Most sources here are scholarly or historical. But no worthy collation of chamber music would be complete without a "popular poll." Apparently, the Australian Broadcasting System has an ongoing "top 100" series exploring various classical genres and themes. According to this page on wikipedia, ABC conducted a popular poll in 2008 to determine the top 100 chamber music works according to its participating listeners. It is a good list packed with essential, great chamber music. As such, it allows popular taste to influence the comprehensive picture.

earsense supplement (209 works, 117 composers)

The earsense supplement is a modest contribution from earsense of various individual works that are either not mentioned in any other list or that need a little "boost" to give them a higher ranking. There is no specific theme to this list other than the subjective appreciation of earsense / chamberbase staff. As we built chamberbase and complied all these lists, we reserve the right to exert a slight influence by adding our own choice selections to the big picture.

About earsense lists

earsense lists describe a thematic collection of chamber music works. The lists select and highlight specific works from an otherwise overwhelming historical database of many thousands of known works. The Source lists reflect a set of works covered in a chamber music book, an external site, or performed in a concert series, etc. Derived lists highlight inferences from multiple lists, e.g. the standard chamber music canon as a list of works that appear on three or more source lists.

Of course, using the advanced search, you can easily derive your own dynamic lists such as "all French Quartets" or "anything with a basson written by a female composer." You can also apply an adanced search to filter any of the lists below for a dynamic subset such as "all French Quartets in the Canon" or "works by Ravel included in Melvin Berger's guide", etc. Or, you can simply browse through a given list itself "as is" for a particular comprehensive view of chamber music.

When looking at the detail page of a given work, you will see a the lists that reference it, if any, in the left hand column.
See example.

While the lists essentially highlight the celebrated chamber music canon, they also provide an opportunity for discovery of lesser known works "bubbled up" into your awareness. In particular, see "Outliers", "All Listed Works", as well as browsing the unique detail of any given list.

Finally, the source lists represent, like a "webography", many important sources of information upon which the earsense chamberbase is built. It suggests the breadth, depth and reliability of this website as well as highlighing the debt to innumerable external resources from many fine people in the chamber music community. This would be impossible without them.