Popular Classics
( 221 works, 40 composers)

This derived list of "popular 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
( 427 works, 84 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
( 560 works, 85 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 / Discovery
( 272 works, 104 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
( 4,637 works, 988 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.

Guide de Guide de La Musique de Chambre. Fayard
( 1,894 works, 153 composers)

Guide de La Musique de Chambre is a modern French encyclopedia of chamber music published in 1989. It is included to represent both a comprehensive base of chamber music selections but also to capture anything specific to a French viewpoint, ensuring the derived canon is properly international. This list records all the main chamber works presented in this book. For more information, see Amazon.com

Harenberg Kulturführer: Kammermusik
( 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. This list captures all the principal works feature in this book. For more information, see Amazon.de

Chamber Music. An Essential History, Mark A. 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.

Guide to Chamber Music. A Listener's Guide. Melvin 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 book establishes a worthy starting point for the "canon" if not with slight American bias. Less comprehensive that either the French or German encyclopedias above, this is nonetheless an ample selection but clearly curated by Berger as essential, beloved highlights. For details, see Amazon.

Chamber Music. A Listener's Guide. James M. 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." Keller is a fine, elegant writer and his book includes useful information particularly regarding premieres. For details, see Amazon.

Music@Menlo: Chamber Music Festival and Institute
( 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. Chamber Music Publishers
( 1,788 works, 565 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. A History. Paul 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."

Intimate Voices: 20th Century String Quartets
( 97 works, 21 composers)

Intimate Voices, The Twentieth-Century String Quartet is an academic deep-dive into the work of "twenty-one composers from eleven countries" by several scholars edited and curated by Evan Jones, Associate Professor of Music Theory, Florida State University College of Music. The two-volume set comprises an illuminating list of 20th century masterworks that serve to inform the earsense lists specifically with the modern string quartet repertoire.

A Guide to 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. Basil 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 and Quintet. Basil 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.

Guide to Sonatas. Music for One or Two Instruments, Melvin 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.

The Great Haydn Quartets. Hans 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. Dover Press
( 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,

Johann Sebastian Bach's Chamber Music, Hans 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 FM Classic 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
( 210 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.

earsense - 50 Great String Quartets
( 54 works, 42 composers)

As part of a special presentation showcasing the history of the string quartet for a field report at SF Music Day sponsored and hosted by InterMusic SF in the autumn of 2016, I curated a reference list of 50 Great String Quartets as a "primer" on the genre. Subjective to be sure, it nonetheless captures the full historical range from the beginning until 2016 while touching upon the key "classics" and other noteworthy highlights. One might title this "at least" or "the first" 50 great string quartets and pay just as much homage to what had to be omitted. Stay tuned for Volume II.

John Hood String Quartet Reviews
( 407 works, 265 composers)

The Australian John Hood is a remarkably multi-talented, energetic and disciplined man who is an extraordinarily musical being. A talented guitarist in several styles with a famous past, he took, in recent years, to an intensive study of the string quartet with a particular emphasis on 20th and 21st century works writing reviews that accumulated into a blog, String Quartets – A Most Intimate Medium A Listener’s Guide to the Genre from 1800 which he then fastidiously edited and published as a wonderful book of the same title. Hood writes in a clear, instructive and personal style that is refreshing for its directness and accessibility in contrast to the often arcane academic style of other writers on the subject. He has devised his own useful categorization and rating scheme and, in kind service to other curious followers, tends to review only works for which recordings are available. As a bonus, both his blog and his book refer back to corresponding earsense pages for online listening where possible. This list captures every quartet John has reviewed. The earsense work pages have links directly to John's blog. We do our best to keep it updated, ever chasing the perceptive and indefatigable Mr. Hood.

Early Keyboard Trios
( 70 works, 13 composers)

In the summer of 2017, I researched a presentation on the early piano trio, specifically looking at some of the earliest works for harpsichord and optional accompaniment by the violin and/or cello, an historical genre known as the accompanied sonata (implying the principal role of keyboard, whether harpsichord or pianoforte). This eventually leads to the marvelous keyboard trios of Haydn (of which he composed over 40) and the first, mature, balanced piano trios by Mozart at the height of the Viennese classical era. This list captures some of the best of these early keyboard trios.