Originally, chamber music referred to a type of classical music that was performed
in a small space such as a house or a palace room, and typically featured smaller
ensembles that played without a conductor. Today, chamber music is performed
very similarly in terms of both venue and instrumentation. A chamber orchestra is
usually composed of 40 or fewer musicians and because of the limited number of
instruments in the group, each instrument plays an equally important role. Generally
speaking, chamber music is performed by only one player per part.
The following chamber music pieces should be a part of every string teacher’s
repertoire and library.
Pastorale for Flute, Cello Obbligato, and Basso Continuo Opus 13, No.4 by Antonio
Vivaldi (Kalmus, dist. by Warner Bros.)
A pastorale is an instrumental or vocal piece written in imitation of the music of
shepherds, their shawns, and pipes. This song is typical Vivaldi: the warm, sonorous
lines meld together to create a masterpiece of tranquil chamber music. It is written
in 6/8 or 3/8 meter, marked Larghetto, suggestive of a lullaby: a tender flowing
melody with sustained notes in the key of A major. This grade-three level piece will
delight students and listeners alike.
The cello gently imitates the motive stated by the flute in numerous places
throughout. A talented bass player can play the cello part. Most proficient players
will rise to the occasion when attempting to play this obbligato part. The Basso
Continuo is played by the piano. The solo may be performed with flute, oboe, or
violin. The articulation is well marked for the flute, and the phrasing is carefully
allocated for the cello. The cello remains in bass clef throughout the piece.
This selection offers a wonderful change of pace during a full orchestra concert, and
would highlight the ensemble’s most talented students. Renditions for 46 School
Band and Orchestra, March 2011 flute and piano, and for flute, cello and piano may
be viewed on YouTube by typing “Pastorale by Vivaldi.”
Sonatine by Maurice Ravel (1875- 1937) arranged by Philip Gordon (Carl Fischer)
Although the piece is titled “Sonatine” rather than “Sonata,” its diminutive title refers
to its modest length. This challenging piece is an arrangement for strings of the first
movement of this piano work. It is rated grade four, which requires careful listening
in order to negotiate the dissonant harmonic treatment and tonal color of this
This colorful work is scored for three violins, viola, cello and string bass, with an
optional piano accompaniment that generally doubles the viola, cello, and bass
parts throughout, thus reinforcing the low register. The third violin part plays
divisi, meaning that two players are assigned to that part. This charming piece is
marked moderato, is in 2-2 meter and is in the key of F# minor (Aeolian mode), and
is in sonata-allegro form. The opening theme of the first movement is subject to
variations and transformations in the second and third movements – a technique
refined by Liszt.
This song is not to be played too fast. The inner voices are quiet and slightly held
back. The tender melody is played legato and dynamics must be carefully observed.
Characteristic throughout is the importance given to the accented upbeats and the
crescendos and diminuendos. Use this wonderful piece to teach expression and
There are numerous dissonant chords or unexpected chord progressions
such as: the use of minor 7th with a flatted fifth, ninth chords without the fifth
(a compositional technique favored by Debussy and other impressionists,
especially when these ninth chords move in parallel motion), numerous chromatic
progressions, and D major triads moving to C major triads. An occasional major
seventh chord places the root and the major seventh in adjacent voices creating a
minor second dissonance. Intonation can be a problem for fledgling string players
who have not yet heard or played these types of dissonances.
Perform this with generous amounts of rubato and with a slight pause before the
restatement of the main theme. It can be used as a "color" piece to add variety
during a concert. A piano version of this piece can be found on YouTube. Highly
recommended for moderately advanced string players.
Suite and Light (Stringsets): Four Jazzy Originals by Tony Osborne (Faber
A string section is enhanced by providing opportunities to explore syncopation and
rhythmic contrast. These four movements are written with a jazz feel and employ
numerous syncopated figures. The set is scored for two violins, viola or violin three,
cello and an optional bass part.
The four sections are as follows:
- "Thoroughly Modern Varnish"(in the key of C major). This is a bright and
cheerful piece that projects the feel and style of the 1920s Charleston style. It
uses the following syncopations: (Ex. 1).
- "Soap on a String" (in the key of F major and modulates to Bb major) is to be
played sensitively and with expression. The beautiful, tender theme is developed
during the seventy-five measures. The inner parts contain smooth voice leading
and have interesting moving lines. The syncopated figures are: (Ex. 2)
Students are challenged at any level due to the jazz syncopations and use of
the keys of C and F. It should be placed in grade level three for these reasons.
Syncopated jazz figures are best taught through physical movement and vocal
expression. Here is a useful approach to the teaching of syncopated rhythms:
- “Woody Waltz” (in the key of G major) is in lilting three-four meter in the
mixolydian mode and should be performed in a fl owing and rhythmic style. It uses
the following syncopated figures: (Ex. 3)
- “Groovy Strings” (in the key of C major) should be played with power and
movement. Two very effective grand pauses (GP) occur early in the movement
and add an element of surprise and tension. This movement is in the mixolydian
mode and has a bluesy feel. It uses the following syncopated figures: (Ex. 4)
* Write the rhythmic patterns on the board and ask the students to clap and
sing the patterns. The “ear to eye” approach works well when learning
* Have the students play each rhythmic pattern in unison or in octaves, and
keep repeating the rhythmic pattern until the students grasp the concept of the
pattern. Have them play rhythmic patterns on the scale tones of the key of
* Scramble cue cards and ask students to clap, sing, and play whatever cue card
is in view. Students should aim for quick and spontaneous recognition of common
syncopated rhythmic patterns. String sets is highly recommended for teaching
jazz style and common syncopated patterns.
Music for Piano Quartet (Hal Leonard)
This is an Editio Musica Budapest collection containing music by Mozart,
Beethoven, Schubert, Pleyel, Gebauer, Mazas, Hauptmann, and Weber.
A piano quartet is a musical ensemble consisting of a piano and three other
instruments. These other instruments are usually a string trio consisting of violin,
viola, and cello. These delightful arrangements of the classical masters’ works
are advertised as written for string beginners and the parts are all written in first
position. The parts are for violin, viola (violin 2), cello and piano.
The grade three level is realistic since the songs contain syncopated rhythms,
sixteenth notes, slurred eighth notes, dotted eighth notes followed by a sixteenth,
and a few double stops in the violin parts, with one or two double stops in the cello.
The keys used in this collection are G,C, A, Gm, and D. Any departure from the key
of D major provides a challenge for most developing string players. Some of the
piano parts are a bit more complex than the string parts.
These pieces are enjoyable to play and the musicality of the pieces will challenge
Other Selections for Chamber Groups
Album of Easy String Quartets, Volume One
The composers represented in this collection are Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven,
Mendelssohn, Cherubini, Bach, Handel, Masse, and Schumann. Even though the
collection is entitled, "Album of Easy String Quartets," in actuality, they are not so
easy. This collection is at grade level three to four, with most being grade level four.
The keys represented in the quartets are C, G, Eb, Gm, Bb, F, and A, and the pieces
include off-beat syncopations, single and double grace notes, and dotted quarter
followed by two sixteenths. However, this collection of string quartets is a "Golden
Oldie" that every string teacher should have in his / her library.
Easy Pieces for Three Violins, Volume One
(Belwin Mills Publishing Co.)
The four pieces in this collection are Kinder Suite, Intrada in alla breve meter,
with a Gigue in 6/8, Fugue, and Finale in 6/8. These pieces are in the keys G and
E minor with occasional excursions into A, C, and D minor. The first violin is the
most rhythmically active of the three violin parts. The first violin part will provide a
challenge for the more mature players. Grade level three.
12 Little Duets for Two Violins by Mazas Op 38
(Ed. by Henry Schradieck, Schirmer)
These interesting and challenging duets are in the keys of C, G, D, A, F, Dm, and Bb.
There are some bowing indications to assist the players. Players must deal with
double stops in both violin parts, and a few triple stops and a quadruple stop in the
first violin part. Articulations are carefully done. Grade level three.
Sonata in A Minor by Antonio Vivaldi
This challenging piece is for solo cello (or viola) with piano. For extra
accompaniment, a string quartet or string orchestra may be used. The sonata is in
four movements and some passages extend in the tenor clef; the cellist must be
able to navigate in this clef. This is a superb, demanding piece for any cellist. The
cello part is a grade level five and the other string parts are at grade level four.
Concerto in B Minor, Op 3 No. 10 by Antonio Vivaldi,
(Arr. by Ralph Matesky, Wynn Music)
This piece is for four violins with piano accompaniment and is also playable by
string orchestra. Vivaldi's violin parts are usually difficult and this piece merits a
grade level six rating.
Vince Corozine has served as director of
Music for the Peekskill, New York City
schools, associate professor of Music at
the King's College in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.,
and director of Music Industry Studies at
Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth
He performed and arranged for the USMA
Band at West Point and served as music
director for the annual Thanksgiving Day
Parade in Philadelphia, PA for WPVI-TV
(ABC-Disney) for 10 years.
Vince is the author of Arranging Music
for the Real World, (Mel Bay). He records
professionally in New York, Toronto, Philadelphia, Hong Kong and China, and
currently teaches 12 usic arranging courses online. www.vincecorozine.com