Antiques Column: Chamber music was a private affair

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We have just returned from a holiday on the Emerald Isle. A wonderful place which over the years has produced many wonderful things including Guinness and my gorgeous Irish wife, although not necessarily in that order.

Like many families the world over we always had a ‘best bits’ session after the holiday and on our own my wife and I continue this tradition.

Over many years the piano became a more affordable instrument for the middle class family.

So, in the queue for the return ferry we mulled over meals, hotels, Irish roadworks and a chamber music concert in Killaloe.

In the past chamber music was a private affair in which the privileged few were entertained with sonatas and string quartets.

The very wealthy sometimes employed their own composer to write music just for them, but the general public had no access to this wonderful world.

Gradually however, over many years the piano became a more affordable instrument for the middle class family, which in turn encouraged the market for chamber music.

Soon the music for piano duets and simple songs was being purchased everywhere. Opera-goers could now buy simple arrangements of their favourite operatic arias and perform them at home.

Less popular were the violin sonatas and string quartets as they demanded a high level of musical training.

But as the standard of tuition improved, so the demand for instrumental chamber music increased.

In the saleroom today there is always a very good demand for musical instruments and in fact it would be fair to say that in a way the tables have turned since the very early days of chamber music and the piano’s popularity.

Stringed instruments are generally speaking much the better seller in the auction room today.