Chamber Scenes: Musical Space, Medium, and Genre c.1800

16–18 February 2023
Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University (in collaboration with the Department of Music at UC Berkeley)

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a succession of new musical infrastructures, principles of professional association, legal and economic regimes, and musical genres and formats dramatically reordered the music professions. These included the ticketed concert series and the commercial ballroom; the concert society and the professionalized string quartet; the transnational publishing business and the popular music magazine; musical middlemen, such as John Bland or Anton Diabelli, and the changing intellectual property laws that they negotiated; and a diverse collection of musical and paramusical media forms, from miniature scores and piano transcriptions to concert reports and in-depth music reviews.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, the manifold smaller-scale compositions that had emerged from this earlier moment of radical disruption were knowable simply as “chamber music” – a broad generic designation that, within the comparatively uniform world of the modern concert hall, inevitably smoothed over this music’s complex social origins and aesthetic aspirations. Historians of chamber music have since, with some success, recovered something of this complexity, frequently by re-reading this music in terms of binary oppositions such as public versus private, courtly versus commercial, and amateur versus professional. This conference critically responds to this tendency, aiming, through performance, music theory, and historical research, to re-examine the modern concept of “chamber music” c. 1800, and to broaden the scope of critical engagement with this repertoire.

How might scholars rethink the catch-all notion of the “chamber,” already antiquated by the early nineteenth century, as a nexus of media forms, social relations, performance conditions, and stylistic predilections? How were residual habits of eighteenth-century music-making absorbed into emergent kinds of commercial performance and contemplative listening? How did the early nineteenth-century “chamber concept” collapse social contexts and so produce new – perhaps distinctly modern – ideas of publicly mediated privacy and public intimacy? And how did the “chamber” – that explicit topographical metaphor for intimate aristocratic social practices – nonetheless become the most relentlessly commercialized musical domain of the early nineteenth century, even as, in Beethoven’s late quartets, it also became a symbol of music at its apparently most arcane and abstracted?

To stimulate broad and interdisciplinary discussion around these issues, we invite proposals for 20-minute paper presentations and 45-minute lecture-recitals from all areas of music scholarship. Performers and speakers are welcome to use any of the historical keyboard instruments in the collection of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies.

The event will feature a performance and lecture-recital with the Takács Quartet.

View the draft program here. [pdf]

Registration information coming soon!

Conference organizers: Erica Buurman (Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University) and Nicholas Mathew (UC Berkeley)