Chamber Music in the 20th Century – Cultural and Compositional Crisis of a Genre


  • Bojan Bujić



In the sociology of music, chamber music as a genre is usually seen as a manifestation of the bourgeois musical culture and activity. This paper tries to argue that the specific character of chamber music, its intimate nature and a certain indulgence in compositional complexity are the qualities which could be recognised outside the limits of the »bourgeois« nineteenth century. Chamber music with its insistence on the specifically musical elements of music avoids dramatic gestures and pictorialism which are to be seen to a greater extent in other genres. It provides the composer with an area in which he can renounce the outward, narrative style of music and devote himself to an exploration of the essence of his art. Tendencies towards compositional complexity, attitudes of the renunciation of the outward and dramatic gestures are traced through the first forty years of the twentieth century as an illustration of a continuing strong chamber music tradition. In the period after 1945 the increased influence of chamber theatre and an intense pursuit of the study of technique for technique's sake diminished the sense of self-sufficiency which characterised earlier chamber music and removed some of the valuable distinctions between the chamber and symphonic styles. Led by a desire to re-examine their social role, some composers tried to avoid the alleged exclusive and hermetic nature of chamber music by resorting to parody or the use of superficial dramatic gestures. With this they endangered the existence of a genre that traditionally provided composers with a chance to exercise their freedom as creators and human beings.


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How to Cite

Bujić, B. (1981). Chamber Music in the 20th Century – Cultural and Compositional Crisis of a Genre. Musicological Annual, 17(1), 24–35.