Classical chamber music
The Kneisel String Quartet
, led by Franz Kneisel, is an example of chamber music. This American ensemble debuted Dvořák
's American Quartet, opus 96
musical ensemble in 1886
In Western classical music, smaller ensembles are called chamber music ensembles. The terms duet, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, octet, nonet and dectet describe groups of two up to ten musicians, respectively. A group of eleven musicians, such as found in The Carnival of the Animals, is called either a hendectet or an undectet (see Latin numerical prefixes). A soloist playing unaccompanied (e.g., a pianist playing a solo piano piece or a cellist playing a Bach suite for unaccompanied cello) is not an ensemble because it only contains one musician.
A string quartet consists of two violins, a viola and a cello. There is a vast body of music written for string quartets, as it is seen as an important genre in classical music.
A woodwind quartet usually features a flute, an oboe, a clarinet and a bassoon. A brass quartet features two trumpets, a trombone and a tuba. A saxophone quartet consists of a soprano saxophone, an alto saxophone, a tenor saxophone, and a baritone saxophone.
The string quintet is a common type of group. It is similar to the string quartet, but with an additional viola, cello, or more rarely, the addition of a double bass. Terms such as "piano quintet" or "clarinet quintet" frequently refer to a string quartet plus a fifth instrument. Mozart's Clarinet Quintet is similarly a piece written for an ensemble consisting of two violins, a viola, a cello and a clarinet, the last being the exceptional addition to a "normal" string quartet.
Some other quintets in classical music are the wind quintet, usually consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn; the brass quintet, consisting of two trumpets, one horn, a trombone and a tuba; and the reed quintet, consisting of an oboe, a soprano clarinet, a saxophone, a bass clarinet, and a bassoon.
Six or more instruments
Classical chamber ensembles of six (sextet), seven (septet), or eight musicians (octet) are fairly common; use of latinate terms for larger groups is rare, except for the nonet (nine musicians). In most cases, a larger classical group is referred to as an orchestra of some type or a concert band. A small orchestra with fifteen to thirty members (violins, violas, four cellos, two or three double basses, and several woodwind or brass instruments) is called a chamber orchestra. A sinfonietta usually denotes a somewhat smaller orchestra (though still not a chamber orchestra). Larger orchestras are called symphony orchestras (see below) or philharmonic orchestras.
A pops orchestra is an orchestra that mainly performs light classical music (often in abbreviated, simplified arrangements) and orchestral arrangements and medleys of popular jazz, music theater, or pop music songs. A string orchestra has only string instruments, i.e., violins, violas, cellos and double basses.
A symphony orchestra is an ensemble usually comprising at least thirty musicians; the number of players is typically between fifty and ninety-five and may exceed one hundred. A symphony orchestra is divided into families of instruments. In the string family, there are sections of violins (I and II), violas, cellos (often eight), and basses (often from six to eight). The standard woodwind section consists of flutes (one doubling piccolo), oboes (one doubling English horn), soprano clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), and bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon). The standard brass section consists of horns, trumpets, trombones, and tuba. The percussion section includes the timpani, bass drum, snare drum, and any other percussion instruments called for in a score (e.g., triangle, glockenspiel, chimes, cymbals, wood blocks, etc.). In Baroque music (1600–1750) and music from the early Classical period music (1750–1820), the percussion parts in orchestral works may only include timpani.
A concert band is a large classical ensemble generally made up of between 40 and 70 musicians from the woodwind, brass, and percussion families, along with the double bass. The concert band has a larger number and variety of wind instruments than the symphony orchestra, but does not have a string section (although a single double bass is common in concert bands). The woodwind section of a concert band consists of piccolo, flutes, oboes (one doubling English horn), bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), soprano clarinets (one doubling E♭ clarinet, one doubling alto clarinet), bass clarinets (one doubling contrabass clarinet or contra-alto clarinet), alto saxophones (one doubling soprano saxophone), tenor saxophone, and baritone saxophone. The brass section consists of horns, trumpets or cornets, trombones, euphoniums, and tubas. The percussion section consists of the timpani, bass drum, snare drum, and any other percussion instruments called for in a score (e.g., triangle, glockenspiel, chimes, cymbals, wood blocks, etc.).
When orchestras perform baroque music (from the 17th century and early 18th century), they may also use a harpsichord or pipe organ, playing the continuo part. When orchestras perform Romantic-era music (from the 19th century), they may also use harps or unusual instruments such as the wind machine or cannons. When orchestras perform music from the 20th century or the 21st century, occasionally instruments such as electric guitar, theremin, or even an electronic synthesizer may be used.