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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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C1b. Reading a Chamber Music Score

Grade Six Music Theory General Knowledge Lesson 1b.
Reading a Score - Chamber Music

“Chamber music” is any music written for a small number of players – it can be performed in your living room, if you can find the necessary musicians! Common chamber music formats include the sonata, string quartet and lied (pronounced “leed”), but in fact any combination of instruments and singers is possible.

A sonata is a piece for a solo instrument with a piano accompaniment. A string quartet is written for two violins, a viola and a cello. A lied is a piece for voice and piano. Lieder (the plural of "lied" is "lieder") were made popular by Schubert in the 19th century.

Chamber music scores follow the same principal as orchestral scores. Instruments are written in the same order as they would appear in an orchestral score. When there is an instrumental or voice part plus piano, the piano part is written underneath.

Look at the following score, which is the first page of a Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon by Mozart (KV 452). It contains two systems.

Notice the following points: 

  • The clarinet part is written for a Bb clarinet, transposed (Clarinetto in B).
  • The horn part is written for horn in Eb (Corno in Es).
  • Fagotto is Italian for bassoon.
  • A piano part is always written on a double stave, joined with a curved bracket on the left.
  • Unless otherwise marked, the pianist plays the top stave with his right hand, and the lower stave with his left. Occasionally, the player is instructed to “cross hands”, i.e. the left hand crosses over the right hand to play high notes, or the right hand crosses the left to play lower notes. This is written in the score as r.h. (right hand) or l.h. (left hand) in English. In Italian, you will see m.s. (mano sinistra) for left hand, or m.d. (mano destra) for right hand.
  • In a piano part, the upper stave is usually in treble clef, and the lower stave is bass clef. However, if particularly high or low notes are needed, the clefs can be changed. In the Mozart score, the left hand starts in the bass clef. In the same bar, a treble clef is then written so that the next three quavers can be written neatly (without lots of ledger lines). The clef changes to bass clef again – the new clef is written before the bar line when the clef change applies to the next bar. Look closely at the score and see how many clef changes you can spot in the left hand piano part.



Voice parts are easy to spot – they have words written underneath! Sometimes the voice is labelled as “tenor” or “soprano” etc., sometimes a name is given e.g. “Esmeralda”, sometimes it is simply labelled “voice”.

Here is the beginning of a song called “Abendlied der Furstin” (“Evening Song of the Princess”) by Schubert:



  • The voice part is labelled “Singstimme”, which means “singing voice”. Notice how the piano right-hand part starts in the bass clef, although a treble clef is placed at the beginning of the line. Always be on the look out for changes of clef!
  • (You can listen to this piece for free here - click on the "Listen to All Extracts" on that page.)


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