10 pieces of chamber music for a desert island.

August 7, 2018, 1:04 PM · If you could only have 10 pieces of chamber music to take to a desert island, what would you choose?

My current ten would be something like:

1) Brahms clarinet quintet
2) Schumann Op. 41 #3
3) Mendelssohn Octet
4) Schubert Death & Maiden
5) Haydn Op 76 #3
6) Mozart K 590
7) Brahms Op 111 viola quintet
8) Tchaikovsky Souvenir De Florence
9) Dvorak Op 51.
10) Finally, I would try to smuggle in Beethoven Op. 59 1-2-3 in one folder hoping the desert island customs wouldn't notice.

Replies (35)

August 7, 2018, 1:51 PM · I assume these are to play, not to listen to... so as a violist I unfortunately have to omit some of my favorite pieces (e.g. Brahms Piano Trio No. 1, Brahms Horn Trio, Rabl Clarinet Quartet, Mendelssohn Piano Trio No. 1, Thuille Sextet).

Borodin String Quartet No. 2
Brahms Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60
Dohnanyi Piano Quintet No. 1, Op. 1
Dvorak "American" Quartet
Gade Octet
Mendelssohn Octet
Rheinberger Nonet
Schumann Piano Quartet
Schubert "Death and the Maiden" Quartet
Shostakovich String Quartet No. 2

If I could bring in 5 more pieces, they'd be: Beethoven String Quartet No. 13 (Op. 130), Brahms Viola Quintet No. 2 (Op. 111), Nielsen Viola Quintet, Medtner Piano Quintet, and L.V. Aulin String Quartet No. 1.

August 7, 2018, 1:57 PM · Lots of good ones already. Much of my list would contain some of those, especially Schumann piano quartet.

I could not go the rest of my life without hearing the Schubert Cello Quintet, Eb major trio, or most of Brahm's chamber music. I would probably choose something of Dvorak that includes piano.

But I would have to think about this for quite a while.

August 7, 2018, 2:22 PM · Knee jerk reaction - like the Bible and Shakespeare I'm thinking late Beethoven must be presumed essential. Several of Thomas's choices especially 1 and 3 would be on my list too. Also the Ravel quartet and at least one of the Brahms sextets.
Edited: August 7, 2018, 3:18 PM · Well I'm just glad I don't have to make such choices. Almost makes me sick thinking about having to exclude anything written after 1900.
August 7, 2018, 4:07 PM · Schubert is my top choice, but otherwise in no particular order...


1) Schubert Death and the Maiden
2) Beethoven Grosse Fugue
3) Mozart G minor Quintet
4) Mozart G minor Piano Quartet
5) Mozart Clarinet Quintet
6) Ravel Sonate for Violin and Cello
7) Dvorak A major Piano Quintet
8) Milhaud Trio for Violin, Clarinet & Piano
9) Bartok Contrasts
10) Schubert Rosamunde Quartet

I'm cheating as there's no way I could play the fiddle part to the Bartok. Seeing this, I'm surprised that I've put in three Mozarts but no Haydn. Are transcriptions allowed? If so, then the art of fugue could be in contention. Shostakovich 4tet 8 was also close.

Death and the Maiden could be my favourite piece of music, chamber or otherwise. Glad to see it's getting some love on this thread!

Edited: August 7, 2018, 4:42 PM ·
This would definitely be my list, in this order:


1. Mendelssohn D Minor Grand Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano
2. Schumann Eb Piano Quartet
3. Brahms Gm Piano Quartet
4. Dvorak American Quartet
5. Schubert Death and the Maiden
6. Mozart Gm Piano Quartet
7. Grieg Gm String Quaret
8. Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8
9. Glazunov Five Novelettes for String Quartet
10. Dvorak Cypresses for String Quartet

Edited: August 7, 2018, 4:48 PM · Oh, good call with the Milhaud suite. Another one of the pieces I excluded because it doesn't have a viola part.

I seriously thought about the Glazunov Novelettes and both of the Brahms piano quartets I didn't include.

I excluded literally everything composed before 1800. But I dislike the vast majority of Haydn, Mozart, and pre-Eroica Beethoven, so I'm not too upset about excluding it.

August 7, 2018, 5:11 PM · Not exactly a desert island if you have enough people to play these.
August 7, 2018, 6:08 PM · 1. Mendelssohn Octet Op. 20
2. Mozart Quartet No. 19
3. Haydn Quartet Op. 76 No. 3
4. Beethoven Quartet Op. 59, No. 1
5. Brahms Quintet Op. 115
6. Brahms Sextet Op. 36
7. Schubert Quartet Death and the Maiden
8. Debussy Quartet
9. Ravel Quartet
10. Shostakovich Quartet No. 10
August 7, 2018, 7:38 PM · If I organized a chamber music meetup on a private island would anyone go? (Actually a semi serious question, not sarcasm).
August 7, 2018, 10:51 PM · The ever present kid in me says "Hell yeah!"

The grumpy adult in me says "Where?"


Sigh - no votes for the Brahms A major quartet yet. No chamber work surpasses that masterpiece imo.

There are moments in the second movement that send me directly to heaven, sitting alongside Brahms himself, having a soulful chat.

August 7, 2018, 11:58 PM · Sorry - the list is down to 12 (and would probably change if I did it again in an hour)...

Béla Bartók, String Quartet, no. 4
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Rosenkranz-Sonaten
Johannes Brahms, Piano Quintet, op. 34
Benjamin Britten, Serenade
Gabriel Fauré, Piano Quintet, op. 89
Morton Feldman, Piano and String Quartet
Cesar Franck, Sonata for Piano and Violin
Gérard Grisey, Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil
György Kurtág, Kafka-Fragmente
Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time
Maurice Ravel, Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé
Arnold Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht

I'd probably then have the spare time to make some Wagner and Mahler transcriptions for everyone on the island.

August 8, 2018, 12:54 AM · You could listen to the Franck until the end of your days on a deserted island?

The piece is great and all, but I've played that thing so many times I think I could go the rest of my life and be happy if I never heard it again. It's kind of corny in some respects.

As a violinist I'd have to make a separate list of violin sonatas. Given 10 chamber pieces I'm not sure a violin sonata would make it. Maybe Kreutzer, but probably not.

(I hope you understand this is all in good fun. I know very well that people have different tastes)

Edited: August 8, 2018, 1:49 AM · I'm not trying to hijack the thread but I don't see many votes for late Beethoven so my island is going to be pretty lonely. Its constitution would bar singers and people who want to play Grieg (sorry Dawson and Evan!).
August 8, 2018, 3:22 AM · In no particular order:

1. Bartok- String Quartet No. 4
2. Ravel- String Quartet
3. Shaw- Partita for Eight Voices
4. Ginastera- String Quartet No. 2
5. Dvorak- Piano Quintet No. 2
6. Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 (I prefer others of his to this, but I won't get sick of this one as easily since I enjoy it as one cohesive piece, rather than separate movements as in 3 or 10)
7. Ornstein- Piano Quintet
8. Beethoven- String Quartet No. 11 "Serioso"
9. Schoenberg- Verklärte Nacht
10. Howells- Elegy

August 8, 2018, 5:47 AM · Here and now - in no particular order
Beethoven Op131
Simpson Quartet no 9 (Haydn variations)
Schubert string quintet
Haydn - Op 76 no 5
Haydn Op55 no 2
Brahms sextet no 2 (G major)
Mozart - string quintet in C major
Beethoven Op 59/2
Dvorak string quintet in E-flat
Beethoven Op127

But restricting to 10 feels more like a punishment that anything else - whatever I choose I have to leave out so much of my favourite music.
Ask me again in a few minutes and you would probably get a different list.

August 8, 2018, 6:14 AM · See, everyone is doing this wrong. If you're talking about 10 chamber works to play on a desert island, I'd pick a variety of instrumentation, such as the Schubert Octet, Poulenc's Sextet for piano and winds, one of Brahms's String Sextets, some antiphonal pieces by Gabrieli for brass and organ, and maybe even (God forbid) a saxophone quartet. That way, I'd either have enough people to help build a boat and get the heck off the island, or be able to more easily divide labor and have more people to talk with while I'm stranded there.

Besides, who brings their violin along on a cruise in the first place?

August 8, 2018, 7:08 AM · Franck, Verklarte Nacht and Schubert Octet are the three that got away. Maybe the septet version of Strauss metamorphosen, but I have to be in the right mood for that.
August 8, 2018, 10:13 AM · @Steve Jones: yes, if I did the list again it would probably include Beethoven op. 131.
August 8, 2018, 10:42 AM · What? No Bach?
I could fill my entire list with Bach alone!
For me Bach would be first and last. I’d start with the g-minor adagio, if I had my fiddle along I’d learn the chacchone which I keep procrastinating on. If a few friends were along and no rescue was in sight we could do the Art of the Fugue. Then there’s the incredibly sublime fugue of the slow movement from the d-minor double concerto. And the wonderful violin/harpsichord sonatas, just playing the violin parts solo would be enough for me, perhaps just the slow movements. Bach is the beginning and end of all chamber music.
But I am glad to see a few people mention the Shostakovich 8th quartet, I could never leave that behind. And Bartok quartets of course.
I can’t imagine being stuck anywhere with my fiddle and no Bach.
Edited: August 8, 2018, 11:21 AM · Ryah Smith: Sigh - no votes for the Brahms A major quartet yet.

Thank you for that, I almost included it, it absolutely deserves to be there. He wrote a lot of music for Clara but the A major piano quartet is the one that really captures the depth and intensity of his feelings for her. It's Brahms letting his guard down completely. For me it's very hard to play without tears.

August 8, 2018, 11:27 AM · Andrew, Jack, Evan, Dawson, Louis and everybody, thanks for such interesting lists -- love to see composers like Ginastera and Howells and Reinberger and Gade and some works I've never played.
August 8, 2018, 1:22 PM · Thomas - agreed. Great see a stimulating mix of old favourites plus some things I've not heard. Here's a controversial statement: if I were shipwrecked, I'd let my copy of the brahms G major sink to the bottom of the ocean rather than rescue it! Anyone care to add what music they'd let drown once they'd saved the top ten?
Edited: August 8, 2018, 4:32 PM · This may be an unpopular opinion: I'd happily let all of Haydn's chamber music drown, along with most of Mozart's. Especially Haydn's Op. 76 No. 3... I'd go out of my way to throw it into the water. (I don't mind that melody as the German national anthem, but for some reason I find it annoying in theme and variations form.)

Also, Tchaikovsky's Op. 11 quartet irritates me.

August 9, 2018, 2:28 AM · I'd dive in after Andrew's Haydn volumes (maybe not Mozart)
August 9, 2018, 5:53 AM · @Thomas

The only problem with the A major quartet is that it's just a little much for audiences these days. I've performed it 5 times that I can recall and each time the response is the same: muted, appreciative applause.

Seems to go over their heads a bit. I'm sure back in Brahms day, without the many distractions we deal with now, it was much more involving for listeners. Nowadays I imagine they're anxious to check their phones half way through the first movement.

But its such a deep, wonderful experience. I can't think of a chamber work I love more.

August 9, 2018, 10:34 AM · Ryan Smith writes: The only problem with the A major quartet is that it's just a little much for audiences these days.

--

Well on my desert island there are no audiences, only a few good musicians.

But it's true, Brahms is not easy for audiences. It's still in some ways kind of cutting edge music -- musicians' music.

I was at the Philly Orchestra for Brahms 3 a couple of years ago, it was of course a wonderful performance, and I would never think of Brahms 3 as formidable. But the guy sitting next to me was a subscriber for many years and knew the repertoire but still felt like he was struggling to "get" Brahms.

I think part of it is the lyric (and Brahms writes wonderful tunes) is often imbedded in overlapping layers of modulation, often framed with complex, irregular rhythms.

A good analogy is early versus late Verdi. Early Verdi has beautiful songs clearly defined in the operas, easy to listen to.

Late Verdi is verismo so so people are singing more like they converse in real life -- so it's little lines, little snippets of music, there aren't so many moments where the action stands still for someone to actually sing a "song." The music is still gorgeous, incredibly sophisticted -- but a lot more challenging for the listener.

August 9, 2018, 1:10 PM · 1. Beethoven Op. 132
2. Beethoven Op. 131
3. Beethoven Op. 130 with Gross Fugue for the final movement
4. Dvorak Piano Quintet
5. Schubert cello quintet
6. Schubert Death and the Maiden
7. Janacek Quartet No. 1
8. Ravel String quartet
9. Haydn Op. 77 No. 1
10.Mendelssohn Octet

This was really hard. I want to add Brahms A minor quartet, Faure piano trio, and Smetana quartet no. 1.

August 9, 2018, 4:22 PM · It's interesting several people mention the Schumann piano quartet but not the quintet. The quintet is a work of stupendous genius but also one of the most life-affirming pieces of music of the 19th century. When the world seems messed up beyond comprehension, whether you play it or listen, that piece will ward off despair and restore your faith in humanity -- at least for 26 minutes.

August 9, 2018, 7:41 PM · I see lots of pieces I like a great deal but not my absolute favorite piece of music: Beethoven's Archduke Trio. For good measure, I would also include Beethoven's Ghost Trio.
August 9, 2018, 10:57 PM · Some good choices!

If it were me-- and I'm thinking ahead to what might be offered at my private memorial reception-- we'd be looking at Beethoven Op 74, Dvorak Op 97, and the Schubert C-Major Quintet.

The rest is worth some thought.

August 15, 2018, 6:10 AM · Most of my favorites are already here... except 2: Faure piano quartet in c minor (seriously have a listen, its amazing!), and Mendelssohn piano trio #2 in c minor, which so often gets looked because his d minor piano trio is so famous, but I actually like the c minor much better!

One of my other favorites, Shostakovich 8th quartet, is also in c minor... hmmm...

August 15, 2018, 1:01 PM · 10 pieces' worth of staff paper and a pencil.

Maybe an eraser, too.

Edited: August 20, 2018, 12:25 PM · You'd probably need more than one pencil and one eraser, but I trust that your choice would lead to a definite Increase in your output!

I was surprised to see the Schumann Piano Quintet get only one mention, and the Schubert String Quintet only four - I'd have put these two works above their respective composers' other works. Are they as well known as they should be? I also would put the Cesar Franck Piano Quintet above his Violin Sonata. Oh, and Faure's String Quartet above his Piano Trio. I'm also surprised to see the Dohnanyi put ahead of the Schumann, the Cesar Franck, the Brahms and the Dvorak (I don't know the Shostakovich well enough to comment).

Edited: August 20, 2018, 10:27 AM · Because it's personal preference, not "the greatest"... I considered the Schumann and Brahms piano quintets and decided against them because I already had piano quartets by those composers that I didn't want to give up.

Somehow I'm not as big a fan of the Schubert Cello Quintet as other people are. But my preferences are obvious from my list: it contains nothing before late Schubert and only two pieces composed before 1840.

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