Chamber performance played an important role in Russian musical life of the 19th century. Chamber concerts were regularly organized in private homes, educational institutions and at nobility “august” gatherings. They were actively attended by both foreign celebrities and talented local musicians. Among the most reputable musical salons of that time were the ones held by the Counts Wielhorski: the father, Yuri, played the viola and his sons - Mikhail and Matvey were brilliant violin and cello players. The 1840s saw the emergence of the piano wunderkind Anton Rubinstein, who was compared with Liszt. Russian composers also begin to pay an increasing attention to chamber genres.
Mikhail Glinka’s Sonata for viola and piano (1825–1828) is a most interesting example of the early, pre-Italian period of his creative activities, singular and totally within the Russian context. For the composer, the Sonata became some kind of a “skills development laboratory”: he kept returning to his work and created three different (unfinished) versions, which were in the 20th century brought together into a single text by the prominent violist Vadim Borisovsky. The sonata showcases Glinka’s work at a long form and lyrical, song-like intonation – one can hear there motives of many famous composer’s romances. But still, the main intrigue of this piece is, without doubt, the choice of viola as a solo instrument, which was extremely rare at that time. Here, Glinka acts as a pioneer: almost 10 years before the appearance of Harold in Italy by Berlioz, he had felt that opaque, deep timbre of the viola perfectly matched the character of a romantic elegy and yearning for an unattainable ideal.
Another notable work, illustrating Russian chamber instrumental music of that age is Alexander Alyabiev’s Piano trio in A Minor (1820). Alyabiev was an excellent pianist with a brilliant technique, that is why the piano part occupied the leading place in the ensemble, astonishing in its elegance and virtuosity. Just like in the case of Glinka, the Trio is distinguished by its warm, heartfelt melodics, originating from the Russian romance, while the finale movement is imbued with the themes of cheerful Russian dances.
Publishing of Gioachino Rossini’s collection Soirées Musicales (1835) was a long-awaited event for the composer’s numerous fans. And for its author, who, being at the peak of his career, had announced that he was retiring from his operatic activities, it meant the cessation of a long-term period of creative abstinence. The collection includes 12 numbers set to the texts by popular opera librettists. They are not interconnected by a common theme, but are united by light joyful atmosphere, expressly concert vocal style and usage of popular and folk genres: yodeling, tarantella, barcarola, serenade, bolero and waltz. Soirées Musicales immediately gained wide acclaim and some of its pieces were rescored.