What is Chamber Folk??
Chamber Folk is a genre of music usually based on harp or finger-picked acoustic guitar that is defined by "an elegant and ornate style of arrangement and production," which incorporates various orchestral instrumentation such as woodwinds, horns and stringed instruments, usually in small ensemble form. Vocals tend to be feminine, ethereal, and without much vibrato, creating an aura of whimsy and even evoking a sense of spirituality.
The genre truly encompasses both "folk" and "chamber," but can also encompass Chamber Pop, Chamber Rock, Progressive Folk, Indie Folk, Alternative Folk, and Folk Baroque (although the latter usually refers to a style of guitar finger picking). Examples of artists in the genre include Nick Drake, Duncan Browne, Joanna Newsom, Van Morrison, Nico, Sufjan Stevens, and Leonard Cohen.
When/where did Chamber Folk originate?
Chamber Folk originated in the UK and US during the mid-to-late 1960's. I look at the genre as a refinement and combination of the American Folk Revival and the Second British Folk Revival movements. The American Folk Revival of the 1940's to mid 1960's was influenced by American musical traditions of country and western, blues, jazz and rock and roll. Performers revived older tunes from these traditionally American musics and gave them new life. Many rock bands of the early 1960's dipped their toes into the folk revival during this time.
The original British Folk Revival occurred in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries, and was centered on the Folk Song Society, which was founded in 1911. The movement sought to collect, preserve and perform English folk music. It lead to the creation of the English Pastoral School of classical music, which sought to build an English style of composition informed by Tudor and English folk musics.
The Second British Folk Revival occurred as America was having its own re-imagination of their traditional songs and folk musics. Arguably, the incorporation of the British folk revival of medieval and classical folk musics with the comparably newer American musics of jazz, rock and roll, and blues, lead to the creation of Chamber Folk.
What are some non-musical influences of Chamber Folk?
Generally nature and pastoral or rural settings seem to have been a major influence on the genre. Certainly love of all kinds has inspired artists creating music within the genre.
World Music is also folk music in that both genres are traditionally associated with a nationality or local ethnicity, and have also been passed down orally through generations.
Progressive Folk would describe the musics of artists who mixed progressive political messages with traditional folk music. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Woody Gutherie are considered Progressive Folk artists. In Britain, Progressive Folk does not refer to political messaging, but instead refers to the new style of folk musician in the 1960's who drew their influences from both world musics and from the American musicians who were participating in the Folk Revival.
Chamber Pop aka Baroque Pop would describe the music of artists who are using all the defining elements of Chamber Folk, but who have added these elements to a style rooted in rock and roll. Emphasis on melody, texture, and high production values. Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds" would be an early example of Chamber Pop. The music of Joanna Newsom is largely considered Chamber Pop.
Indie Folk is a hybrid of indie rock and traditional folk that began in the 1990's. Think Ani DiFranco and Elliott Smith.