This work was commissioned in 1967 by the English Chamber Orchestra and was completed the following year. The work is dedicated to Alan Bush with whom the composer studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1963-67.
Music for Chamber Orchestra is in four movements. The opening movement is the longest and has a sonata form structure. There are two main ideas: a fugal style chromatic subject, sombre and slow, is announced by strings and builds to climax as the wind section enters. A more lyrical second subject is announced by the oboe over a repetitive rhythmic string accompaniment. Both ideas are fully developed before the mood of the opening returns and a plaintive coda (with oboe prominent) concludes the movement.
The scherzo-like second movement is fairly light-hearted in character and has a jaunty tune as its main idea. The slow third movement (adagio, mesto e sostenuto) returns to the mood of the very opening of the work. The first section uses sustained strings, with both horns, whilst the second section uses the wind almost totally. The movement then builds to a powerful climax before returning to the opening idea. The last movement is a cheerful rondo with two episodes, the first lyrical, the second highly rhythmic.