Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Luigi Boccherini (February 19, 1743 – May 28, 1805)

Luigi Boccherini belongs to that sad, long list of artists who die poor and then become extremely popular. He started life as the son of a cellist, become a cellist like his father, with a public debut at the age of thirteen. He was born in Lucca, Italy, where his remains were moved in 1927 when he was "rediscovered" in the twentieth century.

Music critic Charles Burney, in 1776, wrote of Boccherini, "There is perhaps no instrumental music more ingenious, elegant, and pleasing, than his quintets: in which invention, grace, modulation, and good taste conspire to render them, when well executed, a treat for the most refined hearers and critical judges of musical composition." The quintets on which Burney heaps praise consist of a regular string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello) with an extra cello (no surprise there, since he was a cellist). These were among the first of their kind, however another chamber ensemble he pioneered was the piano quintet (piano plus string quartet).

Boccherini's guitar quintets were most likely derived from piano quintets; apparently such a practice was common, given the demand for chamber music. These works have a definite Classical Era sound. Despite the name "guitar quintet" these works do not universally feature the guitar. One of the quintets, No. 4 in D, is nicknamed "Fandango" and includes the addition of a sistrum (interesting in and of itself, check it out) and castanets. While his trips and stays in Madrid may have colored some of his works, mostly he is a composer of Italian-style music.

I have two symphonies by Boccherini, one in D Major and one in A Major, both only three movements long. It comes as no surprise that they remind me of symphonies of Haydn, as both composers are from the same era. The CD I have comes from one of those low-cost box collections, this series called The Greatest Symphonies. The CD also contains a performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 99, but I will cover that when I got to Haydn.

There sure seems to be a lot of performers and composers who begin with the letter "B" in my collection, doesn't it? I'm not even up to Brahms yet! Borodin is next...)

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