Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)

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01Boccherini's Early Life2012030520130708

Donald Macleod focuses on Boccherini's early life.

He could number among his patrons the King of Spain, and the heir to the Prussian Throne, and he composed around one hundred string quartets, and at least as many quintets, amongst other works - this week Donald Macleod looks at the life and music of Luigi Boccherini. Although Boccherini was originally born in the Tuscan city of Lucca, he spent the majority of his life as a working musician in Spain, after a brief spell in Paris. His extensive output is largely now forgotten, but one work in particular, the Minuet from his fifth String Quartet opus 11, is one of the most used entry points by film and TV producers today, creating a sense of eighteenth century elegance and period. Boccherini is also credited with forming the first ever string quartet, yet despite his popularity during much of his lifetime, Boccherini lived at the end of his life in virtual poverty, seeing his wife and daughters die one after another, before his own death possibly from tuberculosis.

Luigi Boccherini came from a humble background, with his father performing as a double bassist in their home city of Lucca. Luigi quickly made a name for himself not only as a cellist, but also as a composer for the cello, including works such as his sixth Cello Sonata, in C major. The young Luigi was soon sent off to Rome for further musical training, where he came into contact with much of the sacred choral music taking place there. Boccherini would go on to compose many sacred choral works of his own, such as the Kyrie in B flat, from his own setting of the Mass.

Boccherini junior was now making quite a name for himself as a virtuoso player of the cello, and along with his father, embarked on a tour performing in Venice, Trieste and Vienna. By the time of their second engagement in Vienna, Boccherini was composing and publishing his first significant works, which caused quite a stir. His first set of trios made a huge impression on the older composer Gluck. His published opus 2 quartets also had a huge impact, including the fifth String Quartet in E major.

02Boccherini Is Successful In Paris2012030620130709

Donald Macleod focuses on Boccherini's first major musical success in Paris.

He could number among his patrons the King of Spain, and the heir to the Prussian throne, and he composed around one hundred string quartets, and at least as many quintets, amongst other works - this week Donald Macleod looks at the life and music of Luigi Boccherini.

Boccherini on tour with his father in Vienna, was soon longing to return for his native city of Lucca. However upon their return, Luigi was soon disillusioned and wished to leave again, wanting to pursue his musical career elsewhere. Still keeping his contractual ties with Lucca, Boccherini toured Pavia and Cremona with his father. It was around this time that he composed his successful opus two set of quartets, including the second String Quartet in B flat major.

Back in Lucca, Boccherini had certain obligations to the city fathers there, and was commissioned to compose for various civic occasions, along with his contractual arrangements to regularly perform. One work Boccherini composed during this period, which may have been commissioned by his city employers, was his oratorio Gioas, or King of Judah.

Soon afterwards, Boccherini's father died. Young Luigi accompanied by his friend Manfredi, was able to spread his wings without his family in tow, and they made their way to Paris. This was good timing, as some of Boccherini's works had just been published there. It was during this period in Paris when Boccherini relied upon the patronage of Baron de Bagge, that through this aristocrats music library, Boccherini was likely to have come into contact with the ideas of orchestral woodwind writing. We can hear Boccherini's own writing for orchestra, including woodwind instruments in his Symphony opus 7 in C major.

03Boccherini Finds A Princely Patron In Spain2012030720130710

Donald Macleod focuses on Boccherini's move to Spain.

He could number among his patrons the King of Spain, and the heir to the Prussian throne, and he composed around one hundred string quartets, and at least as many quintets, amongst other works - this week Donald Macleod looks at the life and music of Luigi Boccherini.

Whilst in Paris, Boccherini was approached by the Spanish Ambassador, who proposed that Boccherini and his friend the violinist Manfredi, might like to visit Madrid, and that the two young men would receive a rapturous welcome from the heir to the Spanish throne. Both Boccherini and Manfredi travelled to Spain, but their welcome was not what they had hoped it would be. In a bid to ingratiate himself with the Spanish Prince, Boccherini dedicated his Opus 6 trios to him, including the fifth Trio in G minor. This didn't get the Prince's attention.

Another Royal patron did however materialise, and this was the King's brother, Don Luis, whom Boccherini would go on to work for, for many years. Boccherini would compose many works dedicated to his royal patron, including sextets, quintets, and a set of symphonies, which included the third Symphony in C major opus 12. These works steadily began to establish Boccherini's reputation in Spain and further afield, in particular his set of quintets opus 11. The sixth of this set, nicknamed The Aviary, depicts Boccherini's patron's passion for exotic birds.

Don Luis would soon fall out of favour with his family and the royal court, over his marriage to a lady of non-royal blood. This soon meant that Don Luis's court would have to move far from Madrid. This isolation would influence the works Boccherini went on to compose, given the limited number of musicians to hand. However, with a visit to Arenas of a famous singer, Boccherini was able compose his first setting of the Stabat Mater.

04Boccherini Is Desperate To Find A New Patron2012030820130711

Donald Macleod explains how Boccherini was desperate to find a new patron.

He could number among his patrons the King of Spain, and the heir to the Prussian throne, and he composed around one hundred string quartets, and at least as many quintets, amongst other works - this week Donald Macleod looks at the life and music of Luigi Boccherini.

Around 1773, a talented flute player seems to have joined the staff of the Spanish Infante, Don Luis. This allowed Boccherini greater scope for composing new works, including the first Flute Quintet in E flat major, from Boccherini's opus 19 set. However with Don Luis and his court banished to Arenas, Boccherini was finding opportunities to compose quite limited.

Around a decade later, the Ambassador to Prussia visited the Spanish Court in Madrid, where he was honoured by a performance of six of Boccherini's string quartets. The Ambassador sent a copy of the music to Frederick the Great's nephew, Frederick William, who soon sent the composer a gold box containing a letter saying how much he had enjoyed his music. One of the quartets the Ambassador might have heard, was the sixth String Quartet in A major, from the opus 32 set.

In the 1780's Boccherini suffered a double blow with not only the death of his wife, but also the death of his patron Don Luis. King Carlos III granted Boccherini an annual pension, and also a place in the instrumental Royal Chapel in Madrid, although he was excused from fulfilling his duties due to his frequent spittings of blood. The following year Boccherini received an honorary appointment with the Crown Prince of Prussia, and in return the composer sent a number of works every year, possibly including a set of concert arias, such as Misera, dove son!

05 LASTBoccherini Falls Into Poverty2012030920130712

Donald Macleod focuses on the last years of Boccherini's life, when he fell into poverty.

He could number among his patrons the King of Spain, and the heir to the Prussian throne, and he composed around one hundred string quartets, and at least as many quintets, amongst other works - this week Donald Macleod looks at the life and music of Luigi Boccherini.

Boccherini towards the end of his life, now found himself in quite a predicament. King Carlos III of Spain had now died, and his son, the new King Carlos IV, was less disposed towards Boccherini due to an earlier disagreement. Boccherini had to look for patronage elsewhere, and was subsequently forced to sell a number of his works to the Parisian publishing house Pleyel, for not much money. However, commissions still did occasionally come in, such as from the Marquis of Benavente, who wanted Boccherini to arrange a number of his already composed works to include guitar. One such work, which also included castanets, was the Guitar Quintet in B flat major.

Towards the end of Boccherini's life, with his Benavente patrons having left for Vienna, and the composer being forced to sell more of his works for little money to his Parisian publisher, Boccherini started to turn more towards choral writing, such as the responsory Domine ad adjuvandum. Other patrons were to come and ago, including Lucien Bonaparte, who commissioned Boccherini to compose a number of works. The opus 57 piano quintets, Boccherini dedicated to the French nation.

In 1805 Boccherini died, probably due to the tuberculosis which had troubled him for most of his life. He was buried in Madrid, but later in 1927 his remains were taken back to his birthplace of Lucca for reburial. Just before he died, he was working on one last String Quartet, in D major, of which only one movement now survives in full.

Minuetto from String Quintet op.11 no.5 in E major G275 (1771) 3.20

The Comedian Harmonists

Unknown pianist

Pavilion Records PAST CD 7000

CD1 tk6

Guitar Quintet in B flat major G448 (1798) [arr. of String Quintets G270 & G341] 17.10

Narciso Yepes, guitar

Melos Quartet

Deutsche Grammophon 4295122

CD1 tks1-3

Domine ad adjuvandum G534 8.15

Choir of Castelnuovo Cathedral

Orchestra of Castelnuovo Cathedral

Lucca Bacci, conductor

Kicco Classic KC008CD

CD1 tk3

Piano Quintet in E minor op.57 no.3 G415 (1799) 15.08

Les Adieux

Deustche Harmonia Mundi GD77053

String Quartet in D G249 unfinished (1804) 7.27

Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt

MDG 60310402

CD1 tk4.