Friday, 19 February 2016

TODAY IN BIRTHDAYS: LUIGI BOCCHERINI - February 19, 1743 - May 28, 1805

Luigi Boccherini
Newcomers to the exquisitely indulgent world of classical music will undoubtedly file this 18th century Italian-born cellist and composer under the category of "intimately familiar musicians whose name eludes pop culture status."

Boccherini should indeed be a household name – his music, after all, has almost certainly provided the backdrop to a peaceful evening spent alone or alongside a loved one, in front of a television set, computer screen or radio.

I am referring, of course, to the infamous String Quintet in E major (Op. XI, no. V), in particular the celebrated third “minuet” movement (which you may have heard performed on a solo instrument – usually a violin), originally composed in 1771 as part of a “string quartet” (a four-piece string ensemble) for 2 violins, 1 cello and 1 viola, it would become a “cello quintet” (a five-piece string ensemble) with the addition of a second cello, for which the work is famous.

Boccherini himself was a skilled and avid cellist, who often performed as a fifth instrumentalist to his own compositions – all of them quartets – alongside the “Font String Quartet”, an ensemble formed by one Don Luis, Cardinal-Infante of Spain and brother to King Charles III of Spain, and aristocratic patron of Boccherini, who briefly wrote exclusively for the group.

Surprisingly, though the popularity of the quintet would only gain renown through posterity, the works produced and performed under this royal patronage would assist Boccherini in introducing the musical art form of the string quartet accompanied by a fifth (cellist) to prominence. It is said that Boccherini devoted much of his compositional output (up to a period of 10 years) to penning various string quartets. While Boccherini did not invent the string quintet per-sae, his substitution of 2 violins and 1 viola to 2 cello in place of the standard scoring of 2 violins, 2 violas and 1 cello often earns him the honorific amongst modern string ensembles.

Boccherini’s talents were well known across the European continent. Although plagued by a life of misery (the composer suffered many a visit from the reaper, losing two wives and three children and his aristocratic patron in the Infante in just under a two decade span), the venerable cellist would attract the attention of Frederick William II, King of Prussia, who would become his royal patron. 

Certainly, the works of this multi-talented member of the arts continues to be well known today, although I must say it's high time the name "Boccherini" achieve pop-culture status.

Listen below to the famous third movement of the celebrated String Quintet in E Major:


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