This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
LUIGI BOCCHERINI was born in Lucca in Italy. His dad was a cellist and double bass player and he taught the young Luigi to play the cello from the age of five, and he turned out to be pretty good at it.
When Luigi was 14, he and dad went to Vienna where they were both employed in the court orchestra.
At the age of 25, Luigi went to Madrid at the behest of the Spanish ambassador whom he met in Paris. He remained in Spain for the rest of his life, being employed to play and compose music for various bigwigs around the place.
He became a cello maestro and many of his compositions feature the instrument to one degree or another. He was greatly influenced by the music of Joseph Haydn and a large percentage of his output consists of chamber music - trios, quartets, quintets, sextets and so on - as will be demonstrated today.
His compositions have been catalogued by Yves Gérard, hence the G number attached to each.
Luigi’s music has been characterised as warm, gentle and elegant but often with an undertow of melancholia - his two wives and three daughters died before he did.
Luigi’s string trios published as Opus 47 are mature works (he was 50 when he wrote them) and although still definitely in the classical mode, they rather suggest to me the coming Romantic style of music that was fast approaching.
This one is his String Trio Op 47 No 5 in D major (G 111), the second movement.
Although. as I mentioned, Luigi’s composition are Classical in style, this next rather seems to look backward to the Baroque era. It’s not a bad thing to mix the two styles and this is a delightful piece.
It’s his Octet in G (G 470), the first movement. It’s scored for oboe, bassoon, French horn, two violins, viola and two cellos.
Luigi wrote a series of arias called “Aria Accademica” based on texts written for operas by Pietro Metastasio. The complete set had 16 of these. He collected 12 of them and presented them to music publisher Ignaz Pleyel (who was also a fine composer as well as a piano maker).
These actually didn’t see the light of day until the 20th Century. One of those is G 549, also known as Care luci che regnate, sung by CECILIA GADIA.
Besides chamber music, Luigi liked to write music for his favoured instrument, the cello. Joseph Haydn wrote the two finest cello concertos in music, but Luigi wasn’t far behind him with his 13.
His Cello Concerto No. 9 in B-Flat Major, (G 482) is the most popular and widely performed of his. It’s often used as a teaching tool for budding cellists. This is the first movement.
Early in the 1770s, Luigi started composing for the flute. It was at this time he wrote a series of flute quintets, called “little quintets” at the time. These are in contrast to later ones where he was more adventurous.
One series was his opus 19 (which has had several number changes over the centuries) and from that we have his Quintet No 2 for flute and strings in G minor (G 426), the second movement.
Another aria from the series “Aria Accademica”, mentioned above, is the G 557, Se d'un amor tiranno. This one is sung by MARTA ALMAJANO.
Perhaps it was because he lived in Spain, but Luigi seemed to be fond of the guitar and he wrote a number of guitar quintets, that is a guitar with a regular string quartet. He “cheated” with some of them by using old string quintets or piano quintets and re-scoring them for guitar. It doesn’t matter, they still sound fine.
See what you think of the second movement of his Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major (G 448). This one is nicknamed "Fandango".
Luigi’s Quintet No.3 for Oboe and Strings in D major, Op 45 (G 433) is essentially a string quartet with an oboe plonked on top of it. A lot of his quintets are like that - just string quartets with an extra instrument. Nothing wrong with that, they all sound fine. Here is the second movement of that work.
Known mostly for his chamber music, Luigi was “asked” by the King of Spain’s younger brother, Luis, Count of Chinchón, to write a liturgical work for him. He produced his Stabat Mater (G 532). From that we have the seventh movement sung by Michele Minne.
Like all composers of his era, Luigi wrote symphonies. It seems it was a rite of passage for composers back then. He wrote 30 of them that are called symphonies and several more works that really are but under different names.
From his Symphony No 3, op 37 in D minor (G 517) here is the fourth movement.
I’ll end with his most famous, and popular, composition: the String Quintet Op 13, No 5 (G 281). In this case the third movement, a minuet, that is also quite often performed as a standalone work. It’s been featured in many movie scores, most notably the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers from 1955.