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The MHS Review 398 VOL. 12, NO.2 • 1988

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Richard Carlin

Boccherini was described by his contem­poraries to be "like a musical fountain"; works seemed to flow endlessly from his pen. These guitar works are some of the richest fruits of his creativity.


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The life of the 18th-century composer/musician can be described in four simple words: the search for patronage. No musician could survive on his own; he need­ed the support of wealthy benefactors who would commission his compositions, enlist his aid as a teacher, and promote his works to a larger audience. If any composer/performer illustrates this maxim it is Luigi Boccherini, an Italian virtuoso cellist and composer whose search for employment led him to crisscross the European musical scene of his day.

Boccherini's father, a local player of the double bass, began the boy's training on the cello, with the assistance of Abbe Yannucci, the choirmaster for Lucca's archbishop. By age 13, the boy was showing such promise on the instrument that he was sent to Rome to further his studies. Seven years later he returned to his hometown to perform in the town orchestra for five years. It was in this period that his first compositions were written.

A musician of Boccherini's talents could hardly be content remaining in the cultural backwaters, so, in 1767, when the composer was 24 years old, he embarked on a tour of Northern Italy and France with Filippo Man­fredi, a student of the famous Italian violinist Giuseppe Tartini. They reached Paris about a year later, where Boccherini and his com­panion took the city by storm. Two Parisian music publishers began a bidding war for Boc­cherini 's first quartets. It was in Paris that the Spanish ambassador heard Boccherini and urged him to visit Madrid, promising him an equally enthusiastic--and wealthy--audience, including the young prince of Asturias, later to be King Charles IV of Spain.

Thus it was in late 1768 or early 1769 that the two musicians set out for Madrid, but the promised reception did not materialize; the young prince was not interested in the music of the Italians. However, Infante Don Luis, brother of the king of Spain, did offer Boc­cherini patronage; in return, the composer dedicated his six quartets to him, and took the title "Compositore e virtuoso di camera di S. A. R. Don Luigi infante d'Ispagnia."

From the year 1770 on, Boccherini crisscrossed the European musical scene in search of wealthy patrons who could subsidize his musical works. Between 1782 and 1787 he seems to have been in Germany; in 1787 he became the chamber composer to Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia. This post, which lasted a decade, was lucrative, but it limited the composer to working only for the king. When the salary ended, Boccherini was left with little alternative but to continue his search for support.

Thus, in 1797 he returned to Spain; however, the years of travel finally caught up with the composer, and his health deteriorated. He had to abandon performing and focus on composing. Fortunately in 1799 he met the French ambassador to Spain, Lu­cien Buonaparte, who became an important patron. He composed many works for Buonaparte including six piano quartets, 12 string quartets, and a Stabat Mater. After this last burst of creativity, Boccherini was reduc­ed to reworking his old compositions for new patrons.

The guitar music performed on this record was composed in 1798, during Boccherini's final years in Spain, for a wealthy patron, Mar­quis de Benavente. Boccherini took sections of his earlier string works, some nearly 30 years old, and adapted them for the guitar. Guitar Quintet no. 4 is largely based on his string quintets of 1771, with the addition of a final majestic Fandango, the Spanish national dance.

Quintet no. 5 is drawn from a variety of sources in Boccherini's own oeuvre, including early string quintets and the piano quintets composed for Buonaparte within the previous year. Boccherini cleverly linked these disparate parts, giving the guitarist many vir­tuosic flourishes in a series of variations towards the end of the Andantino pausato. Quintet no. 6 shows the contemplative nature of many of the Italian's compositions. The piece seems to pause in the third, dreamlike movement, the minuet. This moment of deep inner beauty belied the reality of the com­poser's own life, so full of personal pain.

Boccherini was described by his contem­poraries to be "like a musical fountain"; works seemed to flow endlessly from his pen. These guitar works are some of the richest fruits of his creativity.

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