Luigi Boccherini


Luigi Boccherini was a prolific 18th century composer, particularly successful in the field of chamber music. His highly distinctive style was widely recognized and he was a significant proponent of Latin instrumental music during the Viennese Classical period.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was the third child born into his musical family. His father, Leopold, was employed as a singer and double bassist in the Cappella Palatina. Though the family had only a modest standard of living, the children were highly encouraged to pursue their artistic talents as artists; all of the children became involved in the arts, in the fields of dance, poetry/writing, and music.

Boccherini was first trained in music by his father and then went on to attend the Seminario di S Martino in Lucca from 1751 to 1753. There, he trained with Domenico Francesco Vannucci, the cellist andmaestro di cappella. Under Vannucci, he studied both singing and cello; Boccherini also sang in the choirs of Luccan churches and at the Teatro Pubblico. In 1753, Boccherini went to Rome to study with G.B. Costanzi. After returning to Lucca in 1756, he made his debut as a cellist. With the support of Puccini, the organist andmaestro di cappella of Cappella Palatina, he was able to perform more frequently; his performances were favorable viewed in general.

Boccherini and his father began performing together publicly in 1758, when they appeared with the Musikalische Fasten-Accademien at the Burgtheater. Thereafter, they found success at the imperial court theatre, Kärntnertortheater. There they played primarily ballet music by composers such as Starzer, Gassmann, and Gluck; they returned to Vienna yearly for similar work. Though Boccherini was a successful cellist, it appears that he did not often give solo concerts at the imperial court, as others were chosen for the task. He did, however, give solo concerts in Lucca, Florence, and Modena. From 1964, he worked as cellist in the Capella Palatina of Lucca.

It was nearly impossible to earn a sufficient salary as a solo cellist in Vienna and Italy, prompting Boccherini to compose. Between 1760 and 1761, Boccherini completed 18 works and his first significant compositions. Works from this period include the string compositions, Trios op. 1 (1760), Quartets op. 2 (1761), and Duets op. 3 (1761). In 1965, Boccherini was commissioned to compose a cantata for the local election festivities, and in 1765 he met G.B. Sammartini at festival concerts in Pavia and Cremona. It was there that he and his father had the opportunity to perform for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold I.

Boccherini did not always find success as a cellist and in Rome he seems to have had a particularly unsuccessful solo performance. It is possible that he then played for a short time in a quartet with Manfredi, Pietro Nardini, and Giuseppe Cambini.

After his father’s death in 1766, Boccherini moved to Genoa with his friend and colleague, Manfredi. While there, he received noble patronage and composed at least one of his two oratorios for the Oratorian congregation in Genoa. Just one year after arriving, Boccherini and Manfredi travelled to Paris, where they stayed for about six months. Boccherini attracted the patronage of Baron de Bagge at this time. Also in Paris, many of Boccherini’s works were published by Jean Baptiste Venier, such as his first 6 trios for two violins and cello. During his time in Paris, Boccherini composed a set of six sonatas for keyboard with violin accompaniment op. 5 (1768) dedicated to amateur keyboardist Anne Louise Boyvin d’Hardancourt Brillon de Jouy. Together with Manfredi, he performed private concerts at her house and also that of Baron de Bagge.

Another concert in 1768, in the Concert Spirituel series, prompted mixed reviews on his cello playing; at this concert he performed one of his own cello sonatas. While his performance was applauded by theMercure de France, Louis-Petit Bachaumont described the playing and composition as “harsh” and with “a lack of harmonious chords.”

Manfredi and Boccherini changed cities yet again and travelled to Madrid for posts they were promised by the Spanish ambassador. By 1768, Boccherini was playing in the orchestra of the Italian Opera Company in Aranjuez, where he stayed until 1770. Boccherini’s first Sinfonia Concertante G491 (1969) was performed by the orchestra in 1769. During these years, he also dedicated his Six Trios op. 6 (1979) to the Crown Prince Carlos, Prince of Asturias.

In 1786 Boccherini was appointed compositeur de notre chamber to the Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (later crowned King Friedrich Wilhelm II) in 1786. Every year, Boccherini would send him 12 new instrumental works, mostly string quartets and quintets.

The last decade of Boccherini’s life was marked by tragedy and misfortune. His daughter died, as did Friedrich Wilhelm II, leaving him devastated and without a patron as the king’s successor denied him further employment. Boccherini’s patronage from Benavente-Osuna also ended in 1799, upon their relocation. This prompted Boccherini to sell his works to the Parisian publisher, Pleyel, who rearranged and confused Boccherini’s opus numbers, yet introduced many new works to the public.

Boccherini turned more and more to vocal music such as his operas Scena dell’lnes di Castro (1798) and Dorval e Virginia (1799), which is now lost. During this period he also composed a mass and theChristmas Cantata op. 3 (1802), which are both lost.

In an attempt to secure another patron, he composed the 6 piano quintets op. 57 (1799), which he dedicated to France. Finally in 1800, he was offered the patronage of Lucien Bonaparte, a French ambassador in Madrid.

Much of Boccherini’s work is concerned with detail. One of his most successful works is theStabat mater (1781), which underwent many revisions. He also composed several notable cello concertos modelled after the late Baroque concerto form. The most famous of his cello concertos is the one in B flat. His Violin Concerto G486 seems to be the work upon which Mozart’s k218 is modelled, but the authenticity is questionable. Boccherini also composed at least 27 symphonies.

Marked by the death of three of his daughters and his wife, all within a few years, Boccherini’s health also deteriorated. He died of tuberculosis in 1805 in Madrid, and left his String Quartet op. 64 no. 2 unfinished.