String Quintet No. 5

Luigi Boccherini

String Quintet No. 5 in E major

G275, Op. 11/5

Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

Boccherini began writing string quintets after he became court composer in Aranjuez for Don Luis, the brother of King Carlos III of Spain. Don Luis also employed the Font String Quartet, a father and three sons, whom Boccherini would join as a second cello. Having an extra cello allowed him to use the cello as more than just the traditional continuo bass line. He used both cellos more fully, as much as part of the melody and harmony as the violins and viola. His first set of six quintets was written in 1771 as his Op. 11. It was published four years later, which was when it was also given the Op. 13 designation. This final quintet in E major from the set includes Boccherini's most famous melody, the Minuet. The Amoroso that opens the quintet is not a typical first movement for the period. It is not in the sonata-allegro form, and it is slower than Allegro, being marked Andantino mosso. It is a smooth, luxurious dialogue between the muted instruments. Often the two violins are paired, as are the viola and first cello, moving in parallel thirds over a gently pulsing bass. Approximately two-thirds of the way through there is a rapid, Italianate duet between the cellos, a brief interlude in the otherwise serene movement. The Allegro con spirito that follows is more like what is traditionally expected as a first movement. In true sonata form, it uses simple harmonies and call and response between instruments to create a lively, almost celebratory or regal disposition. Third is the famous Minuet, with examples of all Boccherini's favorite melodic tricks: repetition of short motives, triad or scalar figures, rhythmic symmetry, and delicate ornaments. The violins play with mutes on, while the other instruments play pizzicato. The second violin provides the pulse under the first violin's syncopated melody. In the Trio section, scalar figures make up the melody, which is passed between all the instruments, still with the offbeat feel of the Minuet. The rondo finale has a main subject in much the same spirit as the second movement. During the intervening episodes, all the performers have a chance to use trills, double stops, and more to show off their skills. The episodes also provide Boccherini the opportunity to more fully explore shifts in tonality. The final statement of the theme is played resolutely, ending with a decisive series of chords.