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Boccherini's biography

The first quintet in D minor, one of the most, if not the most exciting from the series demonstrates with ease the characteristics of Boccherini's style. In the manner typical of him the opening Allegro moderato teems with thematic ideas which relate one element, seemingly dispersed and gradually taking shape, to another idea, expressing grandeur. In the development (based on the already introduced elements) there springs up a new musical fragment, resembling a "nocturne", preceding the reprise. It is in contrast with the beginning of the quintet, winding up with a repetition of the "majestic" element. The Cantabile reflects the composer's nostalgic spirit both in the character of the accompanying melody which opens the movement and in the mysterious dialogue between the pizzicato of the strings and the descending scales of the solo guitar. Thus the composer seems to make the spirit of the listener roam idly in an opposition of the clearly expressed fragments in which all the instruments unite. The Minuetto is an illustration of the composer's desire to make use of the traditional rhythm and tempo (the exposition of the menuet is divided into two repeated fragments; the trio is also divided into two fragments; followed by a repetition of the menuet without reprise), in order to insert in it stylistic inventions not having much in common with the character of the dance. Certainly, the main element is strikingly reminiscent of a dance "Tiranna" included in a string quartet from 1792, yet in the second part of the menuet the accent on the weak third beat in the measure and the "professional" expression of the Trio (an imitation of a modulating harmonic march) seem to reflect the aimed at compromise between "popular" and "professional" music in the simple, light tempo inspired by the tempo. The energetic and powerful beginning of the Finale resembles the enthusiasm and ardour present in young Rossini's Sonata a quattro. We should note that at the end of the Quartet the "majestic" element from the beginning of the first movement is brought back, thus shaping the composition as a "closed" structure: an innovation recurrent in Boccherini's previous works. All these notes are referable to the quintets that follow. Let us restrict ourselves by pointing out in the Maestoso assai, opening Quintet No.2 in E major, the distinct opposition of thematic ideas, the unusual effect created by the unison of the five instruments, written in pianissimo in order to link two ideas and the extraordinary virtuosity of the first violin. Movement two consists of a solemn Adagio, in which there sounds a "quasi-romance", as well as of an Allegretto, a lively and bright saltarella. The final Folaca is in the form of a broadly developed menuet with sudden modulations; in the Trio we shall notice this typically Boccherinian effect of temporary suspense preceding the "explosion" of an already heard element. The Allegro moderato from Quintet No. 3 in B flat major opposes the theme of idleness from the beginning to a more rhythmically structured element; the Tempo di Minuetto is enriched by a Trio with fascinating modulations; the Adagio in which the guitar is omnipresent, includes in the modulating system of the "classical Vienna style" chords in the "Spanish manner"; the final Allegro, in which all the instruments are equally treated (with the solo guitar reexposing the initial theme), suggests the meaningfulness of silence: this will not be the only example of employment of this technique in the musician's work. Quintet No. 4 is the most expressive in the way it unites one Pastorale, characteristic of Boccherini's "exquisite" style and a Grave and Fandango typical of the Spanish "Vitality". The second movement, Allegro maestoso, is like a genuine part of a cello concerto (developed in the high register). The Fifth quintet in D major has two uniting centres: the theme of movement four, being a prologue to eight variations bearing features of both Italian and Spanish music (clearly marked in the eight variation) is nothing but the initial theme from the first movement Andantino pausatto. The light and syncopated theme abounding in the third movement, winds up the series of variations by a brief unexpected repetition. As for the Menuetto Allegro, it appears to anticipate Schubert's style. Finally, Quintet No.6 in G major demonstrates Boccherini's mastery of joining fragments which might seem disparate at first glance: such is the first part of Allegro con vivacita, which is actually split by the second; the third movement Tempo di Minuetto (whose theme is "severely" exposed in keeping with the canon) makes a fine link between the finale of the menuet and the beginning of the Trio by means of a triad, an expressive device characteristic of the Spanish music. The second movement. The second movement, Andantino lento, is reminiscent of a melancholic "waltz-serenade"; with a brief lively finale like a Spanish dance, the Allegretto completes this series of quintets.

These are popular works, one would say, claiming no seriousness. We could argue about this… Anyway, they reveal such relations common for Boccherini's works, between the technical difficulties (they have to be performed by virtuosos) and the clear organization of the instrumental texture; between the Italian art and the Spanish spirit, between the borrowings of melodic and rhythmical elements of local origin and the zeal with which they have been united in a "classical style". Are they classical works ? Undoubtedly they are. Still these pages breathing easiness and charm are full of tenderness and emotions which penetrate deep in the mind and the heart: is this not a form of Romanticism ? September 1983

Yves GERARD, Professor at the Paris Conservatoire


Luigi Boccherini Sei quintetti con chitarra. A critic edition by Yves Gérard (Paris, Heugel, collection Le Pupitre 29, score (1974), separate parts (1975)

The present recording has been made after this edition

Yves Gérard: Catalogue of the works of Luigi Boccherini (London, Oxford Un. Press, 1969)

Louis Picquot: Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de Luigi Boccherini (Paris, Philipp, 1851 ; second edition in 1930 with Notes et Documents nouveaux by Georges de Saint-Foix)

Germaine de Rothschild: Luigi Boccherini. His life and work (London, Oxford Un. Press, 1965)

Matanya Ophee: Luigi Boccherini's guitar quintets. New evidence (Boston Orphée, 1981) A study of the musicological problems arising from Boccherini's guitar compositions

Boccherini's biography

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