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8.553571 - BOCCHERINI, L.: Cello Concertos, G. 477, 479, 480, 481 (Hugh)
English 

Luigi Boccherini (1743 - 1805)
Cello Concertos Nos. 4, 6-8

 

Luigi Boccherini was born in Tuscany in 1743, in the beautiful old walled town of Lucca and died in Madrid in 1805. His was a cultured family. His elder brother Giovanni Gastone, distinguished as a dancer and choreographer, was also a poet and wrote opera libretti for Salieri, among others, and the text of Joseph Haydn's oratorio II ritorno di Tobia. His sister, a dancer in Vienna, married Onorato Viganò and was the mother of the famous dancer and choreographer Salvatore Viganò. His father was a professional double bass player and Luigi Boccherini himself made his debut as a cellist at the age of thirteen. In 1757 he went to study in Rome but had only been there a few months when both he and his father were summoned to Vienna to play in the court orchestra. Although barely fifteen years old, his performance apparently made a deep impression on the Viennese musical establishment, which suggests that this reportedly very amiable and affable young virtuoso had plenty of opportunity to shine as a soloist in concertos and in chamber music.

From this time onwards Boccherini's life was a very busy one and involved much travelling. He returned to Lucca on various occasions, finally, in 1764, taking up a position in the musical establishment and retaining his connection there for the following three years. In 1766 he embarked on an extended concert tour with the Lucca violinist Filipo Manfredi, reaching Paris in 1767. Here he had some of his works published and appeared with Manfredi at the Concerts spirituels, among other engagements. It was seemingly in 1768 that Boccherini and Manfredi travelled to Madrid, very probably with the promise of enthusiastic patronage from the Spanish court. Boccherini's principal patron was the Spanish Infante Don Luis for whom he wrote many new works. In the circumstances in which he found himself he was able to continue his particular interest in chamber music, as shown in his first Paris publications, embarking on his famous series of string quintets, with a concertante first cello part.

Boccherini followed the Infante Don Luis to Avila, after the latter's marriage earned official disapproval, but after the death of the Infante in 1785 he was granted a pension of half his salary by the King. In 1786 he was appointed chamber composer to the heir to the Prussian throne, an enthusiastic amateur cellist, who in the following year succeeded his uncle as Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. There is no record, however, of any visit by Boccherini to the court in Berlin. He sought a renewal of his appointment in 1798, after the death of the king, but this was not granted. According to later members of his family Boccherini was offered a teaching position at the new Conservatoire in Paris, where his music enjoyed considerable esteem, but graciously declined the offer. In Madrid, however, he had for some years enjoyed the support of private patrons and was employed by the French ambassador to Spain, Lucien Bonaparte, who reached Madrid late in 1800.

Throughout his life Boccherini pursued his concert career with enormous energy and at the same time wrote a quite unbelievable amount of music. In his last years, no longer playing but still composing, he appeared to be living in reduced circumstances, in some financial difficulties and no doubt suffering from the recent death of his second wife and also of two daughters. He died in 1805.

Boccherini made an incomplete thematic catalogue of his own works but this was destroyed in the turmoil of the Spanish civil war. Only in 1969 did Yves Gérard publish a new catalogue of the complete œuvre, listing eleven concertos. The twelfth cello concerto was only discovered in 1987 in a library in Naples. The twelve known cello concertos are all probably quite youthful works, written before he settled in Madrid. These works exploit virtuoso technique, a prominent feature of which is the use of extremely fast passage-work in the very highest registers of the instrument, sometimes with additional double-stopping to provide the performer with even greater difficulties.

Concerto No.1 in C major starts with an orchestral tutti that presents some of the typical features of Boccherini's style. The music is open, fresh, uncluttered, yet sensual, optimistic and essentially appealing. In the second theme the clear harmonic palette is delicately shaded by momentary chromatic changes which yield to a repetition of the opening theme. In the slow quaver tread of the very touching Largo which follows, however, we are reminded that the High Baroque is not so far away. The final Allegro has many of the formal characteristics of the first movement, a kind of loose sonata-form. In the cellist's opening theme high and low notes alternate at some speed, as visually as it is audibly impressive. Aldo Pais notes the similarity of the second theme of this movement to the very famous minuet from the fifth string quintet.

In Concerto No.2 in D major the solo cello sections are accompanied only by violins, which, with the high cello melodies, gives the music an airy lightness and grace. The opening Allegro is very florid, mixing all kinds of varied rhythms within the phrase, which is one of the defining characteristics of the rococo style. The Adagio contrasts solemn, very chromatic and almost hymn-like music with the decorative lines of the two solo sections. The surefooted joyful finale begins with a pedal note and features accented syncopations in the manner of Haydn. This is a rustic dance, tidied up and presented with a certain courtly elegance and decorum for the Viennese court.

The opening Allegro moderato of Concerto No.3 in G major is quite a complex structure with a number of varied thematic ideas in the orchestral and the solo expositions. The orchestral accompaniments to the solos are for violins and violas only. The joy of this concerto is its slow movement in G minor. With the simplest of means this Adagio creates a mood of real seriousness and of deeply felt emotion. The long held melody note at the beginning of the main theme is certainly reminiscent of slow movements in Each. The finale returns to the courtly elegance of a Quasi menuetto but with an extended form mixing sonata and rondo principles. Rather unusually, finales in Boccherini often have the same richness of thematic content and complexity as his opening movements.

The Concerto No.4 in C major returns to the fuller sonority of the first concerto. In the opening movement an unusual feature occurs just before the cadenza in which the orchestra sustains harmonies while the cello weaves arpeggiated figures around them. The cadenza proper takes up these patterns to lead with a flourish into the final orchestral tutti. The dotted rhythms and slightly melancholic elegance of the Adagio are rather reminiscent of the sophistications of the French stile galant. The Allegretto begins with an energetic rising string figure, which suggests that Boccherini was already under the influence of the Mannheim orchestral style. This theme is heard eight times in the course of the sonata-form movement. The crystal clarity of the texture and the repetitions and economy of thematic material give the impression of a light-hearted rondo.

John Marlow Rhys


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