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8.554324 - BOCCHERINI: Cello Sonatas
English 

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Cello Sonatas, Volume 1

The Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743, the son of a double-bass player. His family was distinguished not only in music but also boasted poets and dancers among its members. His elder brother Giovanni Gastone, born in 1742, was both dancer and poet, the author of the text of Haydn's Il ritorno di Tobia and of the libretti of some earlier stage works of the Vienna court composer, Antonio Salieri. He later became official poet of the Coliseo de los Caños del Peral in Madrid, a theatre to the concerts in which Boccherini had contributed music. His sister Maria Ester was a dancer and married Onorato Viganò, a distinguished dancer and choreographer. Her son, Salvatore Viganò, who studied composition with Boccherini, occupies a position of considerable importance in the history of ballet.

By the age of thirteen Boccherini was appearing in concerts as a cellist. In 1757 he went with his father to Vienna, where they were both invited to join the orchestra of the court theatre. Boccherini returned two years later to Lucca, but there were further visits to Vienna before he found a position in 1764 at home. In 1766, however, he set out with his fellow-townsman, the violinist Manfredi, a pupil of Nardini, for Paris, having performed with both violinists and with Cambini in chamber music in Milan the previous year.

In France Boccherini and Manfredi won considerable success and Boccherini himself also continued his work as a composer, in addition to his performances as a virtuoso. In 1768 the pair left for Spain, where Boccherini seems to have lived until his death in 1805. In Madrid he was appointed composer and virtuoso di camera to the Infante Don Luis, younger brother of King Carlos III. Part of the following period he spent in Madrid and part at the Palace of Las Arenas in the province of Avila, where the Infante retired after an unacceptable marriage. Members of the Font family were employed by the Prince as a string quartet, for which Boccherini wrote quartets and with whom he performed his own string quintets. He renewed his association with Francisco Font in later years. After the death of Don Luis in 1785, Boccherini entered the service of the Benavente-Osuna family in Madrid, directing the orchestra of the Countess-Duchess and providing music for her salon. Here he was one of a distinguished international company that included his friend, the painter Goya. At the same time he was appointed court composer to Friedrich Wilhelm, nephew of Frederick the Great, who succeeded his uncle as King of Prussia in 1787. In this latter position he provided the cello-paying king with new compositions under the same kind of exclusive arrangement as that which he had earlier enjoyed with Don Luis. There is, however, no evidence that Boccherini ever spent any time in Prussia. After the death of Friedrich Wilhelm II and the departure of other patrons from Madrid, Boccherini received support from Lucien Bonaparte, the French ambassador, and remained busy to the end of his life, although visitors reported that he lived in all the appearance of poverty, now without any substantial patronage after Lucien Bonaparte's return to Paris.

Boccherini's style is completely characteristic of the period in which he lived, the period, that is, of Haydn, rather than that of Mozart or Beethoven. He enjoyed a reputation for his facility as a composer, leaving some 460 or so compositions. A great deal of his music is designed to exploit the technical resources of the cello, in concertos, sonatas and, particularly, in chamber music for various numbers of instruments, including a remarkable series of works for string quintet with two cellos, the first of which is given a concertante part.

There are problems in dating the sonatas that Boccherini wrote for cello and basso continuo, 34 of which survive. Mention is made in the Mercure de France of his performance of such a sonata in the Salle des Suisses of the Tuileries in Paris in 1768 and works published in his lifetime include a set of six sonatas issued in London about the year 1770. His style, however, does not appear to have changed vastly during his creative life.

The Sonata in A major, listed in the catalogue by the French musicologist Yves Gerard as G4, opens with a movement marked Allegro moderato, to which there is also an alternative version. Boccherini's sonata movements show some flexibility and variety in form. This sonata, which, like its companions, makes some demands on the cellist, offers an opening theme that includes a characteristic broken-chord passage for the cello. The thematic material is further developed, now with triplet rhythms, with secondary material in the dominant key, the whole section then repeated. The second part of the movement makes reference to what has gone before, as it makes its way back to the original key, offering the earlier material now in a varied form. The decorated Adagio that follows, in the same key, moves forward through expected modulation to a final virtuoso cadenza. The sonata ends with a movement marked, typically, Affettuoso. This movement is again in two repeated sections, the second of which refers to the material of the first, offering, as before, a fuller return to the secondary material, now in the home key.

Boccherini's Sonata in F minor was among a group of cello sonatas that were rediscovered in 1987. The first movement starts boldly, making full use of double-stopping in the principal theme, leading later to an accompanying syncopated pattern of chords. The final returns of the main theme are ushered in by a brief recitative. The slow movement, marked Cantabile, offers an effective singing melody, followed by a lively fugal subject in a contrapuntal final Allegro that has elements of the Baroque in its musical idiom.

The Sonata in G major, G5, opens with cello chords that reflect the direction at the head of the movement, Allegro militare. The first section, interspersed with military elements in its primary and secondary material, is followed by a section that touches on the key of G minor, before the return of the second theme, duly transposed to the key of the movement. The slow movement, with its varied rhythmic patterns and melodic elaboration, leads to a final Tempo di Minuetto in which the two repeated sections follow a similar pattern to that of the first movement.

There is an alternative slow movement to the Sonata in C minor, G2, which starts with forthright chords from the cello. The first theme leads to a second thematic element, ending the first section of the movement in the key of E flat major. After a repetition of the first section, the cello continues with a transposed version of the opening, developed before the return of the secondary theme. The slow movement follows a pattern similar to other Boccherini Adagios. It is in two sections, the second initially echoing the first, but in the key of E flat major, leading to a final C minor and a solo cadenza. The first repeated section of the closing Allegretto starts with a double-stopped theme that is heard again at the end of a second section that opens with contrasted sustained chords.

The Sonata in C major, G17, again using principally the higher register of the cello, soon moves forward to a modulating passage of double-stopping. The second of the two repeated sections, using a wider range of the cello, moves through C minor to E flat major for a return to the opening theme, returning to the home key for the secondary thematic material and closing section. The C minor slow movement, with its cadenza, leads directly to an exciting final Rondò allegro, its opening theme calling for a rapid alternation of strings and providing the framework for a series of contrasting episodes, including an excursion into the key of C minor.


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