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8.553719 - BOCCHERINI: Flute Quintets, Op. 17
Luigi Boccherini (1743 -1805)
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 Giovan 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. 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.
Boccherini was giving concerts as a cellist by the age of thirteen, and in 1757 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 the former continued his work as a composer, as well as appearing as a cello 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 Infante as a string quartet and renewed their association with Boccherini towards the end of the century. After the death of Don Luis in 1785, Boccherini entered the service of the Benevente-Osuna family. At the same time he was appointed court composer to Friedrich Wilhelm, who in 1787 became King of Prussia, providing the cello-playing king with new compositions on the same kind of exclusive arrangement that he had earlier enjoyed with Don Luis. There is, however, no evidence that Boccherini ever spent any time in Prussia. After the death of Fredrich Wilhelm and the departure of other patrons from Madrid, Boccherini received support from Lucien Bonaparte, French ambassador, and remained busy to the end of his life, although visitors reported that he lived in all the appearance of poverty.
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 467 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.
The attractive set of six quintets for flute and string quartet is listed by Boccherini as Opus 17, dated 1773 and described as opera piccola. The set was first published as Opus 21 some two years later. G reference numbers refer to the catalogue of the music of Boccherini by the French musicologist Yves Gérard.
The Quintet No.1 in D major opens with a repeated note and offers a first theme of considerable charm. It is the repeated note, introductory and then in accompaniment, that marks also the opening of the central section. The second movement opens with a tenderly lyrical flute melody, a minuet to hear rather than dance to. There is a minor key trio section to provide the necessary contrast.
The Quintet No.2 in C major starts with a melody that seems about to offer a foretaste of revolutionary fervour to come, before turning into gentler territory, proceeding in a mood that may remind the listener of the contemporary description of Boccherini as 'the wife of Haydn'. Again there is a minuet second movement, marked Amoroso, and here once more there is a show of charm and elegance, in music that makes no heavy demands on an audience, with its contrasting minor key trio section hardly darkening the sky for a second.
The third quintet of the set, the Quintet No.3 in D minor, in its key offers rather more sombre material, although the initial mood is not maintained. The second movement is a rondo, characteristically marked Allegro grazioso. There is a graceful enough principal theme, framing contrasting episodes, the first allowing more activity to the violins and the second in the minor.
Quintet No.4 in B flat major opens cheerfully, as flute and violin enjoy an antiphonal dialogue, into which moments of occasional poignancy intrude. The second movement is a minuet in rhythm, with an element of contrasting material.
The fifth of the set, the Quintet in G major, sets a mood of happy clarity in its opening, with an immediate contrast of texture that makes use of the lower strings, with continuing prominence for the flute. The second movement, a faster Allegro assai, presents its varied material in a cheerful framework, tempered by brief excursions into the minor mode.
The series of quintets ends with the shortest, the Quintet in E flat major. This opens with a heartfelt Larghetto.
The last movement, a rondo, allows the violin a contrasting episode, followed by a minor key episode in which the flute assumes greater prominence, relaxing into a gentler mood before a brief flute cadenza re-introduces the principal theme.
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