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8.555043 - BOCCHERINI: String Quartets Op. 32, Nos. 3-6
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Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)

String Quartets, Op. 32, Nos. 3-6

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 and older brother and sister to Venice and Trieste and the following year he appeared with his father in Vienna, where they were both invited to join the orchestra of the Théâtre-Allemand, returning to Vienna for two further seasons in 1760-1761 and 1763-1764. In the intervening periods he appeared in Lucca and in Florence. In 1764 Boccherini succeeded in achieving appointment as a cellist in the Cappella Palatina in Lucca and undertook engagements in Padua and Cremona, among other places. In 1766 he joined with his fellow-townsman, the violinist Manfredi, leader of the Cappella Palatina, the latter’s teacher Nardini and the composer and viola-player Cambini in serious study and performance of the quartets of Haydn and of Boccherini’s own early quartets, and after the death of his father in August of that year he went with Manfredi to Genoa, where he seems to have composed at least one of his two oratorios for the Oratorians. In the autumn of 1767 he set out from Genoa with Manfredi, with the intention of travelling to London, staying first in Nice and then for some six months in Paris, where they won considerable success. Here Boccherini’s first set of six string quartets was published, and sets of string trios. 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, appearing first at court with an Italian opera company. Establishing himself in Madrid, Boccherini was appointed composer and virtuoso di camera to the Infante Don Luis, younger brother of King Carlos III, after a cooler reception from the King and the Prince of the Asturias, his heir. 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 a morganatic 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, who had spent some fifteen years in his service, received a pension from the King and the promise of a position in the Real Capilla that was not fulfilled. He found employment, however, with 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-playing 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 King Carlos III in 1788, the new king, Carlos IV, established a chamber ensemble and in 1795 a chamber orchestra, in neither of which Boccherini was involved. With the unexpected death of Friedrich Wilhelm II in 1797 Boccherini’s employment there came to an end, when his request for a continuation of his position and a pension was refused, while the Benavente-Osuna family moved to Paris in 1799. 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 and saddened by the death of his second wife and his remaining daughters. He died in Madrid on 28th May 1805.

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. The six quartets written in 1780 and listed by Boccherini as Opus 32 and opera grande, were published in Vienna by Artaria in about 1782 as Opus 33, and published, as most of Boccherini’s work was, in Paris, where they appeared in 1785. The String Quartet in D major, Opus 32, No.3, opens with a movement worthy of Haydn, its spirited first subject, duly developed, together with the contrasted second subject. The Adagio offers a moving principal melody of slowly mounting intensity, with a contrasted second section to the movement, framed by the main thematic material. The course of the lively final Allegro vivo is interrupted by an Adagio a piacere, a short cadenza for the first violin, before the repetition of the principal theme.

The String Quartet in C major, Opus 32, No.4, starts with a brisk unison, its direction Allegro bizarro justified by what follows, particularly in pauses that allow the first violin to ascend to the heights, later reflected in the cello’s brief descent to the depths and a subsequent reminder that the composer himself was a distinguished cellist. The A minor slow movement has its own tender intensity and moments of drama. The quartet ends with a sparkling Allegro con brio, bringing an immediate change of mood.

The fifth of the set, the String Quartet in G minor, Opus 32, No.5, opens with a principal theme that gently reflects the choice of key. The slow movement, an E flat major Andantino, a contrast with the first movement, is followed by the C minor Minuetto con moto, with its C major Trio characteristically marked dolcissimo e smorfioso. The final operatic Allegro giusto includes a cadenza for the first violin, marked Capriccio ad libitum.

The String Quartet in A major, Opus 32, No.6, starts with a 6/8 Allegro, its first subject based on a descending melodic figure. The A minor Andantino lentarello, the second adjective also used in the first quartet of the set, is based on a conventionally melancholy descending figure and has a brief first violin cadenza. The major key Minuetto, suggests a country dance, with its contrasting A minor Trio, followed by a last movement of great brilliance.

Keith Anderson

Quartetto Borciani

Fulvio Luciani, violin • Elena Ponzoni, violin • Roberto Tarenzi, viola • Claudia Ravetto, cello

In 1984 Paolo Borciani, first violin of the Quartetto Italiano, gave his consent to the formation by a group of his students of a string quartet bearing his name. Their gesture was intended to mark their association with Borciani’s exemplary school of instrumental and musical training, and their desire to perpetuate the tradition established by the legendary quartet he founded. Since then the Quartetto Borciani has performed in major venues throughout Italy, including the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Teatro San Carlo of Naples and the Teatro Regio of Turin, and elsewhere in Europe at the Purcell Room in London and for the bicentennial celebrations at the Mozarteum Großer Saal of Salzburg, as well as at concerts in Germany, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Luxemburg. The acclaimed appearance of the quartet in 1991 at the Festival dei Due Mondi of Spoleto brought them back for another performance the following year. They also appeared in the Wexford Festival of Ireland in 1996, and in 1998 they made their American début at the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival, to a standing ovation. More recently they accepted a rare invitation from Iran to performers from the western world, appearing in concert there in Tehran in 2000. The Quartetto Borciani has also been privileged to perform with such distinguished artists as the cellist Siegfried Palm, violists Hatto Beyerle (founder of the Alban Berg Quartet) and Danilo Rossi, and the pianists Bruno Canino, Antonio Ballista, and Paolo Bordoni. Radio and television appearances range from recorded stage performances, broadcast by Italian Radio and Television (RAI) throughout Europe via satellite, to a television special by the Italian cable station Telepiù D+ Classica. The Quartetto Borciani has an exceptionally wide repertoire, ranging from transcriptions of music of the Renaissance to the contemporary, with works specially written for the quartet, and encompassing the complete cycle of Beethoven quartets, including those without opus number.

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