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8.572368 - BOCCHERINI, L.: 6 Cello Sonatas (arr. A. Piatti for cello and piano) (Amosov, Jen-Ru Sun)

Luigi Boccherini (1743–1805)
Six Sonatas for Cello and Piano (arr. Alfredo Piatti)


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 during 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, finally 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 28 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, including some 32 sonatas for cello and basso continuo. The best known of these sonatas are the six issued in London in 1771 by the Scottish publisher Robert Bremner. The sonatas were issued in Paris by La Chevardière in a transcription for violin. The six sonatas, retaining the numbering found in Bremner’s edition, were published in Italy in the 1870s by Ricordi in arrangements by the cellist Alfredo Piatti for cello and piano. It is this version of the sonatas that is recorded here, one that differs not only in the keyboard realisation but in some other respects from modern editions of the sonatas derived from other manuscript sources.

Sonata No. 1 in A major shows in its first movement the variety of form that Boccherini used in his sonatas, here with a repeated first section moving to the dominant and duly returning to the tonic in the second half. The Largo D major second movement opens with double stopping, already a feature of the preceding movement, and includes a cadenza. The final Allegro again includes a repeated first section and a similar pattern of modulation.

Sonata No. 2 in C major adopts the same structure in its first movement, with a repeated first section in the opening Allegro, leading to the dominant. The binary form F major Largo is introduced by an ornamented melody, its modulating first section repeated. The mood changes abruptly in the final Allegro, with its Più animato passage in a higher register of the cello in the repeated first section of the movement and excursion into the minor before arpeggios leading to a return of the animato.

Sonata No. 3 in G major opens with a Largo, ending with a short cadenza. The second movement is marked Allegro alla militare, an indication also used elsewhere by Boccherini and one that aptly describes the character of the movement. To this the final Minuetto provides a contrast.

Sonata No. 4 in E flat major starts once more with an Adagio, exploring the higher range of the cello in the second half of the movement. The following Allegro is characterized by strongly marked rhythms and the sonata ends with a movement in the form of a Minuet.

Sonata No. 5 in F major has a characteristic first movement, with the now expected elements of virtuosity. It is followed by a movement marked Largo in the Piatti edition, a C major aria that assumes a melancholy character as it moves into a minor key. There is a short cadenza before the movement ends. There is a lively final movement.

Sonata No. 6 in A major, here given in its original published version, has been found in an alternative manuscript version which offers a variant of the second movement. The sonata starts with an effective Adagio which includes a brief cadenza. The second movement offers an element of technical display, testimony, as elsewhere in these sonatas, to Boccherini’s prowess as a cellist. The last movement, marked Affettuoso, provides a gently melodious conclusion to the set.

Keith Anderson

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