Luigi Boccherini (1743 - 1805)

Luigi Boccherini - portrait Luigi Boccherini was born in the Italian town of Lucca in Tuscany. His father played double-bass and cello and taught and encouraged his son to learn the latter instrument, and the young Luigi was giving public concerts while in his teens. As a young adult and professional cellist he met with and toured across Europe with the violinist Filipp Manfredi, sometimes joined by other musicians to play string trios or quartets. On tour they spent some time in Paris before Boccherini eventually settled in Madrid, where he served his new-found patron the Infante Don Luis. It was in Madrid he composed much of his musical output. Upon the death of this patron, he also composed for the Prince Frederick William II of Prussia and then Lucien Bonaparte (the brother of Napoleon who was the French Ambassador to Spain at that time). He stayed in Spain for the remainder of his life.

Boccherini was a contemporary of Joseph Haydn and their music bears some similarities since both composers wrote in the predominant style of the day which established the Classical Period. Although both composers were almost equally prolific, Haydn's music has tended to overshadow that of Boccherini, which is generally not so well known. Boccherini created pieces which were pleasant and melodic, and largely undemanding of the listener, although he demonstrated a certain creativity in his ready assimilation of some of the musical elements of his adopted homeland. Specifically he composed a number of guitar quintets and included some Spanish styles and dance forms within these and other works.

Luigi Boccherini's Works

As a virtuoso cellist himself, it is not surprising that he wrote a lot of music for strings, including several cello concertos and sonatas. One of Boccherini's achievements was to demonstrate the expressive potential of the cello, and this instrument is often the most prominent in his string quartets and quintets (where he utilised 2 violins, 2 cellos and a viola). If it wasn't for one particular piece, Boccherini's music would be largely unknown today. That piece of music is the Minuet in A from his String Quintet in E, Op.11 No.5. This was used on the soundtrack of the Ealing comedy film "The Ladykillers" (otherwise scored by Tristram Cary) and since then has seeped into the public consciousness as the quintessential 18th century minuet - genteel and graceful. The sheet music and audio versions of this piece are available on mfiles: Minuet from String Quintet Op.11 No.5.

Boccherini's main works:

    Yo-Yo Ma : Simply Baroque - Bach and Boccherini CD cover
  • More than 100 Strings Quartets
  • More than 100 Strings Quintets - including the one with the famous Minuet, and one called "Night Music on the Streets of Madrid"
  • Piano Quintets
  • Guitar Quintets - No.4 has a Fandango finale complete with castanets
  • Lots of other chamber music, Trios, etc.
  • 12 Cello Sonatas
  • 11 Cello Concertos - one of his most popular cello concertos was actually constructed in the 19th century using movements from 2 concertos
  • Symphonies
  • Operas
  • Oratorios

Luigi Boccherini - Recommendations

The following CDs contain a selection of music by Boccherini:

    The Best of Boccherini - double CD cover
  • The Best of Boccherini (double-CD including the famous Minuet) - from or
  • Boccherini: The Guitar Quintets (double-CD including "Night Music on the Streets of Madrid") - from or
  • Yo-Yo Ma - Simply Baroque: Bach and Boccherini (includes 2 cello concertos) - from or
  • Yo-Yo Ma - Simply Baroque 2: Bach and Boccherini (includes 2 other cello concertos) - from or