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Luigi Rodolfo Benito Boccherini (Lucca, February 19, 1743 – Madrid, May 28, 1805) was an Italian composer and cellist based in Spain from the age of 25, where he developed most of of his career as a composer. Aesthetically belongs to the gallant style.
He was born on February 19, 1743 in Lucca, in Tuscany, in a family of artists, where he was able to develop his vocation. His father was a double bassist and a cellist and his ballet dancer sister. His brother Giovanni Gastone initially participated in the dance corps, but later in poetry and writing to the degree where he even wrote scripts for Antonio Salieri and Joseph Haydn. Boccherini became interested in cello from an early age. His father gave him the first lessons, enlarging them with the priest Domenico Francesco Vannucci. Progressed so much that at the parties of Lucca in 1756 his participation as a cellist with only 14 years of age. His contribution to the history of music is very important, since he was the mentor of the string quintet, in his case with double cello (he was supposed to play the first of them, adding to the traditional quartet formation). This form was used later and contemporarily by Mozart. Boccherini’s language was characterized by the refined string technique, mainly in the cello, asking for extreme positions (very sharp for the instrument), harmonics and even box beats, elements that were later claimed in the 20th century, although in a context totally different musical. The handling of the texture was its great contribution, through the thematic counterpoint used in a sublime way. These textures came to work, in their strings and guitar quintets, as molds where the melody and harmony were inserted, giving the impression, in view of the score, of “drawings” that changed each relative number of bars. In addition, he had early incursions into program music, as we can see in the “Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid”, or in the Quintet Op. 11, “La Uccelliera”, where the singing of the birds is represented.
His father, impressed by the skills of Luigi, sent him to Rome to study with Giovanni Battista Costanzi, a composer famous at that time, author of operas and sacred music. There he became familiar with the work of Palestrina and Allegri, whose famous Miserere impressed the young musician. In 1757, after completing his studies in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, he accompanied his father who had managed to obtain a place for both at the Austrian imperial court in Vienna and even for his sisters Maria Ester, Anna Matilda and his brother Giovanni Gastone in the dance.
Boccherini returned to Lucca with the illusion of gaining fame in his hometown. He was accepted in 1764 but soon after was disappointed due to low and unjust salary obtained. Faced with the relatively little success of his career – and his low salary – Boccherini settles in Milan the following year, and begins a concert tour with a string quartet (which represents a novelty for this time) created in 1764 with the violinists Pietro Nardini and Filippo Manfredi, and the viola Giuseppe Cambini. His repertoire consists of works by Haydn, Boccherini himself and other contemporary composers. Between 1764 and 1768 he composed two oratorios: Giuseppe riconosciuto and Gioas, re di Giudea. Given the acceptance that his camera training was having, he decided to undertake a trip that should take him to the main cultural centers of Europe. He left Italy because he did not know that the trip would not have a return.
In 1767 or 1768 he moved to Paris, with his second violin Filippo Manfredi, where he published some quartets op.1 and trios op.2. Little by little Boccherini’s fame grows, but our composer decides to go to Spain in a somewhat hasty way, perhaps because he fell in love with the singer Clementina Pelliccia (with whom he would end up marrying), who acted as a soprano in the Bolognese Opera Company Luigi Marescalchi. Boccherini also enrolled in it, joining the trip that the company had scheduled for Spain, at the beginning of the spring of 1768. Within the framework of the programs established by Marescalchi, we see the Luque participating in the actions of the Company before the Court and in other cities, such as Valencia. There is nothing that can sustain the many times repeated justification for this change of plans based on some supposed and never materialized letters of recommendation of the Spanish ambassador in Paris. It was love and not convenience that drove Boccherini on a journey south. The traditional version of his transfer to Spain supposed that there was a contact with the ambassador of Spain in Paris, Joaquín Anastasio Pignatelli and this convinced Boccherini and Manfredi to move to Madrid under the protection of the infant Luis Antonio de Borbón y Farnesio, brother small of King Carlos III. The certain thing is that Manfredi remained a time in Paris and Boccherini took in being named musician of the Infante, whereas his first activities in Spain were ligatures to the company of opera of Marescalchi and to other musicians.
The Duchess of Osuna and Countess of Benavente María Josefa Pimentel was one of the patrons of Boccherini.
Establishment in Spain
In 1769, Boccherini is named cellist and composer of the royal chapel of the infant Luis Antonio. With this appointment begins the stage of greatest musical creation of the artist. Around 1770 he began composing chamber music, quartets and string quintets, works with which he has been widely related.
In 1776, the infant Luis Antonio de Borbón contracted morganatic nuptials with María Teresa de Vallabriga and was forced to retire to Arenas de San Pedro in the province of Ávila. The infant was established in the palace of La Mosquera, in the town of Arenas, and brought his entire orchestra with him. Despite this isolation, Boccherini was able to make his music known throughout Europe thanks to the contact he had with the great publishing houses.
The year 1785 substantially changes his life: his wife Clementina dies in Arenas de San Pedro, and months later, on August 7, his employer Don Luis. Boccherini returns to Madrid alone and with six children: Joaquina, Luis Marcos, José Mariano, María Teresa, Mariana and Isabel. Once restored he achieved two important patronages: he was appointed composer of the Court of Frederick William II of Prussia, without obligation to reside in Berlin (he never traveled to Germany); and that of María Josefa Pimentel Duchess of Osuna and Countess of Benavente (1752-1834).
Decline and death
The sudden abandonment of the patronage of Maria Josefa Pimentel and the death of Frederick William II of Prussia in 1797 caused Boccherini to decay in the last years of his life. Distressed by the misfortunes of the loss of his children and his second wife, and despite the help of the French ambassador Luciano Bonaparte, he died on May 28, 1805, at 62 years of age. Although it is believed that he died being poor, a recent study of his testament by one of his direct descendants shows that he did not die rich but died with money and not in misery.
Boccherini was buried in the church of Saints Justo and Pastor of the Calle del Sacramento in Madrid, today the papal basilica of San Miguel. In 1927 Mussolini took the remains of the composer to Lucca to be buried in the church of San Francisco, in the pantheon of the illustrious sons of that Tuscan city. His descendants continue to live in Spain.
Sketch by Luigi Boccherini.