During his heyday, Italian born composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini had a reputation approaching that of his contemporary Franz Joseph Haydn. Today, Boccherini is remembered for but a few virtuoso works for strings. That's a shame because his influence on the string quartet may be his most lasting gift to classical music.
Born this week in 1743, Boccherini found early influences in his native Lucca in central Italy’s Tuscany region. His father and local cathedral director were sufficiently impressed with the young cellist’s mastery that they sent him at age 13 to Rome to study with the music director at St. Peter’s Basilica. At 14 he debuted in Vienna as a soloist. Three years later he performed his own Six Trios for Two Violins and Cello in the Austrian capital.
Boccherini found appreciation for his string-centric compositions in Paris and Spain. He moved to be nearer those Western European centers of art music and the patrons he found there. His supporters included Spain’s Infante Luis Antonio Jaime, French Ambassador to Spain Lucien Bonaparte and Prussia’s King Friedrich Wilhelm II.
At the center of European cultural creativity, Boccherini was influenced by and influenced the elder Austrian-born composer Franz Joseph Haydn. The Italian’s composer’s chamber music takes it lead from Haydn’s works or the same era. This can be heard in Boccherini’s Vienna-era numerous cello concertos and violin sonatas.
Boccherini was prolific publishing 12 symphonies and hundreds of chamber music works for strings. His lasting gift to classical music was that he brought the cello to the fore in many works establishing it as more than just an accompanying instrument. The guitar also figures prominently in many of his works owing to the year’s the composer spent living and working in his adopted Spain.
Yves Gerard cataloged Boccherini's works, publishing his Gerard Catalog in 1969. Recordings of Boccherini’s work since that date are often mentioned with a ‘G’ number in reference to the French Musicologist.
Luigi Boccherini was born 273 years ago this Friday. Listen to Morning Classics each day this week for a selection from his prolific oeuvre.
Morning Classics is heard each weekday from 7:00 to 9:00 on Classical 90.5FM.