Luigi Boccherini's life is one of few triumphs and countless
hardships, finally ending in tragedy. Boccherini's early years
were very successful. He traveled throughout Spain, France and
Italy. Upon his return to Spain, he was struck by one tragedy
after another. After this turn of fate his only means of support
was the small pieces of music he wrote for the guitarists of
Madrid. The music now played by Sego via and other leading guitarists,
was written by Boccherini from dire necessity. There is a saying,
"a starving writer writes his best." Boccherini died a homeless,
penniless beggar in the streets of Madrid.
The name of this prolific and unjustly neglected composer is generally coupled with that of Hayden in the early development of chamber music. He composed more than four hundred and sixty instrumental works, including one hundred and two string quartets, sixty string trios, and twenty-one sonatas for piano and violin. Yet to the modem public he is best known for his famous Minuet, taken from one of his quintets (second series, written in 1771). This piece, incidentally, was composed some two years after his arrival in Spain and bears traces of Hispanic influence, as evidenced in its syncopations and its pizzicato accompaniment, the whole giving a guitarristic effect.
Having made a name for himself as composer and cellist in Italy - he was born at Lucca in 1743 - Boccherini went to Paris in 1768 and there met with immediate success. Soon he was persuaded by the Spanish ambassador to visit Madrid, which was then a center of attraction for virtuosi from all over Europe. Owing to the intrigues of a certain Brunetti, an Italian violinist established in Madrid, Boccherini did not fare as well as he hoped at the Spanish Court. Nevertheless, he found a patron in the king's brother, the Infante Don Luis, and, except for a brief period as court composer to the King of Prussia, he settled in Madrid for the rest of his life, dying there in 1805.
The eminent French musicologist Georges de Saint-Foix, who has pleaded eloquently for wider recognition of Boccherini's genius, is of the opinion that his works offer an array of Spanish dance forms "of a beauty and richness without equal." The same writer speaks of "the imperishable, the warm and precious musical treasure of Spain" that Boccherini has assimilated and transmitted in his compositions. Boccherini himself tells us that hearing the celebrated Padre Basilio play fandangos on the guitar inspired some of his music.
That Boccherini had a thorough acquaintance with the technique of the guitar is demonstrated by his three quintets for strings and guitar, in which he employs the resources of the latter instrument with exceptional skill. The third of these quintets has a finale, which is in the rhythm of the fandango.
Boccherini's Spanish Ballet is an interesting example of his Spanish Influence. The score and parts of this work, which was probably written for the composer's brother-in-law, the choregrapher Onorato Vigano, are preserved in the Hessische Landesbibliothek at Darmstadt. The ballet was performed at Vienna and at Moscow in 1775. It consists of four brief movements: Larghetto, Minuet-Andantino, Allegretto, and Con tredanse. One wonders why Boccherini did not employ specific Spanish dance forms in his ballet, but it is evident that he intended to convey an impressionistic rather than a realistic effect. Instead of imitating actual dances, he suggests Spanish atmosphere by the use of roulades, syncopations, and pizzicato passages.
Boccherini further associated himself with Spanish music by writing a zarzuela to a libretto by Ramon de la Cruz, entitled Clementina, which was privately performed at Madrid in 1778.