19 February 2016

Luigi Boccherini – musician

Composer gave the cello prominence in his charming quintets

Boccherini playing the cello, thought to  have been painted between 1764 and  1767 by Pompeo Batoni
Boccherini playing the cello, thought to
have been painted between 1764 and
1767 by Pompeo Batoni
Cellist and composer Luigi Rodolfo Boccherini was born on this day in 1743 in Lucca in Tuscany.

Boccherini is particularly known for a minuet from his String Quintet in E, which became popular after its use by characters posing as musicians in the 1955 film, The Ladykillers, which starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

Though his works became neglected after his death in 1805 they enjoyed a revival after the Boccherini Quintet was formed in Rome, who started performing them in the 1950s.

Boccherini’s father was himself a cellist and double bass player and sent the young Luigi to study in Rome.

In 1757 they went to Vienna together where the court employed them both as musicians in the Imperial Theatre orchestra.

Listen to Boccherini's String Quintet in E, which featured in The Ladykillers

In 1764 Luigi obtained a permanent position back in Lucca, playing in both the church and theatre orchestras.

But after the death of his father he moved to Paris where some of his early compositions were published.

Boccherini later moved to Spain, where for a time he enjoyed the patronage of the Royal family. But one day King Charles III of Spain ordered him to change a passage of his music. Boccherini doubled the passage instead and was immediately dismissed from the King’s service.
The 1955 movie The Ladykillers featured Boccherini's String Quintet in E
Movie poster from The Ladykillers
He went to live in a small town in the mountains in Spain, where he wrote many of his most famous works.

He still enjoyed patronage from the King of Spain’s younger brother, the Infante, from the French ambassador to Spain, Lucien Bonaparte, and from King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.

Towards the end of Boccherini’s life it is believed he fell on hard times. He had lost both his first and second wives and four of his daughters.

He died in Madrid in 1805 and was survived by two sons. He was buried in Madrid but his remains were brought back to Italy a century later and he was reburied in the Church of San Francesco in Lucca.

Boccherini was a brilliant cellist who received much praise for his performances and he brought the cello to prominence with the music he composed, rather than just using it for accompaniment.

His Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid  became popular after it was used in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in 2003.

The Boccherini Quintet was founded after two of its members discovered a complete collection of Luigi Boccherini string quintets in Paris. They performed the long-neglected music all over the world and made many recordings.

Boccherini's home town of Lucca in Tuscany   is famous for its Renaissance walls
Boccherini's home town of Lucca in Tuscany
is famous for its Renaissance walls

Travel tip:

Lucca, where Boccherini was born, is famous for its Renaissance walls, which have remained intact over the centuries. A promenade now runs along the top of the walls, providing a popular place to walk round the city enjoying the views. The Luigi Boccherini Musical Institute in Piazza del Suffragio in Lucca was founded in 1842 to provide a musical education up to the standard adopted by the famous 
Conservatories of Milan and Paris.

The Church of San Francesco in Lucca, where Boccherini was reburied
The Church of San Francesco in Lucca, where
Boccherini was reburied
Travel tip:

Luigi Boccherini was reburied in the Church of San Francesco in Lucca in the 1920s after his remains were brought back from Spain.  The Gothic church and monastery in Piazza San Francesco in the historic centre of the city was built out of gravel in the 14th century, not far from Lucca’s historic Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.

More reading:

The cellist who found 'accidental' fame in Yugoslavia

The composer credited with the 'revival' that shot Vivaldi to 20th century popularity

How soprano Cecilia Bartoli put spotlight on 'forgotten' composers

Also on this day:

1953: The birth of comic actor and writer Massimo Troisi

1977: The birth of operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo

(Picture credits: Lucca walls by Notafly; Church of San Francesco by Sailko; via Wikimedia Commons)


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