A Spanish evening with a guitar quintet

La Ritirata. © Charles Thibo

I have promised you Boccherini and Boccherini you will get! Such a prolific composer, such an excellent composer, and I always forget to write about him. No more. Matching the evening mood here is some wonderful chamber music for guitar and strings from Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), written in 1799 towards the end of his career and after the death of a powerful patron, the German Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm II.

Boccherini was struggling, financially and in terms of composing. Fashions changed and he had to adapt. The economic environment changed too and again composers had to adapt. In a letter from 1799 he wrote to his publisher Ignaz Pleyel, whom we have met as a composer in his own right in a previous post: “For 40 years I have been composing music and I wouldn’t be Boccherini if I had composed as you suggest; and you wouldn’t be Pleyel either, the Pleyel you are… Mind you, there’s nothing worse than shackle the hands of a poor author, i. e. to limit his inspiration, his fantasy and to bind him by rules.”

Such goes Boccherini’s lament. But he pulled himself together and after having written more than 400 pieces for chamber music, he wrote a few more: 12 piano quintets. This form was the rage of the day and Boccherini played once more a pioneering role in promoting a new genre that would truly blossom during the Romantic era. Some of these works have been adapted for guitar and strings, like the Quintet for guitar, two violins, viola and cello in C major, G. 453, arranged for  his last patron, the wealthy François de Borgia, Marquis of Benavente.

The quintet has four movements; the first three stem from Boccherini’s Piano Quintet, G. 408 while the finale, better known under the title “La Ritirata di Madrid” (The Retreat from Madrid”), has been adapted from the piece “12 Variazioni from Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid” (G. 324), that I have presented in my first post on Boccherini, that retraces his career. The latter represents a street band approaching and passing – starting softly, rising to a forceful and richly scored climax, then gracefully fading away.

So welcome to a Spanish evening with the recording by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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