Here is some lovely music to accompany you through autumn: Luigi Boccherini’s String Quartet No. 4 in E-flat Major, op. 2. The prolific composer had this piece published along with five other quartets in 1761. Babette Kaiserkern, author of a biography on Boccherini, explains that the six quartets are opere grande (large works) with three movements, while other, later quartets only had two movements. Boccherini’s string quartet belongs to those works that made the composer famous all across Europe. They were meant to entertain his masters and of course to be performed by musicians all over the continent.
Together with Carl Stamitz, Ignaz Pleyel and Joseph Haydn, Bocchetini belongs to those musicians that have anchored the genre of the quartet in the canon of European classical music. He wrote quartets until a year before his death in 1805 showing that he mastered a great variety of styles and forms. Furthermore, in 1766, he formed with three colleagues the very first professional quartet, the Toscana Quartet. The two violinists Pietro Nardini and Filippo Manfredi, the violist Giuseppe Cambini and Boccherini came togethern in Genoa and toured Northern Italy for six months.
Op. 2, the set of six quartets, is a very early work. Upon the publication of the set, he was 18 years old. With his family he lived in Vienna, he and his father Leopoldo performed as members of the orchestra of the Deutsches Theater am Kärtnertor. As such they played mainly ballet music, composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck and Franz Aspelmeyer. Luigi’s talent as a cellist did not go unnoticed, and perhaps this encouraged him to write and publish his first compositions. He had excellent teachers at hands to guide him and a benevolent audience.
As for his style, Kaiserkern writes that Boccherini “developed his own scale, emphasizing delicate harmonic effects, sound colours and fragile dynamic nuances”. His music features melodic figures and theme instead of an antithetic, dramatically structures. “His original Italian lyrical character dilutes the hard borders that would form when thematic periods are being divided in clear-cut blocks.” It is this lyrical character of Boccherini’s music that attracts me; I find this later in Mozart’s music and of course in Schubert’s works. It is music meant to please and to fill the listener with joy – what more could you I wish for? Grazie, Luigi.
The Quartet no. 4 in E-flat Major has been recorded by the Alea Ensemble.
© Charles Thibo