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Scion of a musical family – his brother and three sisters were dancers and singers – Luigi Boccherini was one of the first virtuoso cellists. Although he composed much of his music in relative isolation in Spain, his patrons included the royal families of Spain and Prussia, as well as Napoleon’s brother Lucien. He composed in most genres then current, but he is particularly known for his vast chamber music production. He created the quintet of two violins, viola, and two cellos, largely for him to play himself with an established quartet. He wrote over 100 of these quintets, and also arranged many of them for other mediums, including guitar quintets and piano quintets.
Boccherini also wrote 18 quintets or quintettini (little works, “opera piccola” in his autograph catalog) for flute or oboe and string quartet in three sets of six each, and he may or may not have written another set of six such pieces, G. 437-442 in the catalog compiled by musicologist Yves Gérard. Boccherini’s music was very popular, and often imitated and ascribed to him. The attribution of these works is considered doubtful, although they have remained in favor to this day in concert and recordings. Unlike the other flute quintets, these are for flute, violin, viola, and two cellos, suggesting that they are reworkings (or imitations) of music from Boccherini’s cello quintets, with the flute taking over the first violin part. As with the cello quintets, the first cello part is a substantial, soloistic one with the kind of high-flying virtuosity that was a Boccherini trademark.
The ensemble writing is assured and varied in texture in the first quintet of this group, G. 437 in F major. The opening Allegro is characteristically vivacious and the slow movement is a sweetly diversified lyric scene, like an instrumental version of an opera ensemble. The finale darts energetically, with the strings in unfettered idiomatic display.
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.