Luigi Boccherini was a prolific composer, particularly of chamber music with a distinctive and highly wrought style, and he is the chief representative of Latin instrumental music during the Viennese Classical period. Boccherini was also an exceptional cellist.
Luigi Boccherini (his baptismal first name Rudalfo was never used) was the son of a cello or double bass player, Leopoldo Boccherini. Luigi was born in Lucca, Italy in February 19, 1743. The Boccherini family had considerable artistic gifts. Luigi’s brother Giovan Gastone (1742-1800) was a poet and a dancer, Luigi’s sister Maria Ester had a distinguished career in Vienna as a ballet dancer. Boccherini first studied music on the cello with his father. Then Luigi’s father, “Leopoldo handed over Luigi to the Abbate Vanucci, maestro di cappella of the cathedral” (Rothschild 3).
Vanucci taught at the seminary of San Martino. Luigi made his first debut as a cellist at the age of 13 and was later played at the local feast day celebrations. In 1757 Luigi went to Rome presenting himself to the cellist Constanzi, maestro di capella at St. Peters. Luigi played for Canstanzi, and after hearing Luigi, Constanzi disn’t hesitate to take Luigi as a student. After about a year in Rome Luigi and his father were asked to go to Vienna to play in the orchestra of the imperial capital at the court theatre.
“Luigi and his father stayed with the Imperial theatre from December 1757 to October 1758” (Rothschild 9). After leaving Vienna, Luigi returned to his studies in Rome. Again Luigi and his father returned to play in the orchestra. Luigi then returned to Lucca in the spring of 1760.
In 1763 Luigi returned to Vienna for a third time, by this time his reputation was growing as a cellist after an application was submitted to Lucca to be maestro was granted. During the time that Luigi was in Lucca he composed two oratorios for performance in the church of St. Maria Corteorlandini and a cantata for a local celebration feast. During his years in Lucca Luigi often took trips to Milan, where it is said that he arranged “the first public string quartet performance in 1765” (Sadie 825).
In 1766 Boccherini and his quartet went on tour and ended up in Paris, France in 1767. Boccherini stayed in Paris at least until the summer of 1768. After Boccherini left Paris that summer his next journey was to Madrid where he stayed most of his life. During the first couple of years in Madrid Luigi composed works for string quartets and it was published in 1769.
He also composed a sinfonia concertante for performance in Madrid’s concert series during Lent 1770. In November of that same year Boccherini was appointed to the service of the Infante as composer and performer (virtuoso di camera e compositor di musica) and the obligation to compose exclusively for his employer. Most of Boccherini’s works were published in Paris. In 1771 Boccherini married Clemintina Pelicho.
Though she died in 1785. In 1786 Boccherini was appointed court composer to Fredrick Wilheim II of Prussia, and amateur cello player. “Shortly after that Boccherini left Spain to take up his new appointment, his German sojourn, it lasted until 1788” (Parker 28-29). After the death of Fredrick Wilheim II, Boccherini petitioned his successor for employment. On the 2nd of March 1798 the new King refused his application.
At the end of 1798 Boccherini composed several pieces for guitar for the marquis. Boccherini spent the rest of his years in poverty, yet he did seem to keep himself quite busy composing and performing in the late 1790’s. “The distress which he found in 1803 by Sophie Gailmna may have been the death of the Boccherini’s daughters than the poverty situation. Boccherini died in Madrid on May 28, 1805. In 1927 his remains were transferred to Lucca and reentered with great solemnity.
Boccherini was an exceptionally prolific composer of chamber music” (Slonimsky 188). Boccherini’s list of compositions are 20 chamber symphonies, 2 octets, 16 sextets, 125 string quartets, 60 string trios, 21 violin sonatas, 6 cello sonatas, 6 cello concertos, 2 operas, a Christmas concerto and a few masses. Natural melody and fluency of instrumental writing mark his music.