Luigi Boccherini was an Italian classical era composer and cellist whose music retained a courtly and galante style while he matured somewhat apart from the major European musical centers. Boccherini is most widely known for one particular minuet from his String Quintet in E, Op. 11, No. 5 (G 275), and the Cello Concerto in B flat major (G 482). Boccherini also composed several guitar quintets including the “Fandango” which was influenced by Spanish music. His biographer Elisabeth Le Guin noted among Boccherini’s musical qualities “an astonishing repetitiveness, an affection for extended passages with fascinating textures but virtually no melodic line, an obsession with soft dynamics, a unique ear for sonority, and an unusually rich palette of introverted and mournful affects.”
Much of Boccherini’s chamber music follows models established by Joseph Haydn; however, Boccherini is often credited with improving Haydn’s model of the string quartet by bringing the cello to prominence, whereas Haydn had frequently relegated it to an accompaniment role. Rather, some sources for Boccherini’s style are in the works of a famous Italian cellist, Giovanni Battista Cirri, who was born before Boccherini and before Haydn, and in the Spanish popular music.
A virtuoso cellist, Boccherini often played violin repertoire on the cello, at pitch, a skill he developed by substituting for ailing violinists while touring. This supreme command of the instrument brought him much praise from his contemporaries (notably Pierre Baillot, Pierre Rode, and Bernhard Romberg), and is evident in the cello parts of his compositions (particularly in the quintets for two cellos, treated often as cello concertos with string quartet accompaniment).
He wrote a large amount of chamber music, including over one hundred string quintets for two violins, viola and two cellos (a type which he pioneered, in contrast with the then common scoring for two violins, two violas and one cello), a dozen guitar quintets, not all of which have survived, nearly a hundred string quartets, and a number of string trios and sonatas (including at least 19 for the cello). His orchestral music includes around 30 symphonies and 12 virtuoso cello concertos.
Boccherini’s style is characterized by the typical Rococo charm, lightness, and optimism, and exhibits much melodic and rhythmic invention, coupled with frequent influences from the guitar tradition of his adopted country, Spain.