Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/263

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BOCCHERINI.
251
 

rudiments of music and the cello were taught him by his father, an able bass player, and the Abbé Vannecci, Chapel-master to the Archbishop. The boy's ability was so great as to induce them to send him to Rome, where he rapidly made himself famous both as composer and player. Returning to Lucca he joined Manfredi, a scholar of Tartini's, in a tour through Lombardy. Piedmont, and the south of France, and even as far as Paris, which they reached in 1768. Here they found a brilliant reception from Gossec, Capon, and Dupont sen., and their appearance at the Concerts Spirituels confirmed the favourable judgment of their friends. Boccherini became the rage; Vénier and La Chevardière, the publishers, contended for his first trios and quartets, the eminent Mme. Brillon de Jouy (to whom Boccherini dedicated six sonatas) attached herself to the two artists, and the Spanish ambassador, a keen amateur, pressed them to visit Madrid, promising them the warmest reception from the Prince of Asturias, afterwards Charles IV. Accordingly, in the end of 1768 or beginning of 69 they started for Madrid, but their reception was disappointing. Brunetti the violinist was then in favour, and neither King nor Prince offered the strangers any civility. They were however patronised by the Infanta Don Luis, brother of the King, whom Boccherini has commemorated on the title-page of his six quartets (op. 6), calling himself 'Compositore e virtuoso di camera di S. A. R. Don Luigi infante d'Ispagnia,' a title which he retained until the death of the Infanta in 1785. After that event he dedicated a composition to Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia, which procured him a valuable present, and the post of Chamber-composer to the King, with an annual salary, but burdened with the condition that he should compose for the King alone. With the death of Friedrich in 1797 the salary ceased, and Boccherini found himself unknown except to a small circle of friends. He obtained a patron, however, in the Marquis Benavente, in whose palace he was able to hear his music performed by his former comrades of the Villa Arenas—whither his old protector Don Luis had retired after his mésalliance—and to become once again known. Meantime ill health obliged him to drop the cello; he was often in want, and suffered severe domestic calamities. With the advent of Lucien Buonaparte, however, as ambassador of the French Republic at Madrid, better times arrived. Lucien appreciated Boccherini, and his productive talent revived. In 1799 he wrote six pianoforte quintets, and dedicated them to the French nation and Republic, but they were not published till after his death, and then appeared with the name of the Duchesse de Berri on the title-page. In 1801 and 1802 he dedicated twelve string quintets (op. 60 and 62) 'per il Cittadino Luciano Bonaparte,' and in 1801 a 'Stabat Mater' for three voices (op. 60), presented to the same, and published by Sieber of Paris. After this Boccherini's star sank rapidly, and his poverty was so great that he was glad to make arrangements of his works for the guitar for the use of the Marquis Benavente and other wealthy amateurs, till at length death released him from his troubles on May 28, 1805. The last of his sons, Don José, died in Dec. 1847, as librarian to the Marquis Seralbo, leaving a son Fernando, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid (1851), the last representative of the name of Boccherini.

The ability in Boccherini's chamber-music, which is generally contemporary with Haydn's, is obvious and unquestionable. He is certainly wanting to some extent in force and contrast, but pleasant method, expressive melody, good treatment of ideas, and dignified style are never absent in his music. His originality was great, and had its influence on the progress of the art. To our practised ears his pieces may seem flat, tedious, wanting in variety of key, and too simple in execution, and doubtless these qualities have contributed to make them forgotten in Germany, though in England, Italy, and France his best works are still played and enjoyed. His quintets and cello sonatas (especially one of the latter in A) are often given at the Monday Popular Concerts.

Boccherini and Haydn are often named together in respect of chamber-music. It would be difficult to characterise the relation between them better than in the saying of Puppo the violinist, that 'Boccherini is the wife of Haydn.' It is usually assumed that these two great composers knew and esteemed each other's works, and that they even corresponded. No evidence of this is brought forward by Picquot, the earnest and accurate biographer of Boccherini, but it is nevertheless a fact. In a letter to Artaria ('Arenas, Feb. 1781') Boccherini sends his respects to Haydn, and begs him to understand that he is an enthusiastic admirer of his genius. Haydn, on his side, in two letters to Artaria, mentions his intention of writing to Boccherini, and in the meantime returns a complimentary message. Artaria at that time had published several string trios and quartets of Boccherini's, and had for long been in business relations with him.

Boccherini's facility was so great that he has been described as a fountain, of which it was only necessary to turn the cock to produce or suspend the stream of music. That he was remarkably industrious is evident from the detailed catalogue of his works made by Baillot, and given by Picquot. His first 6 trios date in 1760, and were followed in the next year by 6 quartets, published in Paris in 1768. The total number of his instrumental works amounts to 366, of which 74 are unpublished. The printed ones are as follows:—6 Sonatas for Piano and Violin; 6 ditto for Violin and Bass; 6 Duets for two Violins; 42 Trios for two Violins and Cello; 12 ditto for Violin, Viola and Cello; 91 String Quartets; 18 Quintets for Flute or Oboe, two Violins, Viola, and Cello; 12 ditto for Piano, two Violins, Viola, and Cello; 113 ditto for two Violins, Viola, and two Cellos; 12 ditto for two Violins, two Violas, and Cello; 16 Sextets