(1743 – 1805)
(1797 – 1828)
Boccherini Quintet No. 3
What Boccherini had going for himself was his extraordinary ability to play the cello. By all accounts, he may have been the premier cellist of his century. And as was the case with all court composers, he turned out hundreds of compositions to entertain his patrons. (Haydn wrote 104 symphonies for his employers, the Prince Esterhazy). Just as Haydn perfected the string quartet, Boccherini – 19 years Haydn’s junior – picked up Haydn’s baton and invented the string quintet, adding a second cello – Boccherini’s instrument – to the string quartet. So far as we know, he wrote 141 of them. Augmenting the quartet with a second cello gave it greater sonority as well as an opportunity for him to display his virtuosity to his employers. Later in his career he substituted the double bass for the second cello, adding lower notes to the quintet’s range. This Quintet in D Major is one of those pieces.
Boccherini’s music is quintessentially classical. He wrote it only to entertain and to amuse his rich and famous patrons. Not surprisingly, it is courtly and sophisticated. Musicologists refer to his style as “galante”, which means elegant, cultured, and virtuous. The galante style was popular between 1720 and 1760. It represents a reaction against the polyphonic complexity of the late Baroque era, a return to simplicity and accessibility. Think light charm vs. complex grandeur. Melody and grace were more important than rhythm and thematic development, two of Beethoven’s 19th century hallmarks.
We can discern Boccherini’s intentions from many of the sensuous instructions he wrote on his scores: dolce (sweet), amoroso (lovingly), soave (softly), con grazia (with grace), and dolcissimo (very sweetly). His works were extremely popular and widely published. One contemporary observer said that, “If God wanted to speak to man he would do so through Haydn’s works, but if God wished to listen to music for himself, he would choose Boccherini.” (No one ever said that about Elvis.)
Written by the Honorable Stephen S. Trott
Dvorak String Quintet in G Major
Boccherini’s and Dvořák’s backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Boccherini came from a thoroughly musical family. Dvořák was the son of a butcher who was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Fortunately, Dvořák’s uncle spotted the boy’s talent, and after a battle with Dvořák’s stubborn father, Antonin was allowed to leave the butcher block behind and go to Prague to study music. A few years later, he was discovered – impoverished and laboring in obscurity – by Johannes Brahms, who took Dvořák under his wing and became his mentor.
Dvorak’s music was influenced by the beloved folk music of his homeland. He believed that great art music must grow from the healthy soil of mature folk music. He became the champion of Czech music, fluently and effortlessly melding the folk sounds of his people into updated 18th century classical forms. He was quickly identified as a “nationalist composer”, a style much in vogue in Europe between 1850-1900.
This prize-winning quintet is absolute music. It has no extramusical program or references. Full of drive and drama, it exhibits a fresh rhythmic vitality that in the fast movements is propulsive in nature, evoking the vibrant folk dance music of his native land. Dvořák’s technical skill, his mastery of form, and his clever ability to develop a musical idea are much in evidence. His use of the double bass is particularly notable.
Come to think of it, the repertoire of chamber music is awash in string quartets, and many string quintets, but very few of the quintets feature the double bass. Strange given the added range and sonority a double bass adds to the sound. Could it be because the bulky double bass is hard to lug around (which is why I took up the mandolin)? Indeed, by the time Dvořák wrote his last string quintet 18 years later, the bass was gone, replaced by a second viola. Maybe the change was because the viola was his instrument, the way Luigi’s was the cello. Do you think?
Written by the Honorable Stephen S. Trott
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