Digital Playbill

Boccherini & Dvořák

Table of Contents
Premiering November 28, 2020
Music Director: Eric Garcia

Program

Luigi Boccherini
(1743 – 1805)
Quintet No. 3 in D Major, op. 39/3, G 339

Antonin Dvořák
(1797 – 1828)
String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, op. 77, B. 49

Musicians

Katie Clark, Violin
sponsored by Mike Winter & Mona Morrison

Heather Calkins, Violin

Linda Kline, Viola
sponsored by Mark and Michelle Heil

Julia Pope, Cello

Daniel Ball, Bass


Katie Clark

Heather Calkins

Linda Kline

Julia Pope

Daniel Ball

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Program Notes
Boccherini and Dvořák

Luigi Boccherini / February 19, 1743 – May 28, 1805

Boccherini Quintet No. 3

Born in Italy, Boccherini moved as a young adult to Madrid where he became a famous cellist and composer in the court of the younger brother of Charles III, the King of Spain. He flourished under royal patronage until the King expressed his disapproval of a passage in one of his compositions and ordered Boccherini to rewrite it. Not only did he not change it, he doubled it and was fired on the spot. Big surprise. He continued to work for the King’s brother, however, picking up other gigs with various royals and aristocrats around Europe, including Friedrich Wilhelm II, the King of Prussia, and Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. Why royals and aristocrats? Because as Willie Sutton the 20th century bank robber allegedly said, “That’s where the money was.” For most of the 18th century, serious musicians and composers depended for their living on the titled upper crust (Haydn) or the church (Bach).

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

Antonin Dvořák / September 08, 1841 – May 01, 1904

Dvorak String Quintet in G Major

What a difference a century makes. Two superb string quintets, one from the 18th century (Boccherini), and the other from the 19th. Same format, same instruments, but they are as different as chalk is from cheese. What happened, why so dissimilar? Beethoven, that’s what happened. He took the classical forms and styles bequeathed to him by Haydn and Mozart at the turn of the 19th century and injected them with a range of expressiveness and rhythmic energy not known to his predecessors. Whereas the 18th century classicalists wrote to please their wealthy conservative patrons, Beethoven wrote to express himself, the self-important high and mighty be damned. He was a one-man bridge from the classicalists to the 19th century Romantics. Beethoven left the 18th century’s galante style in his rearview mirror, paving the way for future composers including Dvořák.

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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