Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #7/50: String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5 by Luigi Boccherini.

Minuet and Trio (A Major) by Luigi Boccherini.

One of the things that continues to amaze me about this classical music series is how well known so many of these compositions actually are. I am willing to bet that, like me, many of you would have trouble recognizing this composition from the title listed above, but believe me when I tell you that you have all heard this piece many times and will recognize it from the very first violin notes that you hear. In fact, I might recommend that the best course of action for you to take at this very moment is to stop reading my words, and instead go to the bottom of the post, click on the link that will take you to a live recording of Boccherini’s String Quintet and then, once you have the tune in your head, come back and continue on with the post. So…off you go! See you back in a bit.

Aaaaaah, you are back! I told you that you would recognize that piece of music. To be precise, that famous piece of music is actually one of four separate compositions that combine to make up the official String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No.5. The section you heard was the third movement from the String Quintet. It is a minuet (which is a short social dance for two people). This minuet is called “Minuetto, Trio (A Major)” as it is known in Italian. So, now that you have had a listen, let’s talk a little about the man who composed it, Luigi Boccherini.

Luigi Boccherini.

Like many famous composers, Boccherini was born into a musical family. His father, Leopoldo, was a well known cellist and violinist. His brother, Giovanni, was a poet who ended up writing several librettos (booklets containing storylines, stage directions, etc…, which accompanied instrumental compositions such as operas or ballets) for such luminaries as Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri. Because of his family’s musical connections, Boccherini was able to obtain private lessons and attend prestigious musical schools throughout Italy. At age fourteen, Boccherini and his father travelled to Vienna and gained employment as musicians at the Royal Court. As an eighteen year old, Boccherini moved to Madrid and wrote the majority of his life’s work under the direct patronage of Prince Luis, the brother of King Charles III of Spain. At one point, he angered the King because of a disagreement between the two regarding part of one of Boccherini’s compositions. Boccherini was dismissed from his royal patronage position. However, Prince Luis was so enamoured of Boccherini’s work, that instead of Boccherini becoming an outcast, it was Prince Luis who left the Royal Court, establishing new homes in several small coastal villages in which Boccherini was always provided accommodation. Upon the death of Prince Luis, Boccherini secured new patronage positions with, among others, Lucien Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as King Wilhem II of Prussia.

The manner in which Luigi Boccherini lived his life as a composer operating in royal circles under the patronage and protection of important people is how many composers of the day earned their living. It was rare for the Boccherinis and Salieris of the world to do anything even remotely controversial that may offend their patron or draw shame on their reputations. For the most part, composers like Boccherini helped those in power to enjoy the lifestyle that came with such privilege. The best example of this style of composing can be seen in his String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5. The famous minuet that has become so ubiquitous in our modern world had its origins in the ballrooms of royal palaces where dances might be held before or after the feast. Today, that same ballroom minuet is used in countless tv shows and movies to help create an air of formality and wealth for the characters on screen. I wonder if any of you have ever been at an event at which the “Minuetto, Trio (A Major)” was played? If so, I imagine it was a stately affair.

Statue of Luigi Boccherini. Lucca, Italy.

Despite his access to the rich and powerful people of the day, Boccherini was not granted any form of immortality. He passed away in 1805 having outlived all of his royal patrons, two of his wives and four of his daughters. Only two sons managed to outlive him. After his funeral, Boccherini was laid to rest in Madrid. His remains were removed in 1927 when he was reburied in his hometown of Lucca. There is a small statue dedicated to his memory that you can visit should you ever find yourself in Lucca, Italy. But more than any statue, Boccherini’s lasting legacy lies squarely upon a short minuet that has become so famous that it is simply known as The Celebrated Minuet. While Boccherini was no classical one-hit wonder, he is best known for the minuet contained within his String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5. As I have stated before when talking about modern music, if you are only going to be remembered for one hit, then make sure it is a great one. I think that “The Celebrated Minuet” is one such great composition.

The link to the video for the composition “Minuet and Trio (A Major) from “String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5” by Luigi Boccherini can be found here.

The link to the official website of a museum dedicated to the memory of Luigi Boccherini can be found here.

The link to the official website for the classical music radio station in my very own town…Classical 103.1 FM…can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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