String Quintet in E major, Op. 11, No. 5
About this Piece
Luigi Boccherini was born into a musical household in Lucca, Italy, the son of a noted cellist and double-bass player and the brother of poet Giovanni Boccherini, who wrote opera librettos for the likes of Haydn and Salieri. Luigi excelled as a cellist, and around the age of 20, he moved to Madrid, where he was employed by the younger brother of King Charles III.
Influenced by the works of Haydn as a young man, Boccherini excelled in the composition of chamber music for strings, particularly quartets and quintets. As his prowess as a cellist grew, so did the complexity and prominence of the cello parts in his chamber music, so that by the time he reached musical maturity, Haydn’s models were far exceeded in this regard. The story is told that he was so skilled at playing in the highest register of the cello that he was often called upon to substitute for an ailing or absent violinist, playing the missing part—at pitch—on his cello.
Boccherini also pioneered a couple of new genres: the string quintet with two cellos and the so-called guitar quintet—scored for string quartet plus guitar. Chamber music makes up the bulk of his output, which was enormous: over 100 quintets, more than 40 violin sonatas, nearly 75 trios, and about 100 string quartets.
The Quartets Opus 11 were probably composed in 1771 for his patron, the king’s brother, Don Luis. The fifth quartet is in the standard four movements, but rather than the usual sonata-form opening, it begins with a gentle amoroso before moving on to a lively allegro con spirito. The minuet is one of Boccherini’s most familiar works, with its exceedingly tuneful melody accompanied by supporting pizzicato (plucked string) figures in the lower instruments. The closing rondo is also atypical. Marked andante at the outset, it is gentle and not overly virtuosic on the surface. Careful attention to the first cellist, however, will reveal Boccherini’s characteristic writing in the upper range of the instrument, often in close harmony with the violins or viola.