Boccherini, Luigi: Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major ‘Fandango’

Perhaps unfairly, the works of Luigi Boccherini play the role of the virtuoso, since their author stands among the greatest virtuosi in Western music. They are brilliant, practical, exploratory, inescapably peripheral, and too often gone like breath into the wind. Born in Lucca (a beautiful walled city near Pisa), Boccherini became famous as a touring cellist and composer, and eventually landed himself in Madrid, where, subject to the whims, financial vagaries, and mortal status of aristocratic patrons, he lived until 1805.

Vienna-centric music history can too often leave him behind. But Boccherini wrote a very large amount of extraordinary music which was very well regarded in his time – and still inevitably is, when it gets a hearing. He wrote 91 string quartets; 137 quintets (mostly for two-cello ensemble); 30 symphonies; at least 10 concertos (of which none remain, really – only a version which is largely the work of the cellist Grutzmacher); and who-knows-how-many other trios, sonatas, cantatas, masses, piano works, and occasional works of various kinds. Too much of his invention can too easily be left behind for want of correspondence to an Austro-Germanic historical category.

He was a great admirer of the works of Haydn, with their sharp surprise, strong emotional variety, and smooth mechanics. Boccherini’s sense of invention, though, leans more toward flowing lyric beauty on the one hand and a galant, locally-flavored, pop-like flair on the other. This latter property is particularly clear in the Quintet No. 4 in D Major, ‘Fandango’. This guitar quintet, cobbled together from two earlier cello quintets, was commissioned by the Marquis de Benavent for his own private use at chamber-music events in Madrid. That ‘Fandango’ is related to Flamenco and Spanish dance-styles should be amply evident by the end of the piece.

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