Luigi Boccherini: String Quintet in E Major


Luigi Boccherini composed his famous E major String Quintet in 1771, although it wasn’t officially published until 1775. During the 1770s, Boccherini largely exclusively wrote for the Font String Quartet, who had links to King Charles III of Spain and his brother, Don Luis – Boccherini’s patron. As a cellist himself, Boccherini sometimes joined the musicians and performed. This was the case for the E major quintet, so Boccherini added an extra cello to make it a quintet. It has remained his most popular work, even though it did not receive particular popularity when it was published.


The Music
Movement I – Amoroso

Set into thirds, the sweet upper strings play the main melody over a bubbling bass motif. There are musical conversations happening throughout this movement, with Boccherini using this technique as a way to develop each instrument’s role in the ensemble. The moderate pace keeps the music flowing along until nearer the end of the movement when the mood changes somewhat into a more pensive atmosphere. A repeat of the opening theme is heard, now muted, before the music fades away.


Movement II – Allegro e con spirito

The bright second movement is perhaps what one would expect from the first movement of a quintet, however Boccherini strategically places it second in line. There is a lot of energy running through the veins of this movement, with a peppy melody taking centre stage. The theme is developed through different rhythms, styles of dialogue between the instruments and Boccherini’s quick changes in textures. The darker minor key theme lasts for a mere few seconds before the fizzing opening theme returns once more. The energy throughout this movement lasts until the very last note.


Movement III – Minuetto and Trio

The famous A major minuet is what plunged Boccherini into eternal fame. The memorable syncopated violin melody starts straight away and is accompanied by light pizzicato themes from the rest of the ensemble. The trio takes you somewhere new, however the sounds of that violin melody from the minuet never quite goes away. This movement has been used in films and TV shows and remains one of Boccherini’s most famous pieces.


Movement IV – Rondeau

The highly decorated first theme of the finale movement stays inside a comfortable range and tonality. As the theme is passed to different instruments in the ensemble, Boccherini writes the theme slightly differently. This shows off his use of textures and tonality. There is some sweet unison playing in this movement, with the top violin taking the top line. The movement ends with a reprise before a triumphant sequence of chords finishes off this quintet.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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