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In "Just Listen," The Day's music writers share their playlists of favorite recordings and invite you to share your comments and your playlists. Each blog includes a Spotify playlist of the music in play. You can stream the music, then add your comments in this blog. Spotify is a free music service that you can load onto your computer or wireless device.
When you stand next to a giant, it's hard to get noticed. When music lovers look back the height of the Classical era, the musical expression of The Enlightenment of the 18th century, we tend to notice the two giants: Haydn and Mozart. And then there's Luigi Boccherini, born on this day, Feb. 19, 1743 …
You'll get to hear some of his most novel and pleasing music on the playlist at the end.
Boccherini was a successful and honored musician in his day, onlt to fall out of the repertoire after his death. It wasn't until 1969 that his mind-boggling output was cataloged: more than 45 symphonies, more than 100 quintets and 100 quartets of various instrumental groupings, more than 50 trios … the list seems endless.
Born and trained in Italy, Boccherini spent most of his life in Spain. Though he was an acclaimed cellist, he must have heard those Spanish guitars in the square, because he wrote nine quintets in which he added a guitar to a string quartet. Boccherini was overshadowed by Haydn (but really, who wasn't?) largely because he lacked Haydn's innovative gifts for what we now call sonata form, that interplay between two separate themes in separate keys.
What Boccherini was a master of was the sonic effects of his ensembles, and in these guitar quintets, he blends the gut-stringed guitars and violins, violas and cellos in wonderfully unified ways. At times the guitarist is strumming as the bowed instruments are in full boil, and at times the guitar plucks out a sonic contrast.
I'm including all of his characteristic Quintet No. 1 in D Minor, and in the second movement you'll hear one of his ear-ticklers: at times all the bowed instruments are plucked (pizzicato) to sound so similar to the guitar that the ensemble could be just a couple guitars. And I'm including the final movement of his most famous of these, No. 4 in D Major, called "Fandango" because he goes all in for the Spanish effect by adding a castanet.
I'm surprised that with all the great guitarists around these days, these quintets aren't performed more often.