Classic Mornings

Give Me Five!


It’s a minuet you can’t forget.  Yet the composer, I suppose, nobody knows.

That’s not entirely true. But I thought it would make a great topic when I was invited back on the NPR program Here and Now. 

I already made a case for the underrated Luigi Boccherini in a blog post around the time of the cellist/composer’s 275th birthday anniversary on February 19th .  But preparing for my chat with Here and Now’s co-host and Urbana native Jeremy Hobson, I found myself on all sorts of byroads that led to even more information and stories about Boccherini. Some of that I shared on the program.

For one thing, I learned that at the time of the 275th birthday anniversary, there was only one anniversary  concert – a cello and piano recital – in Lucca. That’s the composer’s home town, located in northern Italy. It made me all the more determined to let radio listeners know at least something about the composer of the famous minuet, which is just a tiny piece from one of his 100 or so string quintets.

String quintet generally means a string quartet (2 violins, viola & cello) and either an additional viola or an additional cello. Boccherini wrote both kinds of string quintets. Mozart’s string quintets feature an extra viola. Sometimes you’ll see string quintets labeled as cello quintets or viola quintets to make it clear as to the additional instrument.

That’s more consistent with the naming of other chamber works that feature a string quartet and a fifth instrument. There are indeed memorable piano quintets and clarinet quintets in the repertoire. Boccherini wrote piano, flute, oboe and guitar quintets as well as viola and cello quintets. His guitar quintets were arrangements for guitar, 2 violins, viola and cello of music he wrote originally as string and piano quintets.

The makeup of quintets doesn’t always follow the rule. One of the most famous examples is the piano quintet by Franz Schubert, known as the “Trout Quintet” (Quintet in A major, D. 667). It’s scored for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. Schubert had been asked to write the quintet for the same instruments used in a quintet version of a work originally written for 8 players (an octet) by his contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel.

And while we’re speaking of quintets, know that the term wind quintet does not refer to a quintet for a wind instrument and string quartet. It’s a quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Boccherini didn’t write any of those.

Boccherini’s “Fandango” Quintet (Quintet in D major, G. 448) for guitar and string quartet is another fairly well-known work by the composer. In case you may wonder why it wasn’t included in my Here and Now discussion with Jeremy, be assured that it was. I selected it for one of my 5 suggested pieces to talk about on the program. And indeed, we did talk about it. The “DJ Session” segment is only about 10 minutes in length.  And since Jeremy and I got carried away with talking about the other pieces and about Boccherini in general, something had to get cut. The recording I would have had him play features Le Concert des Nations led by Jordi Savall with guitarist Rolf Lislevand (Alia Vox 9845).

One other item I wanted to clarify from the interview is my reference to Boccherini writing string quartets for his patron Don Luis, the brother of the Spanish King. He also wrote string quintets – cello quintets -  for Don Luis. It was those works that gave the composer the opportunity to perform as a cellist along with his patron’s musicians. He didn’t just play along with the musicians when they were performing a string quartet.

It was exciting to give listeners who are not necessarily versed in classical music a name to go along with the famous minuet. Perhaps it was just enough to get them to listen for more of the composer’s music. There certainly are a lot more minuets that are a part of the quintets, symphonies, concertos and other chamber music that he wrote. And it’s not only the minuets that are worth exploring.

If you didn’t get a chance to listen to my recent chat with Jeremy, here’s a link to it. I’m honored to have been a guest on the program a “quintet” of times.  What I’ve “brought along” over the past several years has been an extension of some of the music and stories I’ve presented on Classic Mornings. So it all began with something I intended for listeners in Central Illinois, which made its way to listeners across the country. I then bring the excitement of a national apperance back home again to share with you. And that makes me want to “give you five” for helping to making that possible with your ongoing support!