Music from Madrid

Friday, March 18 • First Parish, Wayland
Saturday, March 19 • Fanueil Hall, Boston

Sextet in A Major for flute and strings, G. 463     Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
  Allegretto moderato • Allegro assai • Amoroso  

String Quartet in G Major     Gaetano Brunetti (1744-1798)
  Andantino con variazioni • Allegro    

String Quintet in D Major “The Aviary,” G. 276     Boccherini
  Adagio assai • Allegro giusto• La pastori e li cacciatori
  Tempo di Menuetto • Tempo di prima


String Quartet in Bb     Major     Brunetti
  Allegro moderato • Larghetto sostenuto • Finale

Sextet in Eb Major for flute and strings, G. 464     Boccherini
  Allegro con molto • Adagio non tanto
  Menuetto • Presto assai   


Suzanne Stumpf, flute; Julia McKenzie and Lisa Brooke, violins
Marcia Cassidy, viola; Daniel Ryan and Sarah Freiberg Ellison, cellos

Program Notes

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Spanish court achieved a hitherto unparalleled opulence in its support for the arts. During the reign of King Charles III, the court could boast the services of superstar castrato Farinelli and the violinist Felipe Sabbatini. King Charles IV employed the fine violinist and composer Gaetano Brunetti as master of music at his court, while the King’s brother, the Infante Luis Antonio appointed the virtuoso cellist Luigi Boccherini as his chief musician. Boccherini was, and remains, the more internationally recognized of the two composers, however Brunetti was no less respected as a composer in Madrid during his lifetime.

Gaetano Brunetti was born in the Italian town of Fano and studied with the great violinist Pietro Nardini. He moved to Madrid with his parents in 1762, entering the service of Charles III in 1767. He gradually moved up the ranks at court, becoming Music Director of the court orchestra in 1788. King Charles IV’s strong interest in culture provided a stimulating atmosphere in which Brunetti thrived. He was a prolific composer of chamber and orchestral music for the court. His additional appointment as collector and curator for the royal music library undoubtedly provided opportunities for him to study, perform, and be influenced by a wide variety of music from all over Europe.

Brunetti’s string quartets comprise the largest genre of his surviving musical output. A survey of the approximately two dozen quartets we were able to obtain reveals that he tended to disproportion-ately favor the first violin in these works. (He most likely was the performer of this part!) His quartet in G Major, however, gives all parts the opportunity to shine in its theme and variations movement. Other noteworthy aspects of his quartet writing include bold harmonic language which uses far-reaching modulations and chromaticism, such as in the opening movement of his Quartet in Bb Major, and irregular and surprising phrase lengths, as heard in the Finale of this work.

A possible reason for Brunetti’s obscurity today is the fact that his musical career began and flourished so well at the rather insular court of Madrid that there was no need for him to travel to seek other employment. Luigi Boccherini, however, achieved international acclaim through travel early in his career, and his works were disseminated throughout Europe. Boccherini was born in the Italian city of Lucca and began music lessons with his father. Showing an extraordinary talent for the cello, he was soon touring Europe, first with his father, a double bass player, then with the violinist Manfredi, with whom he concertized in Austria, Germany, and France. Travels eventually took him to Spain where he found permanent employment at the court of the Infante Don Luis in 1770. Here, Boccherini spent the remainder of his life, first composing chamber music for the Infante, then after Don Luis’s death, for King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia, and for publication in Paris.

Boccherini was a pioneering chamber music composer, and the invention of the string quartet genre is attributed both to him and Joseph Haydn. Boccherini authored nearly 100 string quartets, over 100 string quintets, and many other chamber works of various scorings. The string quintet with two cellos was a particularly prominent form for Boccherini owing to Don Luis’s employment of a string quartet to which Boccherini could join.

The String Quintet in D Major, subtitled “The Aviary” is one of a few Boccherini composed that use special instrumental effects. With each instrument imitating the sounds of different birds, the wondrously harmonious cacophony creates a pleasing and fascinating instrumental texture. The work, like much of his chamber music, provides virtuoso opportunities for the cellos, including a duo in the Allegro giusto, that lies high in the cello’s range. The third movement depicts shepherds and hunters, using a rustic Siciliana rhythm in alternation with hunting horn calls. Cello harmonics are employed which give a characterful and realistic imitation of the horn.

Boccherini’s two sextets or divertimenti are from a set of six composed soon after his arrival in Spain. They were first published in Paris in 1775. The works are exceptional in that the composer specifies that they can be performed either as a sextet or with a small orchestra, provided that the flute is not overpowered by too great a number of strings. Hence, Boccherini’s writing here is on a larger scale, as seen in the breadth of its themes, in strong unison gestures, and by a generally less ornamented, more straightforward style. Out of the full ensemble solos and smaller ensembles emerge, providing a great variety of instrumental textures.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf