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Luigi Boccherini was born on 19 February 1743 in Lucca. The son of a double bass player, Luigi had an excellent musical training from a very early age, centred on the study of the cello. He later pursued his studies in Rome between 1753 and 1755 as a pupil of the composer and cellist Giovanni Battista Costanzi (1704–1778).
In 1758, together with his father Leopoldo, he performed as a soloist at the Burgtheater in Vienna during the Lent concerts and went on to work in Vienna as a professional orchestral musician in the same year; in 1760/61 and in 1763/64 he was again at the Kärtnertortheater. Here he came into contact with Christoph Willibald Gluck, among others. He also served as an orchestral musician in Lucca for a certain period of time; but otherwise little is known of his career until 1766.
Among the concerts in the cities of northern Italy in which he certainly played as a soloist, it is particularly important to mention those that he gave under the direction of Giovanni Battista Sammartini in Pavia and Cremona in July 1765.
After his father’s death in 1766 and a subsequent long stay in Genoa, he moved, in 1767 to Paris and then emigrated to Madrid, where he arrived in the Spring of 1768 to become first cellist in an Italian opera company.
As a composer of chamber music (in the modern concert style, requiring the solo involvement of all the participating instruments), Boccherini swiftly acquired an international reputation, thanks to the many works issued by the Paris publishers from 1767 onwards.
In 1770 he entered the service of the Infante Luis Antonio of Bourbon (1727–1785), younger brother of King Charles III of Spain, as a virtuoso and chamber music composer (“violon de Camara y Compositor de Musica”). During the 15 years of his service under Don Luis, who subsequently moved his court from Madrid to the retreat at Las Arenas near Ávila, Boccherini wrote and published most of his instrumental music, which was composed for a diverse range of types of ensemble. This included, most importantly, symphonies, string trios, quartets, quintets and string sextets. After moving back to Madrid after 1785 – this time for good – and becoming the recipient of a considerable royal pension, Boccherini worked for various patrons, sometimes simultaneously.
For about two years, from 1786 to 1787, while in the service of María Josefa Alonso Pimentel de la Soledad, Countess of Benavente and Duchess of Osuna, Boccherini worked as director of music and composer for a Madrid household that particularly encouraged the arts. From the countess he also received the commission to compose his first opera, La Clementina (G 540).
He also delivered over a hundred compositions, for the recipient’s personal use, to a certain Boullogne in Paris, someone who can most likely be identified as the fermier-général Jean Baptiste Tavernier de Boullongne de Préminville, Seigneur de Magnanville (1749–1794), a freemason and collector of musical instruments.
Most of the compositions of this period, however, owe their origins to Boccherini’s eleven-year spell as chamber composer to Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia (1744–1797, on the throne from 1786). Friedrich Wilhelm, himself a keen cellist, invited Boccherini into his service in 1786 with the request to send him in Berlin 12 unpublished compositions every year.
Parts of this sizable musical legacy were published only from 1798. Boccherini’s last patron was Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), the French ambassador in Madrid in 1800–1801.
Boccherini died on 28 May 1805 in Madrid and left two children.
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