Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca, Italy, into a musical family. His father, a cellist and double-bass player, sent him to study in Rome at a young age. In 1757 they both went to Vienna, where the court employed them as musicians in the Burgtheater. In 1761 Boccherini went to Madrid, entering the employ of Prince Luis Antonio of Spain, younger brother of King Charles III. There he flourished under royal patronage, until one day when the King expressed his disapproval at a passage in a new trio, and ordered Boccherini to change it. The composer, no doubt irritated with this intrusion into his art, doubled the passage instead, which led to his immediate dismissal. Then he accompanied Don Luis to Arenas de San Pedro, a little town in the Gredos mountains, where Boccherini wrote many of his most famous works. Although neglected after his death and throughout the 19th and early 20th century (he was known mockingly as ‘Haydn’s Wife’ for a time), Boccherini’s music has been rediscovered in recent decades.
La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid (‘Night Music of the Streets of Madrid’) is a string quintet of seven short movements composed during Boccherini’s exile in Arenas, no doubt to remind him and his prince of happier times. The music is reminiscent of “the gaiety and bustle of Spain’s capital, recalling the sound of the city’s church bells ringing for evening prayer, the popular dances that were the delight of its young people, and the blind beggars singing their typical songs”. This arrangement excludes the first and last two movements, comprising the middle four:
- Il Tamburo di Soldati (The Soldier’s Drum)
- Minuetto dei Ciechi (The Minuet of the Blind Beggars)
- Il Rosario (The Rosary)
- Passe Calle (The Passacaglia of the Street Singers)
The music was featured in the Russell Crowe film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) set during the Napoleonic Wars and featuring the adventures of the Royal Navy ship HMS Surprise and her captain Jack Aubrey as they pursue the French ship Acheron into the Pacific Ocean.
You can listen to an audio preview while following the score in the video below!
Duration approximately 5’00”.