Annata N.2 (2009)

Jaime Tortella
The Traces of Boccherini’s ’Cello



History should look for "truth", that is, for a trustworthy description of the past based on documented evidence. Historians must therefore be very cautious as to dubious or unproven statements, an attitude obviously calling for the careful checking of every single item before reaching any conclusion, whether it be through their own research or the research of others.

This being the foundation of deontological approach to historical science, a certain flexibility must be admitted when displaying the results of a given study. Thus, statements can be presented as hypothesis still to be confirmed or discarded, or even as speculations pointing towards possible futures developments, provided that both, hypothesis and speculations, are clearly labeled as such. They must also be of feasible, realistic, likely, logical, probable, possible quality, and of course, not result contradictory with documented evidence.

Historians failing to declare that their hypothesis or speculations are not yet sound conclusions are simply deceiving their readers and colleagues, thus placing themselves away from the proper and legitimate professional realm.

Nonetheless, such tools as hypothesis and speculations appear to be very useful when not used in excess and when they are ethically implemented, because they open new possibilities for future research, even though they may be discarded in the end.

In the present case of Boccherini's life and works, many biographers, historians and musicologists have fallen into an excess of speculation, either by their own or by borrowing unproven statements from others. There has been a lamentable carelessness beyond all plausible limits. In this sense we want to stress here two of the "great sins" liable to ruin many a valuable research (which are not the only ones pervading historical accounts): Presentism and Wishful Thinking.

Presentism consists in projecting present-day views, mentalities or sets of ideas towards the past, therefore contaminating the real picture of what historians are studying with present-day conceptions.

Wishful Thinking is the instillment of one's desires into the subject of research, thus creating a distorted image which matches the historian's wishes rather than her/his actual observations.

Since the more than frequent mixture of Presentism and Wishful thinking compounds an explosive mechanism capable of annihilating any historical account, we aim here to deconstruct one of the most recurrent cases of this explosive mixed mechanism related in this case to Boccherini's link with his instrument, the violoncello.

Although this is not the first time we approach the issue, recent speculative and unproven statements related to this topic push us to retrieve it from a new standpoint and to try to overcome it once and for all.1

1 We are perfectly aware that this kind of "frailty" is hard to overcome, but we had better not ignore it for it can become "chronic". In fact, we have witnessed this very same year of 2009!! how several musicians and musicologists, radio bradcastings and films, playbill texts and magazine articles have still cast the idea that Boccherini, and even the Font family, had owned or used instruments built by luthier Antonio Stradivari. Also, several private music lovers who look for advise through our Asociación Luigi Boccherini Web-Page have expressed their delusion or surprise when we firmly stress that Boccherini (or the member of the Font family) never had any relationship with the famous Madrid Royal Palace's Stradivarius Quartet of instruments.