Annata N.6 (2013)

Loukia Drosopoulou
Boccherini as Chamber Composer to Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia: some Insights from the Catalogues of the King's Music Collection


King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (1744-1797) had a strong interest in Boccherini's music already from his time as Crown Prince. His collection contained almost the complete published oeuvre of the composer, acquired before Boccherini's official employment with him begun.1 In October 1783 the prince sent a letter of interest for new music to Boccherini 'just at a time when I have begun to perform your instrumental work',2 further indicating that he was already familiar with Boccherini's music, and it is now believed that Boccherini began sending his works to him already from this time.3 In January 1786, whilst still Crown Prince, Friedrich Wilhelm furthermore offered Boccherini the position of Compositore di Camera,4 a position that Boccherini retained until the end of the king's life in November 1797, and during which time the composer kept sending his works to him. By the end of the king's life, his collection contained –in addition to the printed music– a substantial number of manuscripts of unpublished works by the composer, becoming one of the largest collections of Boccherini's instrumental works. However, apart from those two letters sent to Boccherini, no other correspondence survives today concerning this important period in the composer's biography. In lack of such archival information, scholarship has concentrated on the surviving sources of the king's music collection concerning the composer's dealings with this court. This article offers further information on this subject, as well as the court's copying and performing practices of Boccherini's works, drawn from the surviving catalogues of the king's music collection.

Georg Thouret's Catalogue

For the scholar wishing to study Boccherini's music that was held at the Prussian Court, Georg Thouret's catalogue of the Königliche Hausbibliothek music collection, also containing Friedrich Wilhelm II's collection, can be used as a first source of information.5 Boccherini's music spans ten pages in the catalogue and is sorted by genre, starting with the symphonies and other orchestral music, and followed by divertimentos, sextets, quintets, quartets and trios. Usually the printed music precedes the manuscript one in each section. Unfortunately, not all of Boccherini's music owned by the King of Prussia survived World War II: most of the printed music is missing and in addition, several manuscripts are also lost, with only a few of the missing ones known to have remained in Russia at the National Library of St. Petersburg6 and the Glinka Museum in Moscow.7 The manuscripts that Boccherini sent to the Prussian Court were all listed as autographs in Thouret's catalogue; however, this was not always the case. Boccherini also sent many manuscripts to the court that were prepared by the copyist Francisco Font.8

1 germán labrador, The Vanishing Music: Luigi Boccherini's Unauthorised Editions and his Long Unpublished Works, in Boccherini Studies 5, ed. Christian Speck, Bologna, Ut Orpheus Edizioni (forthcoming); I am grateful to Germán Labrador for communicating this article to me for the present study.

2 Quoted in germaine de rothschild, Luigi Boccherini: his life and work (1961), trans. by Andreas Mayor, London, Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 48; see also, Luigi Boccherini: Epistolario, Madrid: Asociación Luigi Boccherini & Editorial Arpegio, 2011, p. 155.

3 labrador, The Vanishing Music.

4 rothschild, Luigi Boccherini, p. 52; also, Epistolario, p. 156.

5 georg thouret, Katalog der Musiksammlung auf der Königlichen Hausbibliothek im Schlosse zu Berlin, Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel, 1895, repr. Georg Olms Verlag, 1983, at pp. 23-32.

6 viacheslav kartsovnik, and nina rjazanova, Handschriften aus deutschen Sammlungen in der Russischen Nationalbibliothek Sankt Petersburg. Musikmanuskripte und Musikdrucke des 17-20 Jahrhunderts, Berlin-Sankt Petersburg, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Russische Nationalbibliothek Sankt Petersburg, 2004; also, pietro zappalà, Método y caso en la investigación bibliográfica boccheriniana, in Luigi Boccherini: estudios sobre fuentes, recepción e historiografía, ed. Marco Mangani, Elisabeth Le Guin and Jaime Tortella Casares, Madrid: Biblioteca Regional de Madrid Joaquin Leguina, 2006, pp. 25-42 at p. 35.

7 klaus fischer, Die Partiturmanuskripte von Instrumentalwerken Boccherinis in der ehemaligen Königlichen Hausbibliothek in Berlin, «Studi musicali», 37/2, 2008, pp. 469-501, at p. 500.

8 loukia drosopoulou, Boccherini's Copyists from his Immediate Circle, in Understanding Boccherini's Manuscripts, ed. Rudolf Rasch, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (forthcoming), pp. 67-108.