Annata N.6 (2013)

Germán Labrador
A short Note on Boccherini’s ‘Last Period’ and the True Nature of the Cantata al Santo Natale op. 63 (1802)


The two main undertakings concerning Luigi Boccherini's music in the years to come are, without doubt, the publication of the Opera Omnia, directed by Christian Speck, and the revision of the catalogue of the works of Luigi Boccherini (G2), directed by Yves Gérard. Regarding the catalogue, many important tasks have yet to be fulfilled, although the first results, concerning the symphonies, are due for Spring 2014. Among those tasks, one of singular significance has not been finished since it was first attempted by Louis Picquot in 18511, and it may probably never reach an end point: the ‘definitive’ estimation of Luigi Boccherini's oeuvre. Many vocal and instrumental works were not included by Alfredo Boccherini y Calonje in the transcription of his great-grandfather’s ‘autograph catalogue’, which he published in 18792. Oddly, these works did not enter Baillot's catalogue either —a presumed copy of the composer's ‘autograph catalogue’, used by Picquot. Among these works, Inés de Castro, Clementina or the Villancicos can be counted, and their score remained in the possession of the Boccherini family as late as 18843. Also, the twelve guitar quintets and the symphony G 523, written for the Marquis of Benavent ca. 1798, were excluded from the catalogue, probably because they were not traded with any publisher.

However, the letter that Boccherini wrote to Pleyel in June 1799, concerning the sale of op. 55 and op. 56, attests to the existence of these quintets ‘transcribed by me for the guitar for the sole use of the Marquis’4, and thus these quintets entered Gérard's catalogue (G1)5, together with the symphony. In this case, the existence of an autograph set of parts in the Bibliotheèque-musée de l'Opéra in Paris6 was deemed a strong enough evidence to consider G 523 as an authentic work. Therefore, Boccherini clearly did not include in his ‘autograph’ catalogue all the music he wrote, but even so some of those works found their way into Picquot's catalogue and, to a greater extent, into G1.

The revision of G1 (currently under way, as G2) provides a good occasion to examine once more this issue. Some inaccuracies concerning the composer's ‘autograph catalogue’ have been pointed out through the years, and it is likely that some more will follow. Here I will propose a different vision of the composer's ‘last period’, and a hypothesis concerning op. 63, G 535, the mysterious Cantata al Santo Natale, supposedly offered to the Emperor of Russia in 1802. This Cantata is worth noting for many reasons: it is Boccherini´s last vocal work, and the last ‘complete’ one, according to his catalogue (op. 64 remained unfinished). It also seems to have been dedicated twice, both to the Emperor of Russia and, in Baillot's catalogue, also meant to be ‘per il cittadino Luciano Bonaparte’.

1 lous picquot, Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de Luigi Boccherini, suivie du catalogue raisonné des toutes ses oeuvres, tant publiés qu'inédites, Paris, Philipp,1851.

2 alfredo boccherini y calonje, Luis Boccherini. Apuntes biográficos y catálogo de las obras del célebre maestro, Madrid, imprenta y litogafía de A. Rodero, 1879. Facsimile edition in Boccherini en familia, Madrid-Sant Cugat, ALB-Arpegio, 2010, pp. 3-50.

3 jaime tortella, Julian Marshall and Boccherini’s Scena dell’Inès de Castro, in Understanding Boccherini’s Manuscripts, ed. Rudolf Rasch, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (forthcoming).

4 germaine de rothschild, Luigi Boccherini. His Life and his Work, London, Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 136.

5 yves gérard, Thematic, Bibliographical, and Critical Catalogue of the Works of Luigi Boccherini, London-New York, Oxford University Press, 1969. Hereafter, this will be referred to as G1.

6 This is F-Po, Rés. 510(7). Yves Gérard classifies this set of parts as ‘autograph’; however, the entire symphony is in fact in the hand of one of the copyists of Boccherini’s circle, copyist Spanish Anonymous No.2. See loukia drosopoulou, Boccherini and the Copyists from his Immediate Circle, in rasch (ed.), Understanding Boccherini’s Manuscripts.