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Boccherini’s Body

Boccherini’s Body: An Essay in Carnal Musicology

Elisabeth Le Guin
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 374
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  • Book Info
    Boccherini’s Body
    Book Description:

    In this elegant study of the works of the undeservedly neglected composer Luigi Boccherini, Elisabeth Le Guin uses knowledge gleaned from her own playing of the cello as the keystone of her original approach to the relationship between music and embodiment. In analyzing the striking qualities of Boccherini's music—its virtuosity, repetitiveness, obsessively nuanced dynamics, delicate sonorities, and rich palette of melancholy affects—Le Guin develops a historicized critical method based on the embodied experience of the performer. In the process, she redefines the temperament of the musical Enlightenment as one characterized by urgent, volatile inquiries into the nature of the self. A CD of sound examples, performed by the author and her string quartet, is included with the book.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93062-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    When I first came upon this passage, I had been studying Boccherini for less than a year. Studying him as a musicologist, I should say: as a cellist, I had known his work for years before musicology entered the picture, having learned one or two of the sonatas, as student cellists still routinely do.¹ That cursory, circumstantial familiarity had made me frankly reluctant to undertake anything musicological on Boccherini’s behalf. He did not seem terribly interesting—a Kleinmeister, a music-historical also-ran, living in the provinces and writing virtuoso (which to me meant second-rate) music; and then there was the tiresome...

  8. Chapter 1 “Cello-and-Bow Thinking”: The First Movement of Boccherini’s Cello Sonata in Eb Major, Fuori Catalogo
    (pp. 14-37)

    Anyone who performs old music or who has written about its history can attest to identifying with composers. The identification can be a haunting or an irritating experience, containing as it does the potential for possession or invasion; shot through with sorrow, since, in Western classical music, so often the composer is long dead; revelatory, voyeuristic; at its best and sweetest we might call it intimate, implying that it is somehow reciprocal. I will contend two things here: first, that the sense of reciprocity in this process of identification is not entirely wistful or metaphorical, but functions as real relationship;...

  9. Chapter 2 “As My Works Show Me to Be”: Biographical
    (pp. 38-64)

    On 18 March 1799, at the age of fifty-six, Boccherini sat down to write a letter to his publisher Ignaz Pleyel, who had asked him to produce works that were simpler, briefer, and more accessible to the amateur. (We must infer this from Boccherini’s reply, since Pleyel’s letters are lost.) Pleyel had been publishing Boccherini’s music in Paris since 1796. By 1799 their relationship had become strained; it seems that Pleyel took increasing numbers of professional liberties, sending payments late or incomplete, failing to return manuscripts, and requesting changes in musical style to suit the market.¹ This last presumption was...

  10. Chapter 3 Gestures and Tableaux
    (pp. 65-104)

    Eighteenth-century treatises on performance contain frequent apostrophes to performers to lend their attention to the visible elements of their performances, by making their feeling selves available to sight, and instrumentalists were not exempt from this expectation. Up to a point, we approximate this in current concert practice. We like to see some evidence that the instrumentalist is moved by what he is doing: the in-drawn breath, the furrowed brow; perhaps, at the climax, a tasteful grimace, a sweeping follow-through with the hands. The performer who makes expressive sounds through his instrument but does not supply us with these elements will...

  11. Chapter 4 Virtuosity, Virtuality, Virtue
    (pp. 105-159)

    The first movement of the Cello Sonata in C Major, G. 17, has long been a favorite of mine on account of its opening phrase (see example 11; CD track 18). Two descending sextuplet groups outline an elegant, tender gesture of descent. The graceful decorativeness marks it immediately asgalant;it emerges assensibletoo, by the fact of its retiringness(downwardreading asinward).It can be conveniently executed with the left thumb set across the fifth C–G; from there, the whole melody through bar 4 lies nicely under the hand. This fingering makes most of it sound...

  12. Chapter 5 A Melancholy Anatomy
    (pp. 160-206)

    In 1993, doctors at the University of Pisa honored the 250th anniversary of Boccherini’s birth in a rather unusual way. They exhumed his “quasimummified” corpse from the Chiesa di San Francesco in Lucca, where it had been since 1927, took it to Pisa, and there performed “a complete paleopathological examination” of it.¹ Among the observations contained in the doctors’ official report is the following: “The soft tissue examination revealed severe aortic arteriosclerosis and pleural and nodal calcifications, confirming the biographical data of Boccherini’s death from tuberculosis.” A 1996 report on this event, from the local newspaperIl Tirreno,adds that...

  13. Chapter 6 “It Is All Cloth of the Same Piece”: The Early String Quartets
    (pp. 207-253)

    In August 1804, Leipzig’sAllgemeine musikalische Zeitungpublished an article on the performance of string quartets, signed “Cambini in Paris.” After a series of musings in an early Romantic vein on the technical and spiritual obligations of the four musicians came the following passage:

    Three great masters—Manfredi, the foremost violinist in all Italy with respect to orchestral and quartet playing, Nardini, who has become so famous as a virtuoso through the perfection of his playing, and Boccherini, whose merits are well enough known, did me the honor of accepting me as a violist among them. In this manner we...

  14. Chapter 7 The Perfect Listener: A Recreation
    (pp. 254-270)

    In 1781 Boccherini sent the following inquiry through the Viennese publishing house Artaria, with whom he had just established a working relationship:

    I hope you will do me a favor, which I will value greatly, and it is that if one of you gentlemen (as is probable) should be acquainted with Signor Joseph Haydn, writer, who is held in the highest regard by me and by all others, you might offer him my respects, saying that I am one of the most passionate connoisseurs and admirers both of his genius and of his musical compositions, which here receive all the...

  15. APPENDIX: Chronological Table of String Quartets
    (pp. 271-272)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 273-330)
    (pp. 331-344)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 345-350)