Work: La ritirada di Madrid
About This Work
Boccherini's quintets for guitar and strings originally existed in two separate sets of six pieces. The first set exists in its entirety today, but unfortunately, only two of the second set have survived. Of the two remaining pieces, the Quintet No.
9 in C major, titled "La Ritirata di Madrid," was written late in the composer's career, probably around 1798. This piece stands out for its imaginative and pictorial fourth movement, which is based on Madrid, Boccherini's home during much of his life.
The first movement of the Quintet No. 9, Allegro Maestoso assai, is built on a march-like melody in C major that is good-natured and festive. It contains frequent contrasts between the playful first theme and more lyrical later themes. The guitar plays a virtuosic role, as do the first violin and the cello. The cello soars into the upper register at several points, which would seem unusual were it not for the fact that Boccherini himself was a virtuoso cellist. The various instruments are really of equal importance, because the melody (often heard in the violin or cello) is supported by active and playful inner parts. Boccherini uses syncopation throughout, which is a trademark of his style and helps sustain the energy and motion throughout this relatively long movement.
The second movement, Andantino, begins in the morose-sounding key of A minor and moves quickly back to C major. This alternation between major and minor creates a duel of sorts between the musical representations of joy and sorrow. Even the extensive cello solo that spends most of its time in major is eventually pulled into minor. A rhythmic pulse in the minor sections creates an undercurrent that is almost like a heartbeat. Toward the end of piece, the opening minor theme returns and comes to rest in the final key of A minor.
The carefree energy and playfulness of the third movement, Allegretto, exist in direct contrast to the sorrow of the previous movement. Played by the guitar and passed to the violin, the main theme dances along, complemented by light offbeats in the other voices. The simple melodies become more elaborate with Boccherini's use of trills and other ornamentation. The middle of the movement takes a foray into minor, echoing the mood of the previous movement, but this section is somewhat brief and moves back into the playful first theme to finish.
"La Ritirada di Madrid" (Retreat From Madrid) is the final movement, and is a theme and set of variations that Boccherini used in several of his earlier chamber works, including the Piano Quintet, Op. 57/6. Boccherini's intent was to create the image of a military troop approaching and retreating from Madrid. The movement opens at a very soft dynamic level and is almost imperceptible to the listener. The theme is simple, and rhythmically it resembles a military march, evoking memories of the march-like quality of the first movement. In the 11 variations that follow, each one grows slightly in dynamic level until the middle of the movement, Variation 6, where it reaches a dynamic high point. Boccherini's instructions for this variation are to imitate a drum, which the guitar does by strumming very strong rhythmic chords. The other instruments have fast, excited moving notes and the effect is that of a military parade passing by. From this midpoint, each of the following variations drops in volume until the music is once again imperceptible, evoking the image of the troop retreating and finally fading away in the distance.
-- Emily Stoops, All Music Guide
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