String Quintet in E major, Op. 11, No. 5 (Boccherini)
The String Quintet in E major, Op. 11, No. 5 (G 275), by Luigi Boccherini was written in 1771 and published in 1775. Being one of his most famous works, the quintet is famous for its minuet third movement (often referred to as "The Celebrated Minuet") which is most-often played as a standalone piece outside of the context of the full quintet.
This string quintet is a "cello quintet" in that it is scored for a string quartet (two violins, viola, cello) with a second cello as the fifth instrument. At the time of this composition, Boccherini had been writing string quartets for about ten years. In 1771, Boccherini's patron Don Luis, the brother of King Charles III of Spain, began to employ the Font String Quartet, composed of violist Francisco Font and his three sons. The Font String Quartet performed many of Boccherini’s works, and for a while Boccherini wrote almost exclusively for them. He also occasionally joined the quartet as a performer himself, which prompted him to add an additional cello part to his music.
Boccherini’s first set of string quintets, his Opus 10, were also composed in 1771. His second set, Opus 11, consisted of six quintets, most notably No. 5 in E Major. This became Boccherini’s most famous work even though, when published, it received no special recognition.
The quintet has four movements:
The third movement of the quintet is notably the most famous, and is the most often performed of all the movements. It is in 3/4 time, and is occasionally referred to as the “Celebrated Minuet”. It departs from the original key of E Major and becomes A Major.
In the beginning of the movement, the first violin plays a simple, elegant melody, while the viola and celli have eighth note pizzicato. The second violin, on the other hand, has quick sixteenth note slurs which contain many string crossings. As Elisabeth Le Guin puts it in Boccherini’s Body: An Essay in Carnal Musicology, “The second violinist has no time for galanterie; he must concentrate on keeping the constant string crossings reasonable even through the length of the bow”.
The arrangements of this quintet, especially of the minuet, are extremely numerous. The entire piece was arranged for a double viola quintet in the 18th century. A 19th century transcription of the minuet for the organ can be found in the Bibliothéque Inguimbertine in Carpentras. There are countless modern transcriptions of the minuet, including those for the piano, saxophone, two mandolins, accordion, and choir.
The minuet has been used extensively in popular media including movies, television and video games. It has often been used to depict late 18th / early 19th century society in the United States, most especially during the Revolutionary War. It was most notably used in Abbott and Costello's The Time of Their Lives (1946), the British black comedy The Ladykillers (1955) with Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, and as the music box music in Two Rode Together.
It was quoted by fictional rock guitarist Nigel Tufnel (portrayed by Christopher Guest) in the closing measures of the song "Heavy Duty" in the motion picture This is Spinal Tap (1984), spoofing the classical pretensions of heavy metal groups.
Arrangements of the minuet are also used in the Suzuki Method.
- de Guin, Elisabeth, "Boccherini's body: an essay in carnal musicology", p. 157, 2006, University of California Press, Berkeley, ISBN 0-520-24017-0
- Rothschild, Germaine de, "Luigi Boccherini: His Life and Work", p. 37, 1965, Oxford UP, London
- Heartz, Daniel, "Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720–1780", p. 984, 2003, Norton, New York, ISBN 0-393-05080-7
- Heartz, Daniel, "Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720–1780", p. 980, 2003, Norton, New York, ISBN 0-393-05080-7
- Gérard, Yves, "Thematic, Bibliographical, and Critical Catalogue of the Works of Luigi Boccherini", p. 306, 1969, Oxford UP, London