String Sextet No.3 in E Major, Op.23 No.3, G.456
Boccherini composed a set of six string quartets in 1776. They are among the earliest string sextets, if not the very earliest string sextets, ever composed. Sextet No.3 is the third of the set. In this sextet, as in the others of the set, Boccherini makes good use of all of the voices including the second viola and cello, while the first cello part is given especial care, since he himself generally performed in that role for his royal patron.
"That these works (the six string sextets) have remained unknown can be explained by the fact that sextets are so rarely played. But these works contain a multitude of the most splendid beauties and are among Boccherini's masterpieces." This was the opinion of the respected 19th century French music critic, Louis Picquot.
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) was born in the town of Lucca in northern Italy. He studied cello and became a virtuoso. But it was at a time that such players could not yet make a living from touring, so Boccherini found jobs in various orchestras in Vienna and Italy. Boccherini eventually moved to Paris where he hoped to establish himself as an independent soloist and composer but could not and was forced to take employment with the Spanish royal family for the rest of his life.
Like four of the others, Sextet No.3 is in four movements. The opening movement, Moderato assai, is the closest thing the sextet has to a slow movement, and it is not really very slow. Though soft, nonetheless one still hears the gentle bustling, like the soft rustling of leaves. In the second movement, Allegro Brillante, it is the first cello which takes the lead and soars briefly high above the others, even the first violin. The Menuetto which follows begins with a soft syncopated introduction and proceeds in typical fashion, but ending in a furious rush. The contrasting trio section is sad. The lively and exciting finale, a Presto, moves forward at breakneck speed.
As one of the first string sextets ever composed, this work is unquestionably of great historical importance, but it is also valuable in illustrating how Boccherini solved the voicing problems such an ensemble presents. As such, it should not be overlooked by those searching for a sextet from the early classical period. Outside of Boccherini's, there are no others. Mostly out of print for long years or hard to find, our modern edition is based on the 1780 Paris edition which first appeared erroneously under the opus number of 24.