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Boccherini’s Body

An Essay in Carnal Musicology

Elisabeth Le Guin

Publication Year: 2005

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.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

List of Figures

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pp. xi-xii

List of Music Examples

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pp. xiii-xiv

CD Playlist

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pp. xv-xx

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pp. xxi-xxiv

Surely, the true importance of a project like this lies in the wonderful human contacts for which it has served as pretext. Herewith, my heartfelt thanks, served up in alphabetical order. ...

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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 ...

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1. “Cello-and-Bow Thinking”: The First Movement of Boccherini’s Cello Sonata in E♭ Major, Fuori Catalogo

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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; ...

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2. “As My Works Show Me to Be”: Biographical

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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. ...

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3. Gestures and Tableaux

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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. ...

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4. Virtuosity, Virtuality, Virtue

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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 as galant; it emerges as sensible too, ...

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5. A Melancholy Anatomy

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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 ...

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6. “It Is All Cloth of the Same Piece”: The Early String Quartets

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pp. 207-253

In August 1804, Leipzig’s Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung published 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: ...

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7. The Perfect Listener: A Recreation

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pp. 254-270

Despite assertions of their subsequent enduring friendship in the obituary for Boccherini that appeared in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung and elsewhere, we can be fairly sure that the two men never made direct contact.4 But Haydn would have had plenty of opportunities to become acquainted with Boccherini’s music. ...

Appendix: Chronological Table of String Quartets

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pp. 271-272


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pp. 273-330


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pp. 331-344


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pp. 345-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780520930629
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520240179

Page Count: 374
Publication Year: 2005