Strange instructions in Boccherini

Edited: December 29, 2017, 12:50 AM · I'm fooling with an arrangement for Violin solo of Boccherini's "La Musica Notturna delle strade di Madrid". A lovely piece but it has dynamics/expressions that I have never seen before. In the Minuetto dei ciechi and in the "Passacalle" it indicates the player to play the instrument (Cello first, the violins later) like a guitar (imitando la chitarra). And it actually requires to put it on the knees and strum with the fingernails in a clear guitar rasgueado. I must say that trying it, it has destroyed any fingernail I had left and peeled the fingertips of the right hand!. looking online I've seen people doing it this way and most others keeping the violin on the shoulder and doing the strum only with the flesh part of the finger. Some other simplify the chord into a single string pizzicato, but any of those sound really different.
(there are other "imitando in the partiture, like asking the violins to imitate drums or bells. I don't even want to get into those).
But the dynamics that really puzzle me are the "Con mala grazia", which is "without grace" but I don't know if it means to be not-elegant and so play "macho" or just play in a clumsy way. To add to my confussion, it has other dynamics in the same direction, like squajalamente which has no translation but it is accepted as "clumsy" and "con asprezza" which would be "rough". The distintion of those three, to me, are worth a debate.
Another fun annotation is in the Largo: "senza rigor de batuta which is to say, ignore the rythm. Ignore as in what?
One can always listen to versions and do like somebody else, but this got me to think about the ethymology of "interpretation" of a piece... Because actually, we are translating and we, really, have little clues about what the h**L did the composer had in his head and what a big difference can be between that and what the public listens.
Just the fun facts :-) If any has played this piece, I would love to hear their opinion.

Replies (5)

Edited: December 29, 2017, 1:30 AM · Part of this came up in one of my university courses 3 years ago; when I arranged the Passacalle (that which you refer to) for a larger ensemble.

We interpreted the "Con mala grazia" to mean without vibrato and with a 'peasant' styling - a little rowdy with a touch of aggression. Some of the reason behind this was that passacalle was (in context) a bastardized form of the passacaglia, sung by untrained voices as they walked up the street - perhaps drinking or partying. I remember telling my prof that the direct translation was ungraceful/without grace and he said it would be better to describe it as clumsy. Our cellists (where the direction appears) had great fun with it.

There is a 50/50 chance I could find the paper I had to write about this to fact check myself later on today.

As far as the imitating guitar - I would use my thumb to strum down/up. For the arrangement we did I had a guitar actually do the rasgueado. I've seen more serious arrangements do similar with an added guitar.

IIRC the instrumentation we had was 2 celli, viola, flute, oboe, guitar, and piano. something else I could verify if you really wanted.

December 29, 2017, 3:55 AM · If it is not in immediate repertoire, don't look for it. Actually I am simplifying it for playing with one or 2 violins, and not adding instruments, but thank you for the proposal. There is a recomposition for whole orchestra of the ritirata by Luciano Berio that is truly outstanding. I recommend it.
I was thinking since I saw the "con mala grazia" and knowing that the passacalle imitates the "manolos" (that's the "majos" of Madrid), singing in the street, that "con mala grazia" should be translated as "drunk".
In the end, it is Musica Nocturna de Madrid. Madrid Night music. Everybody is drunk! :-)
That would be a great annotation from a composer: "play drunk".
December 29, 2017, 6:15 AM · I've played it, but on viola - practically nothing to do but count. Wish I could offer more advice :-)
Edited: December 29, 2017, 12:21 PM · In Boccherini's era all the violin family instruments, and the guitar, would have been gut-strung. If you've ever played the lute (still a gut-strung instrument) you will have soon discovered that, unlike the modern nylon-strung classical guitar, it is not a good idea to have fingernails - they wreck gut strings. Given this, Boccherini's instructions to play the violin like a guitar made perfect sense in his day.
December 29, 2017, 5:29 PM · Boccherini's "night music from Madrid" is a successful oddity. He delayed publishing it, and wrote 3 versions; Cello quintet, Guitar quintet, and piano quintet. All three are worth looking at. The guitar version has the longer, better final movement, the theme and variations that represents a column of soldiers passing by. It is a literal transcription of sounds he heard on the street, unlike anything else that I know of in the classic era repertoire. Retirada = retreat; not a battlefield withdrawal, but a signal from the snare drum for the soldiers in the town to return to the barracks. Pasacalle literally means street-pace/step. "Con mala grazia" I would translate as play simply, like an un-schooled street musician. For imitating a guitar - I simply passed out guitar picks, and had one of the violins switch to mandolin. Without using a pick; have your fingertips very close together, strum over the fingerboard, not where you usually bow. The wrist rotates; thumb-nail on the Up-stroke, finger-nails on the down-stroke. Watch a you-tube clip of a flamenco or huasteco guitarist.

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