Featured piece

A musical time capsule

Luis Paret y Alcázar, La Puerta del Sol en Madrid


magine taking a stroll through the streets of 18th-century Madrid, hearing church bells, military regiments, panhandlers, Rosary processions, and other relics of city life during the Spanish Enlightenment.

These are the sound effects that composer Luigi Boccherini wove into a cheeky little string quintet called Night Music in the Streets of Madrid. Italian by birth, Boccherini moved to the Spanish capital in the mid-1700s to work in the court of a royal prince. When the prince got exiled to the countryside after falling out of favor with the king, the composer followed and wrote this quintet as a reminder of life back in Madrid.

In the clip below, see if you can identify the following:

0:02        Church bells ring
0:53        Drumroll from the barracks
1:25        Blind street people playing their guitars, represented by strummed cellos
2:28        Rosary prayer
5:39        Manolos, or “majos,” singing and dancing
7:45        Another drumroll
8:06        Military guard announcing the midnight curfew, with the music growing louder and softer to represent the soldiers getting closer or farther as they march past you

This performance is by the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, adapted for a bigger ensemble than the original score calls for. BUSKAID is a charity that offers music education to underprivileged children in South Africa, and is unaffiliated with Hello Classical.

Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble
Composition: Luigi Boccherini, Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid (Night Music of the Streets of Madrid), G. 324

Hollywood Trivia

This composition was featured in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In this link, Russell Crowe’s character, Captain Jack Aubrey, plays the fifth “Manolos” movement with one of his men in the cabin of his ship. At the 0:41 mark, you will see the cellist strum the instrument while resting it on his knee. Boccherini specifically wrote that gesture into the score as a way of evoking a street musician’s guitar.


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