Gaetano Brunetti String Quartets
Gaetano Brunetti (Fano, ca. 1744 – Colmenar de Oreja, December 16th 1798) wrote quartets during most of the time he served the Spanish monarchy. In January 1770, he became music master (“maestro de violín”) to the Prince of Asturias, who later became Charles IV, and started writing music professionally for him. In 1789 he became director of music of the Royal chamber. Brunetti composed most of his chamber and symphonic music, as well as some sonatas, under the King ́s patronage between 1767 and 1798. However, before 1774 he had mainly written music for plays, sonatas and trios, but between 1774 and 1776 he composed four series of string quartets, 24 works in all.
Here we gather examples of both his first known string quartets (quartets op. 2 and 3) and two of his latest (L.196 and L. 199), with a span of more than 20 years between them. They are a good example of his musical development, since the first two were composed within months of each other in 1774, while the other two must have been written around 1790.
The series of String quartets op.1 has not been found, so we regard the series op.2 as the first one known; both op. 2 and op. 3 were written by the end of 1774. In this year the King and his Court stayed at San Ildefonso de La Granja from July 20th and then moved to the Palace at San Lorenzo de El Escorial, where they remained until December 2nd. In the manuscripts of String quartets op.2 and 3 we find the headings “San Ildefonso” and “San Lorenzo” respectively, so it can be assumed that Brunetti composed all 12 pieces (each series contains 6 works) in 19 weeks, the time he spent in those places. He certainly was not a slow writer and his patron must have been very interested in this type of repertoire. In 1774 he also wrote the last series of trios (divertimenti L. 139-1441) for violin, viola and Bass in honour of the Prince of Asturias, and possibly some sonatas. Other periods of Brunetti ́s life were devoted to quintets or symphonies, but in 1774 he was clearly concentrated in the composition of string quartets.
Brunetti most certainly conceived his String quartet in A minor op.2 no 4 (L.153) as “opera grande”, since it has four movements. On the other hand, String quartet op.3 is regarded as “opera piccola” or “quartetino” (so called by Luigi Boccherini, his contemporary, also living in Madrid, and composer of string quartets) with only two movements. The same distinction applies to his quintets.
The rest of the compositions in the op. 2 series are also “opera grande”, in four movements. It is interesting to note that Brunetti did not write such lengthy quartets again until 1789; another peculiarity of this quartet, L. 153, is that it is in a minor key, something quite rare since it only happens in four of his 50 quartets.
String quartet no 4, out of all the ones in this recording, offers the greatest variety. It opens with an “Allegro moderato”, conceived from an interesting de- scending melodic pattern and a anacrusis. He uses a triplet rhythm which fades away as other audacious and inventive ornaments are introduced, always following the same cadence. The second movement, “Minuetto”, is an imitative canon for the four instruments, (the same technique appears in his Divertimento Terzo for violin, viola and cello. L. 147, and in his Bassoon quintet L. 209). Clearly, this minuet was not composed to be danced; as in Haydn ́s best minuets, Brunetti uses an interesting and confusing rhythmical trick, as if it were a musical joke, so one has to wait for the cello to play the last entry of the cannon to discern the stressed beat of the bar. The Trio presents a contrast because of its energetic character and rhythmical activity, although in the second part the violins also play an imitative canon.
In the rest of the quartet, the relationship between the instruments changes. The second violin does not acquire true rhythmical or melodic independence, simply echoing the first violin and the viola. The inferior voices play with the same rythm and hardly any autonomy. The third movement, “Andantino con un poco di motto”, is quiet and placid. The main contrasts are dynamic, with “fortes” in weak beats, “rinforzando” and changes of articulation. The second violin doubles the first in parallel thirds and they occasionally swap range, which was, somehow, old fashioned al the time. A “Finale Presto” closes the piece using elements from the first movements, like a “rondo”. It is, maybe, too short con- sidering Brunetti ́s ability, but the closing “pianissimo” is incredibly effective.