Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca into an artistic family - his brother Giovan wrote libretti for Haydn and Salieri and his father taught him music from an early age. He continued his studies first in Rome and then in Vienna, where he and his father were employed at the court theatre. By 1764 he was gaining recognition as a composer and took an appointment back home in Lucca. There his oratorios were occasionally performed, and he was granted leave to travel to Milan to perform with musicians such as Sammartini.
A concert tour in 1766 led to patronage from a wealthy Baron and the publication of several works by a company in Paris. After a residency there, Boccherini travelled to Madrid, possibly at the behest of the Spanish ambassador in Paris, where he was eventually employed by the Infante Don Luis as a result of numerous dedications. It was during the next decade that Boccherini enjoyed his greatest period of creativity, having agreed to write exclusively for Don Luis in return for a salary and permission to publish further works. Don Luis' death in 1785 reduced Boccherini's income to a half-pension from Charles III, forcing him to find employment elsewhere. He served Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia and began cataloguing his own works, possibly with a view to providing his patron with a complete library of them.
Boccherini's later years were marked by tragedy, with the death of his wife and sons and crushing poverty leading to deep depression. However he continued to compose and his music was still in great demand in Paris. He died in 1805 from a respiratory illness which had in all likelihood been present for years.
Boccherini's positions at court led him to write a great deal of chamber music - when cataloguing his own work he omitted his own vocal works, and unusually for a composer of the time this was no great omission. Although he wrote over 100 string quintets, 100 string quartets and 26 symphonies there is no towering masterwork to mark his artistic status - his music is gracious and elegant and he is known mainly by the insubstantial minuet from his String Quintet in E major, Op. 11 No. 5.