Also called “gallant style” in France and Italy, or “sensitive style” (empfindlich) in Germany and Austria, this ornate, highly decorated, elegant, light, playful, gentle, somewhat effeminate (even “camp”) style came to its peak in music, architecture, painting, sculpture, fashion, decoration etc in the latter half of the 1700’s. The “Rococo” style was like a stepping stone (a bridge) between the Baroque and Classical periods. If the Baroque period was pleasing to the gods, and the Classical period to noble ideals ….. well the Rococo period sought only to please (and more especially to tease) the senses.
The use of ornamentation (in music and the other arts) reaches its peak in this period. For the playing cellist, Boccherini (1743-1805) is probably the best (certainly the most prolific) introduction to music in this style. His music is just full of fiddly decorative ornamentations. In fact it is sometimes criticised as being not much more than just ornamentation! Amongst the great composers, the champion of this style is probably Mozart (1756-1791). Unlike Boccherini, Mozart normally used the cello in an accompanying role, so we don’t have many opportunities to experience the delight of playing Mozart’s ornate Rococo melodies. To make up for this sad state of affairs, some of his most magnificent Violin Sonatas have been stolen and transcribed here for cello.
Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations” is a brilliant evocation of this style, although written over 100 years after this aesthetic had faded away. A sort of “Romantic-Rococo crossover”, it combines profound Romanticism with a virtuosic display of Rococo delights. It’s not really surprising that this work was composed by Tchaikovsky, whose extraordinarily delicate and sensitive nature lends itself so well to both Romantic and Rococo aesthetics.