Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca on 19 February 1743, the son of Leopoldo Boccherini, a professional cellist and double-bass player. He revealed an early aptitude for music and began studying cello with his father from the age of five and later - from about nine years of age - with the Abbate Francesco Vanucci, cellist, composer, singer, choir-master and maestro di capella at the cathedral in Lucca. He made his debut as a cellist at thirteen, later playing concertos at local feast-day celebrations and in 1757 went to Rome for further studies with Giovanni Battista Costanzi, maestro di capella at St Peter's. Towards the end of 1757 Luigi and Leopoldo Boccherini were summoned to Vienna to take up appointments at the Burgtheater, the Imperial Court Theatre. Luigi's playing at court attracted a great deal of attention and Sardini, the Luccan Ambassador, became a useful and friend and protector. Boccherini returned to Lucca in 1759 but was back in Vienna working alongside his father the following year.
In April 1764 his application for an appointment at Lucca was finally granted. During three years there he composed some vocal music, including two oratorios and a cantata, but his professional interests had already focused upon chamber music. He took periods of leave to visit Milan where he is said to have arranged the first public string quartet performances, in 1765, with Pietro Nardini, Filippo Manfredi (a Nardini pupil and friend of Boccherini from Lucca) and Giuseppe Cambini. He also took part in concerts with Sammartini, the most influential composer of instrumental music in Italy. At the end of 1766 Boccherini and Manfredi embarked on a concert tour, arriving in Paris in 1767. Boccherini was fortunate to secure the patronage of the eccentric and highly influential Baron de Bagge, an enthusiastic amateur composer and self-styled violin virtuoso. While in Paris the composer had two sets of works published; a set of six string quartets and a set of trios for two violins and cello. These works were not newly composed. According to Boccherini's own catalogue the quartets date from 1761 and the trios from the following year. Further works were published during the next few years, mainly chamber music for strings but also a single set of works for keyboard with violin accompaniment.
1770 was a watershed year in Boccherini's life. In November he was appointed to the service of the Infante as virtuoso di camera e compositor di musica with a generous salary of 30,000 reals; 18,000 for his services as a cellist and 12,000 as composer. This position conferred on Boccherini not only financial security but also a high level of prestige. Like Haydn, he was fortunate in having a cultivated patron with immense resources and a great love of music. For the next fifteen years Boccherini was able to devote himself entirely to composition, free from material worry and in a climate conducive to artistic achievement. The musicians of the princely court included four members of a family called Font, a father and three sons, who together formed a quartet of superb quality. Boccherini was only too happy to write for the Fonts - he was obliged under the terms of his appointment to write exclusively for the Infante in any case - and frequently joined them in performances of his quintets. Boccherini's services were considered so indispensable that they even survived the marriage of Don Luis in 1776. The composer continued this long and fruitful association until the unexpected death of Don Luis in 1785, the year which also saw the death of his first wife, Clementina.
Little is known of Boccherini's life between 1787 and 1796. It has been assumed that he spent much of this time in Germany at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm II but recent research tends to point to his having remained in Spain, living on his royal pension, his salary from the King of Prussia and the proceeds of publication. After the death of Friedrich Wilhelm, Boccherini petitioned his successor for a continuation of his salary but this was summarily rejected. The Benavente-Osuna family left Madrid in 1798 and with them, an important source of patronage. Encouraged by reports of his music's popularity in Paris, Boccherini dedicated a set of piano quintets [Op.57] to the French Nation in the hope of better things. Little seems to have come of the ploy although in 1800, Lucien Bonaparte, the French ambassador in Madrid, engaged the composer to organise concerts and write new works for him.
The deaths of two daughters in 1802 and two years later, a third daughter and his wife, seem to have dragged the composer into a state of terrible mental depression. He died in 1805 of a respiratory complaint, survived by two sons from his first marriage. He was buried in the church of San Justo in Madrid and his remains were removed to Lucca in 1927 and buried at the Basilica of San Francesco.