Nonet in a minor, Op.77
For Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon
Very few nonets have been written and that of George Onslow is certainly among the very best. Perhaps no composer, more than George Onslow (1784-1853), illustrates the fickleness of fame. Onslow was born and lived his entire life in France, the son of an English father and French mother. His 36 string quartets and 34 string quintets were, during his own lifetime and up to the end of the 19th century, held in the highest regard, particularly in Germany, Austria and England where he was regularly placed in the front rank of composers. His work was admired by both Beethoven and Schubert, the latter modeling his own 2 cello quintet (D.956) on those of Onslow and not, as is so often claimed, on those of Boccherini. Schumann, perhaps the foremost music critic during the first part of the 19th century, regarded Onslow’s chamber music on a par with that of Mozart. Haydn and Beethoven. Mendelssohn was also of this opinion. Publishers such as Breitkopf & Härtel and Kistner were among many which competed to bring out his works. Such was Onslow’s reputation that he was elected to succeed Cherubini as Director of the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts, based on the excellence of his chamber music and this, in an “Opera Mad France”, which had little regard for chamber music. However, after the First World War, his music, along with that of so many other fine composers, fell into oblivion and up until 1984, the bicentennial of his birth, he remained virtually unknown. Since then, his music, to the delight of players and listeners alike, is slowly being rediscovered, played and recorded. Onslow’s writing was unique in that he was successfully able to merge the drama of the opera into the chamber music idiom perfected by the Vienna masters.
Onslow’s nonet dates from 1848. The first movement, Allegro spirituoso, begins with a melody characterized by its nervous excitement. The main theme of the second movement, Scherzo agitato, has the same nervous excitement found in the first movement. There seems to be a connection between the thematic material. The frantic pace of this edgy music never lets up. It begins softly and quickly rises in pitch. The theme in the trio section, led by the horn, is more relaxed and has a misty, mysterious quality. The nonet’s center of gravity is its big, slow movement, Adagio. The theme is quiet, and pleasant. A set of five variations follow. Here, Onslow changes the ensemble groupings, rather than varying the mood or tempo of the music. The finale, Largo, Allegretto quasi Allegro, begins, as the title suggests, with a slow theme, pregnant with possibilities and slightly ominous. The Allegretto, however, is bright and full of bustling energy.
The Nonet has either been out of print or rather expensive. We have reprinted the first edition with a few improvements and are pleased to offer it at what we believe is a reasonable price, hoping that this will help to stimulate interest in this fine work.