George Onslow

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Piano Quintet No.1 in b minor, Op.70

Onslow did not turn to the piano quintet until late in his life. He eventually composed two original works for the combination and a third which started out life as a septet for piano, winds and bass. Piano Quintet No.1 in b minor, Op.70 dates from 1846. It is for the so-called Trout instrumentation—–piano, violin, viola, cello and bass—–as popularized by Schubert’s famous work for the same combination. Onslow would almost certainly have been familiar with it as well as a similar work by Johann Nepomuk Hummel which though not so famous was quite popular. The treatment of the piano is worth noting, especially as the quintet is dedicated to Sigmund Thalberg, the great piano virtuoso, who was widely considered the equal to Liszt. It is significant that shortly before composing the work, Onslow had been spending time with his friend Mendelssohn. Both he and Mendelssohn preferred Thalberg to Liszt, who regularly, in their opinion, engaged in tasteless pyrotechnics for no other reason than to show off. Thalberg did not. In fact, Liszt admitted that Thalberg was the only pianist who could play the violin on the piano, a reference to the amazing singing quality of his playing. Onslow’s treatment of the piano takes this into account and is quite similar to the way Mendelssohn handles the piano in his trios, both as to the way it is integrated into the whole as well as the difficulty of the part. The opening movement, Allegro energico, with is strikingly rich modulations is a thrusting and powerful affair, full of excitement. The middle movement, Andantino cantabile e simplice, features gorgeous melodies and ravishing harmonies produced by the cello with the help of the bass and viola. The finale, Allegretto molto moderato, begins in a genial, jovial mood but is suddenly interrupted by turbulent, chromatic passages which bring to mind the music used during frightful and dramatic scenes in the silent movies.


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 chamber music, during his own lifetime and up to the end of the 19th century, was 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, while 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. 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.


This is truly a first class work and it is hard to understand how it was only published once (actually once in France and once in Germany) especially in view of the acclaim it received on its premiere. We have reprinted the 1846 German edition, which is superior to the French. Back then, piano parts did not come with the string parts in them, this only became a regular practice after 1855. However, it does have rehearsal letters and though not as pristine as a new or modern edition, is nonetheless quite good for its age and a serviceable performance edition. The price, less than our generally very low prices, reflects this fact. The publisher Kistner insisted on a second cello part in lieu of bass to increase sales and we offer this as well.


(A) Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello & Bass-Parts $37.95
(B) Piano, Violin, Viola and 2 Cellos-Parts $37.95
(C) All Six Parts $43.95



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