George Onslow

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Sextet in a minor, Op.77bis

 For Piano, Clarinet, Flute, Horn, Bassoon and Bass or

Piano, 2 Violins, Viola, Cello and Bass

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.


The Sextet in a minor Op. 77bis came about when Onslow decided to arrange his Op.77 Nonet. Nonets are rarely performed and this fact was certainly not lost upon Onslow or his publisher. Hence, in the autumn of 1848, Onslow arranged the Nonet for a Sextet for Piano, Winds and Bass or for Piano and Strings. The Grand Sextour, as it was called, was actually published before the Nonet and it was in this version that the composition became better known.


The opening Allegro spirituoso begins in heroic manner. Onslow's talent for instrumentation is in evidence here, achieving the difficult tonal balance between the piano and the winds which, according to most critics, even Beethoven was unable to accomplish in his quintet for piano and winds. The second movement, though marked Minuetto, is one in name only. Its agitato subtitle contraindicates any kind of a minuet. In the trio, the horn takes the lead with a cheerful melody. The third movement, Tema con variazioni begins as an Andantino con moto. The theme is treated at some length being presented in sections. The piano takes the first eight bars, with the other instruments contributing dabs of colour. In the next eight bars, the process is reversed, with the theme shared among the ensemble. In 9/8 time, Variation I likewise alternates between the instruments throughout, passing the theme bar by bar between the piano and the quintet. In Variation II, the piano and the wind quartet alternate in longer eight-bar phrases. Variation III mixes everything together in alternating virtuoso flourishes. Variation IV presents most impressive virtuoso fireworks for the piano and then the flute. Variation V is in the tragic minor. The theme of the Finale, Allegretto quasi allegro, begins in the piano with almost elegiac gentleness; when the wind instruments enter, the music becomes exuberant and jovial.


The String Version of Onslow's Piano Sextet calls for the same combination as some other works we offer which you may wish to obtain (click on links) so you can make a night of it. These include Mikhail Glinka's Grand Sextet, William Sterndale Bennett's Piano Sextet, Sergei Lyapunov's Piano Sextet, Paul Juon's Piano Sextet, Glinka's Divertimento Brillante, Felix Weingartner's Piano Sextet and Henri Bertini's Piano Sextet No.3


(A) Piano, Clarinet, Flute, Horn, Bassoon & Bass-Parts $39.95
(B) Piano, 2 Violins, Viola, Cello & Bass-Parts $39.95
(C) All Ten Parts $59.95





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