Piano Trio No.4 in e minor, Op.14 No.1
Onslow’s Piano Trio No.4 in e minor, Op.14 No.1 is the first of a set of three which appeared in 1818. Critics hailed the works as elegant and exhibiting a great diversity of invention. Athough he was known mostly for his string quintets and quartets, George Onslow (1784-1853) did compose ten piano trios. Piano Trio No.4 was quite popular and for a time entered the standard repertoire.
The work opens with an Allegro with a dramatic dialogue between the first violin and cello, which immediately captivates the listener. The dramatic effect is heightened by the fact that the melody rises in the violin and then plunges in the answering cello part. This movement is an excellent example of one of the individualistic characteristics which marks Onslow’s quartet music——it is a perfect fusion of operatic drama and melody with chamber music style. In the following Andante Grazioso, the lovely opening theme is given to the cello in its tenor register, A long passage in the violin creates a gauze-like filigree while still remaining within the bounds of chamber music. The Minuetto Presto, in actuality a scherzo, is of the type of which Onslow always excelled, it is a pounding, propulsive Beethovian affair. A stately trio section makes a wonderful contrast. The finale, Allegretto, is a big movement. The first theme has an Italian vocal quality to it. The ingenious second theme, passed from voice to voice each time modulated to increase tension, is full of bravado in a French military fashion.
George Onslow was was held to be in the front rank of composers by such experts as Mendelssohn and Schumann, who freely compared his music that of Mozart and Beethoven and found them not to be wanting. Perhaps no composer more than George Onslow 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 string quartets, string quintets and piano trios were a constant feature of concert programs throughout the 19th century. 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 works were published in different countries by different publishers and the editions were sometimes different. Our new edition is based the Steiner edition which appeared in Vienna in 1820. This is a very enjoyable trio to play and to hear. It would do well in concert as well as on the stands of amateurs.