Piano Trio No.8 in c minor, Op.26
George Onslow (1784-1853) was held to be in the front rank of composers by such experts as Mendelssohn and Schumann, who freely compared his quartets to those 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 and 34 string quintets were a constant feature of concert programs throughout the 19th century, 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. 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.
Piano Trio No.8 was written in 1824 at a time when Onslow's mature style was emerging. This trio, along with several others he composed, enjoyed considerable popularity during the 19th century and demand was such that it received a second edition. The first subject of the opening movement, Allegro espressivo, is lyrical and dreamily poetic. The piano writing recalls Schubert. The second subject is a jaunty, almost march-like melody. A lengthy introduction precedes the lovely and highly romantic main theme of the Adagio which comes next. The music is quite deliberate and yet there is a very delicate exquisiteness to it. A complimentary second theme conveys a sense of yearning. The third movement, though marked Menuetto, is music which could never be danced to—it is a rather fleet and somewhat spooky scherzo, full of forward motion. It is coupled with a bright and marvelously contrasting trio with a beautiful long-lined theme. The finale, Allegro agitato, bursts forth with an introduction of dramatic downward plunging chromatic passages which lead to a theme which is both lyrical but also with considerable motion. One wonders if Chopin knew this trio for he emulated some of the fine writing.
This trio was originally published in 1824 and like all music at this time the piano part only had the piano part and not the string parts as well. That is to say, it was not a piano score. The trio was popular enough to receive a second edition in the mid 1840's and yet the publisher (Breitkopf) did not create a piano score or rehearsal letters. We have reprinted the Breitkopf edition but added rehearsal letters. Keep in mind that we were working of an edition that was 170 years old. The ink had faded in places and there were all sorts of water marks, smudges, detritus and fingerings. We have spent many hours digitally cleaning, darkening, removing fingerings, adding rehearsal letters and correcting errors and have been able to create a serviceable performance edition in order to rescue this masterwork from oblivion. But, it is not pristine like a newly published work nor the equal in quality of a modern edition. The price, less than our generally very low prices, reflects this fact.