String Quartet No.11 in d minor, Op.10 No.2
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. 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.
String Quartet No.11 was composed between 1813-1815, the second of a set of three. The opening movement, Allegro Maestoso e expressivo, begins with a very dramatic violin solo over the pulsing 8ths of the three other voices. A minuet is placed second and the Auvergne air is placed not in the trio but the minuet itself. These Airs from the mountains of Auvergne clearly are robust and quick dances. The dance is followed by a contrasting trio considerably more gentle in nature. The following Andante con variazione is based on a sweet theme followed by a set of four very substantial variations. The first variation is a dialog between the all four voices. The second variation is uncomplicated this time in the relative minor. The third variation, in major, consists of a virtuosic challenge for the first violin. The fourth and final variation makes considerable use of elaborate syncopated cross rhythms. Clearly the center of gravity of the Quartet, this is a marvelous movement. The finale, Allegretto, in 6/8, is a genial and carefree romp. The middle section features a brief but interesting exchange of the second theme between the first violin and the cello.
This edition is a reprint of the first one released in Germany. While we have added rehearsal numbers and done our best to clean it up, players must remember that we were working with an edition that was almost 200 years old and, as to be expected, was not in perfect condition. While it is entirely serviceable, here and there, one will find the odd blemish on the page, which, however, in no way effects performance.