George Onslow

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String Quartet No.29 in d minor, Op.55

George Onslow's String Quartet No.29, Op.55 in d minor was composed in the autumn of 1835. The first movement, Allegro, is so rich in thematic material, wonderful melodies and original effects, that there is almost too much to be found in just one movement. It begins with an echo dialogue between and the first violin and the viola and sounds a distant warning of danger. Rather than developing this promising subject, Onslow inserts a sudden downward bridge passage, leading immediately to the second theme, introduced by the cello high in its tenor register. Again without any real development, it leads to a dramatic third theme  The whole movement is pregnant with originality and excitement, including the very effective ppp ending in which the first theme surprisingly dies away. Next comes a magnificent Scherzo. presto. The theme to is cut into snippets, divided between the voices. It is is bright and full of energy. The second subject is just as exciting and as full of energy as the first. The trio, slightly slower than the preceding section, is a marvellous little stirring, military march-like melody: The captivating third movement is an impressive theme and set of variations Adagio cantabile. The theme, stated by the first violin, is reminiscent of a very beautiful Schubert lied. The first variation is a dramatic duet between the cello and first violin over tremolo in the middle voices. It sometimes happens that composers are able to use a particular effect in a most telling and almost unique way. Onslow's use of arpeggio-type passages is an example. The originality and effectiveness he was able to make of it is illustrated by the excitement generated from the opening theme, played by the first violin, in the finale, Allegro vivace. Each voice is entrusted with this theme at various points. The second subject provides an attractive contrast.---The Chamber Music Journal


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 36 string quartets and 34 string quintets were, during his own lifetime and up to the end of the 19th century, 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. 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. 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.


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