George Onslow

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String Quintet No.11 in B flat Major, Op.33

For Three Separate Combinations: See Below

Although the first 3 of Onslow's string quintets were for the standard 2 violins, 2 violas and cello, thereafter, his quintets, with the exception of his last three, were for 2 cellos and one viola. Onslow began providing alternative bass parts to all of his subsequent quintets, in lieu of a second cello, after hearing the famous bassist Dragonetti substitute for an absent second cellist during a performance of his tenth string quintet. He also added an an alternate viola part in lieu of the first cello allowing the work to be performed as a viola quintet as well.


During his lifetime, Onslow, above all, was known as the composer of string quintets for 2 violins, viola and 2 cellos. With the exception of Boccherini, all of the other major composers before him, including Mozart and Beethoven, wrote string quintets for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello. (Schubert's great work remained undiscovered until 1850 and unknown for another decade after that.) Schumann and Mendelssohn ranked Onslow's chamber music with that of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. George Onslow (1784-1853), certainly illustrates the fickleness of fame. He was born 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, 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.  As tastes changed 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 Quintet No.11 dates from 1828. Although the opening movement is marked Allegro con brio, the opening bars to the Quintet in a rather genial fashion. However, not long after Onslow introduces several downward quick chromatic passages. And, in fact, the rest of the movement is dominated by quick and lively passages which are deftly passed from voice to voice. The second movement, Andante mestoso, begins quietly. The first half of the main theme is somber, almost funereal, while the second part expresses a sense of pleading. The development long scale-like passages which are used to telling dramatic effect. The third movement is marked Minuetto non troppo presto. This is really a misnomer for the movement is really fleet-footed scherzo in which there is a tremendous, sense of forward motion as in a wild race. After the breathless third movement, the finale, Allegro grazioso, almost sounds relaxed. The main theme is has a definite measured quality but then, almost without warning this melody is interrupted by long cascades of racing passages which match those of the other movements in their energy and excitement.

(A) 2 Violins, Viola & 2 Cellos-Parts $29.95
(B) 2 Violins, 2 Violas & Cello-Parts $29.95
(C) 2 Violins, Viola, Cello & Bass-Parts $29.95
(D) All Seven Parts $39.95



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