George Onslow

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String Quintet No.27 in D Major, Op.68

For 2 Violins, Viola & 2 Cellos or Cello & Bass

The highly respected 19th century German Music critic, Felix Bamberg, writing in the January 1846 issue of the Allgemein Bermkungen über den Zustand der Musik in Paris described Onslow's String Quintet No.27 as "a genuine masterpiece of originality and beauty belonging to his most admirable works."


It is hard to believe that a composer whose chamber music Schumann and Mendelssohn ranked with that of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn could fall into obscurity. 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, 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.  Publishers such as Breitkopf & Härtel and Kistner were among many which competed to bring out his works. 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.


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.

String Quintet No.27, Op.68 was completed in 1845. The opening movement, Allegro grandioso, begins with an attention getting downward chromatic passage which leads to the main theme which is dramatic and powerful. A second theme is lyrical and more relaxed. A slow movement, Adagio cantabile, comes next. Bamberg noted that he had attended a performance of this movement where "it had the effect of calming an unsettled audience to the point of speechlessness." The main theme is peaceful and reflective and extremely well harmonized. After this aura of peacefulness, Onslow gives his audience a shock to its system with an exciting and stormy Scherzo, allegro impetuoso.  The finale, Allegretto, begins in a relaxed fashion with a genial melody in the cello but imperceptibly Onslow builds in both speed into the music and soon it is sailing along at a rather brisk pace.

This great work has been out of print for most if not all of the 20th century. We have reprinted the 1846 Kistner edition, the first German edition, which were generally superior to their French counterparts. All six parts are included. Amateurs and professions alike will find this an engaging work.


(A) 2 Violins, Viola & 2 Cellos-Parts $29.95
(B) 2 Violins, Viola, Cello & Bass-Parts $29.95
(C) All Six Parts $36.95




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