String Quintet No.34 in E Major, Op.82
For 2 Violins, 2 Violas & Cello
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.
Of his 34 quintets, only six--the first three and the last three--are for 2 violas rather than 2 cellos or cello and string bass. String Quintet No.34, Op.82, his last work for strings, was completed in 1850 not long after his thirty third quintet, Op.80. It was not published, however, until after his death in 1853. It is essentially different in character than either Op.78 or Op.80. For one thing, it is in the major. Its mood is primarily bright, and right from the opening melody of the Allegro grazioso, one hears a Mozartian sunny lyricism. There is grace, elegance and good taste all bound up in this lovely music. The second movement, a Scherzo molto vivace, could not be more different. It bursts forth without any preparation, quickly driving forward with great impulsiveness. The trio section not only provides a fine contrast but is quite unusual. The melody is but short notes against a guitar-like pizzicato accompaniment in the cello, which soon takes over as the main melody. The Andantino, which follows, is characterized a deliberate stateliness. As the dynamic increases, it takes on the aura of a processional. The second theme, quite romantic, is a delicate duet between the first violin and the cello. The upbeat finale, Allegro molto vivace, is full of clever effects and radiates a sense of good feeling.
Like so many of his other great works, this fine quintet has been out of print for a very long time, perhaps a century. We have chosen to reprint Kistner's second edition in which the "false treble clef" has been eliminated in the cello part. Unfortunately, most other editions used the "false treble clef", which has always been a problem for cellists. In this edition, tenor clef is liberally used and the treble clef is not used at all. This greatly improves the readability.