George Onslow, Wind Quintet in F Major, Op.81

George Onslow 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 chamber music, during his own lifetime and up to the end of the 19th century, was 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, while 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. 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.

One is almost a little surprised that Onslow, a pianist and cellist, would write a wind quintet and quite a good one. But one should remember that Onslow's teacher was Anton Reicha, the man who virtually invented the modern wind quintet. The Quintet, written in 1850 at a time when Onslow was 66, shows a youthful playfulness. The opening Allegro non troppo begins with a formal introduction. The charming main theme is presented in a very plastic fashion. The second movement is a light and playful Scherzo. The melody is cleverly passed from voice to voice. The lazy trio section provides good contrast. The Oboe solo which begins the following Larghetto strikes a somber note. There is a certain Handel-like quality to this formal music. The finale, Allegro spirituoso. is a lively rondo.

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