George Onslow

George Onslow (1784-1853)

Nationality: French | English
Born: July 27, 1784, Clermont-Ferrand Died: October 3, 1853, Clermont-Ferrand (age 69)

String Quintet No. 20 in d minor, Op. 45

(for 2 violins, viola and 2 cellos or 2 violins, 2 violas and cello)
11:25 I. Allegro grandioso
4:26 II. Menuetto. Presto
8:23 III. Andante cantabile
7:14 IV. Finale. Allegro innocente
Duration: 32 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1832 (age 47-48)
Published: 1833, Leipzig: Fr. Kistner (age 48-49)
Dedication: Monsieur Curie
1 recording, 4 videos
autoopen autoplay
Elan Quintet
I. Allegro grandioso
Elan Quintet
II. Menuetto. Presto
Elan Quintet
III. Andante cantabile
Elan Quintet
IV. Finale. Allegro innocente
From Edition Silvertrust

George Onslow Onslow's String Quintet No.20 dates from 1832. It is certainly one of his most exciting quintets. After its publication, it was, like so many of his others, performed by several well-known players and always to great acclaim, more than holding its own against such quintets by Mendelssohn and Beethoven which sometimes appeared on the same program with it.

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.

The Quintet begins with a substantial Allegro grandioso which begins rather slowly and in sinister fashion with a solo in the second cello (bass) part. As the others join in there are sudden dynamic and chromatic shifts which create considerable excitement. Next comes a Minuetto, presto. This is no minuet but an explosive affair with hard driving forward motion. No one could dance to this! The third movement is a lovely Andante cantabile. The finale, though titled Allegro innocente, does not particularly sound innocent with its thundering sudden outbursts of passion interspersed with quieter but brooding episodes.

© Edition Silvertrust. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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