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Georges ONSLOW (1784-1853)
Piano Trios - Volume 1
Piano Trio in E flat, op.14/2 (1818) [28:34]
Piano Trio, op.27 (1824) [27:06]
(Katrina Schulz (violin); Inka Ehlert (cello); Thomas Palm (piano))
rec. 2006? DDD
CPO 777230-2 [55:45]
André George Louis Onslow, to give him his full name
was the son of a French woman and a father from the British aristocracy.
Several of the family were in British political life; three were
Speakers of the House of Commons. He was born in Clermont-Ferrand
where his father had settled after a family scandal forced him
to leave his home country.
Between 1798 and
1805, Onslow studied piano with, amongst others, Jan Ladislav
Dussek - who may have studied with C.P.E.Bach - and Johann Cramer
- who had been a pupil of Clementi. That’s a pretty good pedigree
for a fledgling composer.
As with so many composers
before, and after, him Onslow never intended to be a composer.
Study of the piano was just one of the many things considered
part of your education. Again the usual parental response was
that music wasn’t considered a profession, it was a drawing-room
during his lifetime, Onslow’s music has almost fallen into oblivion,
with occasional outings in concert and radio broadcasts. His
output is large. There are 36 string quartets, 34 string quintets
(five with two violas, twenty five with two cellos and four with
double bass), ten piano trios, six violin and three cello sonatas,
some piano works, a handful of works for ensembles containing
wind instruments, four symphonies and four operas. Quite an achievement.
The decision to become
a composer came whilst listening to the overture to an opera
by Méhul. His op. 1 was a set of three string quintets and they
were successful so, with the support of his friends and publisher,
he continued. Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, one of the foremost
critics of the first half of the 19th century, thought
Onslow’s chamber music on a par with that of Mozart, Haydn and
Beethoven. It is said that one of the reasons for his fall into
obscurity is because performers found his quartets and quintets
too difficult to perform.
In general he led
a quiet and uneventful life and was once the victim of a serious
accident. Whilst hunting in 1829 he was shot and badly injured
and, although he fully recovered he lost the hearing in his left
ear. This incident inspired the last three movements of his 15th String
Quintet, which he named "de la balle"- the bullet.
Despite his fame, he was known as the French Beethoven, Onslow
lived and died in his home town, founding a Philharmonic Society
in 1839. He was a respected castle owner, had properties in the
countryside, and was a true gentleman farmer, said to be as talented
at running his farm as in negotiating contracts with his publishers.
Certainly not the
usual life of a composer.
The Piano Trio
in E flat, op.14/2, the fifth he wrote, opens with a broad Allegro which
is very Beethovenian in mood and scope. The ensuing Menuetto contains
a rather quirky tune and is so short that it is over before
it has started. The slow movement is a set of variations on
a tune from the Auvergne and the finale is a typically light-hearted
affair with a forward momentum which never falters.
The Piano Trio,
op.27 was Onslow’s 9th, and penultimate, work
in a genre to which he was not to return for almost thirty
years. It follows a similar path to the E flat Trio but,
despite being written only six years later, it’s much more
mature and assured. There’s more light and shade – in the first
movement, for instance, the piano part is often much sparer
in texture. The slow movement has a serene outer section surrounding
an agitated middle. The scherzo – yes, a real scherzo, not
a fast minuet – is jaunty and the finale relaxed but affirmative.
The music is still under the influence of Beethoven but the
writing is certainly more assured than the earlier work.
These are fine performances
with a good feel for the music. They bode well for further issues
in the series. The notes in the booklet aren’t extensive but
they do pack in quite a bit of information. These works are like
a breath of fresh air for music of this period.
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