Month: June 2013

Newly Digitized: George Onslow, quartets

Despite popularity and public acclaim during his lifetime, the wealthy Anglo-French composer George Onslow (1784-1853) may be best known today – when he’s remembered at all – either as the “French Beethoven,” or for the event commemorated by his string quintet op. 38, “De la balle” (“The Bullet”), completed in 1829 during his recovery from a hunting accident.

To an extent, his sobriquet is clever advertising: an 1830 notice for the quartets and quintets by his publisher Pleyel proclaims Onslow “notre Beethoven français” in the same sentence that it points out to prospective buyers the quality of the paper and engraving, the portrait frontispiece by the artist and lithographer Grévedon, and the published list of subscribers.1 Whoever first coined the phrase, it stuck, despite Onslow’s uneasy engagement with Beethoven’s late style in print and in the chamber music he composed in the 1830s and early 1840s.2

The three sets of parts digitized here, however, date from over a decade earlier in his career, in the mid-1810s and early 1820s, during his first flurry of compositions for string quartet: nos. 1-12 were composed between 1807-1816, and nos. 13-15 in 1822-1823. Note the metronome indications in nos. 12 and 15; Johann Nepomuk Maelzel had patented his version of the device in 1815, and assiduously promoted its use, going so far as to send samples to composers around Europe.3

George Onslow, String quartet no. 12 (op. 10, no. 3), Merritt Room Mus 767.795.323.7

George Onslow, String quartet no. 12 (op. 10, no. 3). Merritt Room Mus 767.795.323.7

With one exception (the quartets nos. 16-18, composed in 1828), Onslow did not return to the form until the 1830s – after his encounter with Beethoven’s late style – when he composed a second sequence of quartets, nos. 19-36. These and others can be viewed in the collections of the Danish National Digital Sheet Music Archive: Georges Onslow (1784-1853): String quartets, quintets and other chamber music.

-Kerry Masteller


1. “Souscription A la Collection complète des Quintetti et Quatuors de George Onslow,” Revue musicale 8 (1830): 282-283, http://archive.org/stream/revuemusicale18308pari#page/282/mode/2up.

2. On Onslow and Beethoven, see Viviane Niaux, “George Onslow: le ‘Beethoven français’?” Les sources du romantisme français : à la croisée des influences italiennes et germaniques (1780-1830) (Venise: Italie, 2009), 1-18, http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00510733.

3. Maetzel, Johann Nepomuk, letter to Breitkopf & Härtel, 8 April 1817. Quoted in Günther Haupt, “J. R. Mälzels Briefe an Breitkopf & Härtel,” Der Bär: Jahrbuch von Breitkopf & Härtel auf das jahr 1927: 130. http://hollis.harvard.edu/?itemid=|library/m/aleph|006744519 (HOLLIS record).

Your voices tune, and raise them high…

While it is a cliché of blogging to apologize for one’s long absence while quietly rejoining the online conversation, nevertheless: apologies! We’re back, with quite a backlog of recently (and not-so-recently) digitized items to tell you about. Let’s begin with some Handel by way of Mozart, shall we?

Title page, Timotheus, oder, die Gewalt der Musik. Merritt Room ML54.H36 A4 1791

Title page, Timotheus, oder, die Gewalt der Musik. Merritt Room ML54.H36 A4 1791

Handel, George Frideric, 1685-1759. [Alexander’s feast. Libretto. German]
Timotheus, oder, die Gewalt der Musik : eine grosse Cantate / aus dem Englischen des Dryden übersetzt von Carl Wilhelm Ramler ; in Musik gesetzt von G.F. Händel ; instrumentirt von W.A. Mozart.
Merritt Room ML54.H36 A4 1791

A very rare libretto for Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, arranged by Mozart in the summer of 1790, for a probable performance in 1791. This arrangement (K. 591) was one of four – with Acis and Galatea, Messiah, and Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day – commissioned by Mozart’s patron Baron von Swieten for the concerts at the Gesellschaft der Associierten.

Find a critical edition of Mozart’s score in the NMA Online (Neue Mozart Ausgabe: Digitized Version). Handel’s manuscript is part of the Ricasoli Collection at the University of Louisville, and is available in the IMSLP, with a 19th century Peters edition of the Mozart arrangement.

-Kerry Masteller

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