Learning about George Onslow is largely hindered by the fact that it is difficult for a performer to get one of his scores : if we confine ourselves to chamber music only, it has been impossible to find a complete edition of Onslow's quartets and quintets for more than a century, despite the fact that these works had been very widely published in his lifetime. One must know that it is not the least paradox of this mostly instrumental catalogue to be easily available for consultation in library (especially at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France), but so to speak unavailable in a modern edition.
Cover and first page of George Onslow's Quintet opus 1 n°1 score.
19th century edition of Breitkopf & Härtel.
Thus reintroducing George Onslow in concert repertoires first of all goes through the release of his works – an daring and complex venture judging by the context governing the market of musical production nowadays. Therefore, the initiative taken by the Editions du Mélophile is more than praiseworthy : by starting a complete and critic edition of Onslow's 36 quartets, this publishing house, who also published a monumental biography of the composer, at last makes it possible for the musicians to rediscover the richness of this repertoire. Baudime Jam, one of the rare connoisseurs of our time of the onslowian chamber repertoire, was entrusted with the realization of this edition : you can find below a reproduction of his introduction to the first volume which was published in September 2003.
"In his lifetime,
George Onslow's 36 string quartets were abundantly published, in France
and especially in Germany. Several of these publications have "changes
made by the author", often concerning writing details, but also, sometimes,
the shape of a whole movement. It is the case, for example, of the Finale
from the first quartet in Opus 9 of which we have two extremely different
versions which can be found for the first time ever in this edition.
This editorial scenario is rare enough to be stressed : few composers at the time made, like Onslow, the printing office more than once – which is quite eloquent on the popularity of his works with instrumentalists, especially in Beethoven's country. Besides, Onslow's constant concern to adjust his quartets shows his care of the editorial distribution of his works : several of the modifications he brought to the successive editions show a technical advice, a proof of the interest he had in the of the performers purely instrumental problems. Others constitute a whole reorganization of the thematic and harmonic material, and show the progression of Onslow's thought, as well as his exceptional creativity.
This edition is based on the comparison of four editions of the time : Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig (the main source), Steiner Und Comp. in Vienna, and Pleyel, in Paris, from 1816 (the first one) and from 1830. This collection thus presents the three quartets from Opus 9 as their author handed them down to history, while allowing to consult the different versions of some parts or movements : a researcher will draw from it some material to analyse the evolution of Onslow's style ; the music lover will surely observe with interest the progress and the transformation of a musical thought ; as for quartetists, whether professional or amateur, they will have the rare opportunity to choose their version. For this modern edition of Onslow's Opus 9 - the first one since the 19th century - we wished to offer a material cleared of the numerous defects of old documents, and put in the contemporary standards, with notably :
- the rectifications of errors about notes, rhythms, etc.;
- the numbering of bars;
- the rationalization of the repeated bars (notably of of 1st and 2nd time sections);
- the restoring of the nuances and the bowing;
- the adding of octave accidentals inside the same measure;
- the adding of accidentals when needed;
- a layout taking the turns into account.
The indications for the tempi are from the composer.
Two versions of the finales of the first and second quartets are proposed, and a passage of the Allegro risoluto of Opus 9/1 is indicated in ossia. The other variations, being more discreet, were chosen according to our own performing of his works in concert. On that subject, we warmly thank the members of the Prima Vista quartet who, for several years, have lent their precious support to rediscovering George Onslow's chamber music work.
We hope that this one hundred and fiftieth anniversary edition will contribute effectively in reintroducing Onslow into the chamber music repertoire of which he has to be again a central figure.
Director of publication"
© 2003 Les Éditions du Mélophile
As for the foreword, it was, naturally, entrusted to Serge Collot :
dealing with Wilhelm-Friedemann Bach, the musicologist Carl of Nys brought
back to life George Onslow through
concerts in his castle in Valprivas, records and radio broadcasts since
For having microfilms developed at the Bibliothèque Nationale, I had the happiness of holding in my very hands (while this was still allowed), the original scores of George Onslow's string quartets and quintets. The music we discovered was alive, instrumentally marvellously written and, in the course of some personal modulations, a little in the background, certainly, but nevertheless following the trend of his great contemporaries, Schumann, Mendelssohn, who were warmly impressed.
The French chamber musicians owe a lot to George Onslow because, through his vast production, very often performed in his time, he contributed to preserve a tradition of instrumental music which kept on developing afterwards. His friendship with the violinist Pierre Baillot, who founded, probably, the first "professional" French string quartet, allowed an evolution which never failed (Tilmant Quartet, Capet Quartet, Calvet Quartet, etc.).
This edition of George Onslow's Chamber Music comes just at the right moment to complete the repertoire with quite a significant link. It is a very heavy work because the sources sometimes differ. I absolutely trust Mister Baudime Jam to achieve this task and thank him with all my heart for it.
(Parrenin Quartet, French String Trio, Professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, etc.)"
This publication constitutes the most important publishing project about George Onslow's music : each year, we will keep up with its development until its completion. In the meantime, we invite quartetists to discover this first book where you can notably find the very beautiful variations on "God save the King", and which is now available via Mélophile.
If chamber music constitutes the major part of the onslowian catalogue, it nevertheless contains not less than four symphonies for full orchestra. German musicologist Bert Hagels supervised the production of two of them which were published by Ries & Erler in Berlin : the first one, Opus 41, and the third one, without opus. We asked him a few questions.
The George Onslow website : In which circumstances were you introduced to George Onslow ?
Bert Hagels : Through the reading of articles and reports about concerts published in the German press of the 19th century : the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, etc.
The G. O. w. : How did you make the decision to publish two of his symphonies ?
B. H. : The CPO label approached me to put together the conductor score and the separate parts of these works. [These two symphonies were recently recorded by Johannes Goritzki conducting the Philharmonic Orchestra of Hanover Radio Station : the CD has just been released. See Discography. Editor's note]. Besides, I already had an original version of these scores as a part of the documents I had gathered for my doctoral thesis.
The G. O. w. : What were your sources ?
B. H. : For lack of authentic documents, I used the publications of the time and a reproduction recently published in a collection entitled "The Symphony 1720-1840" [published by Boris Schwarz, New York & London, 1981].
The G. O. w. : How many times have these symphonies been performed since the release of your production ?
B. H. : To this day, and as far as I know, there hasn't been any public performance since the release of the CD.
The G. O. w. : Do you have other projects ?
B. H. : A lot ! Particularly the release of the works of Onslow's contemporaries, such as Ries, Fesca, Wilms or Eberl ; in the long term, that is by 2005, I may consider producing Onslow's trios.
The G. O. w. : It would indeed be a beautiful project we wish you can one day achieve. How would you define Onslow's style in his symphonic scores ?
B. H. : Compared with his contemporaries he is very different in his very meticulous and personal approach of this genre ; what is worth noticing above all is the way he grew away from the Beethovenian model. In France, Onslow is considered as the opposite of Berlioz for that matter.
The G. O. w. : Do you reckon that today we know everything about the life and work of George Onslow ?
B. H. : Thanks to the biography Baudime Jam recently published, the gaps which existed until now in the research field are henceforth filled in ; nevertheless, the level of fame and the occurrence of concerts dedicated to him are still far from equalling the importance of Onslow and of his work in music history.
The G. O. w. : This is an opinion we share and this is why we wished to meet you, because you are one of the passionate specialists who undertook to reintroduce this beautiful repertoire which, gradually, we hope, and thanks notably to your scores, will one day find again favour with musicians and music lovers. Thank you Bert Hagels and we wish you to succeed in your publishing projects. We invite our Internet users to visit your web pages (musica oblita) to become more familiar with your works.
In this column we will deal with those of George Onslow's works which were published in a modern edition : this task will be all the easier as these scores are regrettably rare. For this first outline, we selected two of the composer's late opuses and three quartets: the opus 76 quintet, which is a transcription of his fourth symphony, the magnificent opus 78 quintet and the quartets No 19, 22 and 30.
Published by Walter Wollenweber publishing house (Gräfelfing, Germany), 500 copies of this material were printed in the "Unbekannte Werke Der Klassik und Romantik" series : that just shows how limited the extend of this beautiful publication will be. The foreword tells us that the publisher based himself on a single source : the Kistner publication of 1849. The quality of this collection is brilliant in every respect : printing, readability, lay-out, etc.
This work has been recently performed (using this edition) by Kornelia Ogorkowna (piano), Daniel Grimonprez (bass), and the members of the Prima Vista quartet for a concert which took place on January 28th, 2004 in Clermont-Ferrand.
SJ Music n°Q1993-4 ©1993
The SJ Music publishing house (Cambridge, United Kingdom), included one quartet (opus 8 n°2) and three Onslow's quintets in their catalogue : Opus 38 ("La balle"), 39 and 78. The two first ones are for two cellos, whereas the third one is for two violas. This last one is a very beautiful passage of chamber music which should appear more often on concert repertoires : Serge Collot and the Prima Vista quartet played it in Clermont in March 2003, and in the castle of Valprivas in June 2003.
SJ Music also released the score of opus 38 - which is somewhat rare. Below, you can have a look on the first page of it as well as the same excerpt from a 19th century edition (Breitkopf & Härtel - private collection) :
The Silvertrust Edition published three string quartets of Onslow : the opus 46 No 1 and the opus 47 are reprints of 19th century Kistner edition with mistakes corrected and measure numbers added. As for the opus 56, it is a brand new edition made by Skyler Silvertrust : beside the usual corrections, the cello part has been completely reset with the false treble removed and bass and tenor clef used where appropriate. For more information, one can read the exclusive interview with Ray Silvertrust available on this website :
Translated by Natacha Gillardeau