George Onslow

Most Saturday afternoons, I read through music for piano four hands with my good friend Karen Littlefield. As time goes by, I search further and further afield, always on a search for new music. My go to source, as always, is the International Music Library (IMSLP). Yesterday, I downloaded a sonata for four hands by the French composer George Onslow. I’ve heard several of his pieces previously, so seeing he had a four hands piece, it was worth a try. While I wouldn’t call the music profound, it was nevertheless a pleasure to play – and certainly worthy of being heard. I did find one video on YouTube of a performance. As Karen likes to tell me, after we play these, I should write a blog entitled “letters to dead composers” and share with them our thoughts. I can say that even with major known composers, somewhere in the piece, we will find an occasional section that causes us to pause and say “huh, whatever was he thinking when he wrote these bars?” Happy to say, such a letter to George Onslow, would not include any similar comment. All around, good job, George!

Onslow (1784-1853) did not break any new ground, at least so far as I can tell from the several pieces I’ve heard, which was likely the reason for the decline in his reputation over time. However, he certainly was a composer who knew what he was about, and so having played through this one work, I look forward to acquainting myself with more of his work. From this piece, he has a sure sense of form and counterpoint, and writes some striking melodies and harmonic shifts, although all within a classical/romantic framework.