Category Archives: Music History

Wind Quintet in F Major Opus 81: Background Info on George Onslow

George Onslow’s homes in Clermont-Fernand:

ONSLOW'S HOMES Clermont-Ferrand 1  Chateau de Chalendrat
ONSLOW'S HOMES Clermont-Ferrand 2  Chateau de Bellerive, Perignot
  • Born 1784, Onslow lived comfortably in chateaux around Clermont-Fernand, with regular sojourns to Paris.
  • He composed Wind Quintet Opus 81 late in life, aged 66 (1850).  He wrote only two further compositions before his death in 1853.
  • Opus 81 was one of a very few quintets written in the 19th c after the celebrated quintets of Anton Reicha (Onslow’s composition teacher in 1808).
  • Opus 81 was dedicated to five eminent musicians of the early 19th c, who had each been important in the evolution of their instrument:   Louis Dorus (flute); Stanislas Verroust (oboe); Charles Verroust (bassoon); Adolphe Leroy (clarinet); and Joseph Mengal (horn).
  • Onlsow’s music was widely celebrated during his lifetime yet virtually unknown following WWI until modern times.
    This post based on  Photo by User:Gegeours.  Accessed 22.08.2016

George Onslow (1784-1853)


GEORGE ONSLOW  George Onlsow (1784 – 1853)

George Onslow was dubbed “the French Beethoven”. Descendant of an aristocratic English family he was educated in France as a privileged gentleman, taking up composition in his twenties as an amateur cellist (and pianist who never performed publically).  He studied composition with the famous Anton Reicha in 1808 (before Reicha wrote his own celebrated series of wind quintets).  Onslow went on to become hugely popular, writing 36 string quartets and 34 quintets, with a strong following in Germany and England.  He also wrote a number of piano trios, several operas, and four symphonies .  As for wind quintets, he wrote only one (opus 81), rather late in his career (1850) aged 66.  His music embodied the traditional school, announcing a rich Romanticism in harmony and lyricism.  He received many public honours, and as his portrait above suggests, he was respected and appreciated for his very generous personality.

Post based on website;  Photo credit:

Anton Reicha’s Academic Side

  • Paris conservatory c 1900
Paris Conservatory of Music c 1900.  Site of Reicha’s academic work.; accessed 20.07.16

Reicha moved around Europe during his formative years, spending the period 1801 – 1808 in Vienna.  From 1808 (aged 38) until he died (1836), he lived in Paris and devoted himself to writing and teaching composition.  In 1818 he was appointed Professor of Counterpoint and Fugue at the Paris Conservatoire.  He became an important theorist and pedagogic figure, with pupils including Liszt, Berlioz, Gounod and Cesar Franck.

Reicha was prolific from the start, but his early theoretic ideas (to do with fugal writing and variation theory, with written examples) were radical for the era and not accepted.  Polyrhythms, polytonality and microtonal music (see his Practische Beispiele….1803) were all clearly ahead of his time.  None of these radical ideas appeared in his later, enduring Wind Quintets.

In Paris it was different for Reicha.  As a leading theoretician and pedagogue, he successfully published a string of major academic works:

  • Traite de melodie (1814)
  • Cours de composition musicale…(1818)
  • Triate de haute composition musicale (1824 – 26)
  • L’art du compositeur dramatique (1833)

Minor texts included a system for writing fugues, with examples (1805); a practical treatise on harmony (1814); and numerous other articles (including a poem to Joseph Haydn!)

Reicha’s music was unpublished during his lifetime and fell into complete obscurity after his death.  This was no doubt in part due to his early avoidance of public performance.  He wrote:

  “Many of my works have never been heard because of my aversion to                 seeking performances….I counted the time spent in such efforts as lost, and preferred to remain at my desk.”

This post is a potted version of an extensive, informative article:  “”Anton Reicha” – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Accessed 20.7.2016

Reicha’s Wind Quintet op 91 No 3 in D major

cropped-east-windies-logo-small-jpg3Anton Reicha Anton Reicha (1770- 1836)

Anton Reicha’s 24 wind quintets were composed in Paris between 1811 and 1820.  They were a conscious attempt to fill a void in the repertoire for wind chamber works.  Reicha later wrote  “…there was a dearth not only of good classic music, but of any good music at all for wind instruments….”   In general, the Quintets combined three major elements:  1.  virtuoso display;  2. popular elements (Bohemian folk melodies, marches, etc.); and 3. an academic interest in variation form and counterpoint.

Published by Simrock in 1818-1819.  Opus 91 number 3 (D major) was conceived as a lighthearted composition (with a complicated structure!); highlights from the various movements include:

First movement:  A substantial flute cadenza in the slow introduction (Reicha’s first instrument was the flute); followed by a 6/8 scherzo theme. Overall homophonic tone.  Second movement:  Bel canto feel; operatic ritornello form (2 episodes); Third movement:  Imitative counterpoint in the Trio; Fourth movement:  a rondo with sonata form overlay.

This post is paraphrased from two articles: 1) Anton Reicha, Wikipedia, accessed 19.7.16;  2) Charles-David Lehrer, The Opus 91 wind Quintets of Antoine Reicha;



FIVE FACTS about Anton Reicha’s first set of wind quintets


1.  Opus 88 was published in 1818 by the House of Simrock;  2.  The frontispiece was printed in French, the internal text in Italian:  Quintour vs. Quintetto;  3.  These intitial three wind quintets set out to compete with then-dominant interest in / availability of string (chamber) music;  4.  There was no published score, only the five parts;  5.  The original ensemble, whose members signed the preface were: J Guillou (flute), G Vogt (oboe), J-J Bouffil (clarinet), L-F Dauprat (horn), and M Henry (bassoon).

Joseph Guillou 1787 - 1853

Joseph Guillou (1787-1870) French flautist.
This post based on article by Charles-David Lehrer.  “The Opus 88 wind Quintets of Antoine Reicha.”  accessed 5.4.2016; and image search:  “Joseph  Gillou”. accessed 9.4.2016



Anton Reicha (1770 – 1836)

cropped-east-windies-logo-small-jpg3.pngAnton ReichaFriend of Beethoven, teacher of Lizst and Berlioz (among others of note), and childhood runaway: Anton Reicha succeeded in the 18th c music world of Vienna and Paris as prolific composer, music-educator and academic scholar.  Most famously, in Paris he consciously strove to establish the new wind quintet genre—to which end he contributed an astonishing 24 Quintets.   More on Reicha in subsequent posts:   we will be following his music (and that of Franz Danzi, a contemporary) over the next few months.
Image Search:  Anton Reicha.  “Anton Reicha:  Biography-Classic Cat”. 5.4.2016


The Philidor Dynasty


                       Francois-Andre Danican Philidor

In the 17th & 18th centuries, the family Philidor served as court musicians and composers to French royalty over several generations. Their original surname, Danican, became Philidor when Louis XIII so-dubbed his oboist Michel Danican, after an Italian virtuoso named “Filidori”.  Michel was Grandad to a number of prominent musicians, among them two Philidors famous for rather divergent interests:  Anne Danican Philidor (1681 – 1728), who started the celebrated concert series Concert Spirituel (he was also an accomplished composer); and Francois-Andre Danican Philidor (1726 – 1795)—the very late younger brother of Anne Danican—who was a celeb chess master, renoun for “the Philidor defence” (opening) and “the Philidor position” (endgame).  Above is a picture of the chess master, Francois-Andre (Image search “Philidor”. 27.3.16).

This post based on “Philidor”. 30.3.2016.