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.
Paris Conservatory of Music c 1900. Site of Reicha’s academic work. En.wikipedia.org; 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Reicha’s music was unpublished during his lifetime and fell into complete obscurity after his death.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