A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Onslow, George
ONSLOW, George, born at Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) July 27, 1784, was a grandson of the first Lord Onslow, and descended through his mother, a de Bourdeilles, from the family of Brantôme. Although eventually a prolific composer, he showed as a child no special love for music, and the lessons he took on the piano from Hullmandel, Dussek, and Cramer, during a stay of some years in London, developed nothing beyond manual dexterity. Having returned to France, and settled in a province more famous for its scenery than for its opportunities of artistic relaxation, he associated with some amateurs who played chamber-music, and was thus induced first to study the cello, and then to compose works modelled after those which gave so much pleasure to himself and his friends. The analytical faculty, properly used, reveals to its possessor many secrets, but it neither supersedes lessons from an experienced teacher, nor can in any case supply genius. Thus Onslow, even after he had composed a considerable amount of chamber-music, felt the necessity for further instruction before attempting dramatic composition, and applied to Reicha, who was an able master so far as grammar went, but incapable of transmitting to his pupil that sacred fire which he did not possess himself. Onslow therefore proved as cold on the stage as he had done in the concert-room, and his three opéras-comiques, 'L'Alcalde de la Vega' (Aug. 10, 1824), 'Le Colporteur' (Nov. 22, 1827), and 'Le Duc de Guise' (Sept. 8, 1837), after securing successive 'succée d'estime,' disappeared, leaving the overture to 'The Colporteur,' which till lately was to be heard in concert rooms, as their only representative. His three published symphonies, though performed several times by the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, are also forgotten. A musician of respectable attainments and indefatigable industry, an accomplished gentleman, and moreover a man of fortune, he had no difficulty in finding either editors or appreciative friends, as was proved by his election in 1842 to succeed Cherubini at the Institut. Such an appointment must have been gratifying to those musicians who believe with Buffon that 'genius is nothing more than a great power of patience.' With the above reservations it must be admitted that Onslow, by the number of his works, and the elegant style of his best passages, merited the reputation he enjoyed during his life-time. He died at Clermont on Oct. 3, 1853, leaving 34 quintets and 36 quartets for strings, 6 trios for P.F., violin and cello; a sextuor (op. 30) for P.F., flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon and contrabasso, or P.F., 2 violins, viola, cello, and contrabasso; a nonetto (op. 77) for violin, viola, cello, contrabasso, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, which he also arranged (op. 77 bis) as a sextuor for P.F., flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon and contrabasso, or for P.F., 2 violins, viola, cello, and contrabasso; a septet (op. 79) for P.F., flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and contrabasso; sonatas and duos for P.F. and violin, or cello; sonatas for P.F., 4 hands, and many pieces for P.F. solo. His quintets are undoubtedly his best works, and contain much charming music. No. 15, called 'Le Quintette de la balle,' describes his emotions—the pain, the irregular beating of his pulse, and his gratitude on his recovery—consequent on an accident that happened to him at a wolf-hunt, where a spent ball hit him in the face, rendering him somewhat deaf in one ear for the rest of his life. His earlier quintets were written for 2 celli, but at a certain performance in England the 2nd cello failed to arrive, and it was proposed that Dragonetti should play the part on his doublebass. Onslow positively refused, saying the effect would be dreadful. However, after waiting gome time, he was obliged to consent, and after a few bars was delighted with the effect. After this he wrote them for cello and double-bass, and the preceding ones were then re-arranged in that way under his own inspection by Gouffé, the accomplished double-bass of the Paris Opera. Halévy pronounced his eulogium at the Institut, and printed it in his 'Souvenirs et Portraits.' D'Ortigue collected materials for his biography, but only published an abstract of them in the 'Ménestrel' (1863–64, p. 113). Fétis drew his information from these two sources, to which the reader is referred for further detail.
[ G. C. ]