Open main menu


OSBORNE, GEORGE ALEXANDER (1806–1893), pianist and musical composer, born on 24 Sept. 1806 at Limerick, was the third son of the organist and a vicar-choral of Limerick Cathedral. From his father Osborne learnt organ-playing in early life, and to such good purpose that when barely fourteen he was able to take his father's place occasionally on the organ-bench. With no definite idea of adopting the profession of music, Osborne when about eighteen went to Brussels on a business visit to an invalid aunt. A spirited account of his journey will be found in the ‘Proceedings of the Musical Association,’ 1882–3, in a paper entitled ‘Musical Reminiscences and Coincidences.’ Osborne ultimately stayed at Brussels several years. At first he was intended for holy orders, and, with this in view, he attended the classes at Prince's classical academy. While in statu pupillari his skill as a musician attracted the attention of several prominent persons, among whom was the Prince de Chimay, an able and enthusiastic musical amateur, husband of Madame Tallien, of French Revolution fame. Osborne soon became a frequenter of the prince's château, where he met many famous people, including Georges Sand, Fétis, Cherubini, and Auber, and benefited largely by studying the music in the prince's library. There, too, he often conducted performances of his own and other compositions by the prince's private band, besides masses by Cherubini and the great masters in the chapel.

Meanwhile Osborne's theological studies were pursued with lessening interest, and when twenty years old he finally decided to adopt music as his profession. In this step he was warmly supported by the Prince de Chimay, who procured for him the appointment of instructor to the eldest son of the Prince of Orange, afterwards king of Holland. In Brussels Osborne, as chapel-master to the Prince of Orange, gave many successful concerts, at one of which he met De Bériot. With him he wrote no less than thirty-three duets for violin and pianoforte, many of which enjoyed a great vogue for a time. From the Château de Chimay, where he used to spend the autumn, Osborne frequently rode and hunted with Malibran before she became De Bériot's wife.

During the Belgian revolution of 1830 Osborne figured as a volunteer on the royalist side, and it is related that an attempt to shoot him was frustrated only by a defect in his assailant's gun. He was, however, made a prisoner, but released at the intercession of the prince. In 1831 Osborne went to Paris, where he lived for years on terms of intimacy with Cherubini, Auber, Heller, Liszt, and Ernst. With Berlioz and Chopin he was particularly well acquainted, and he has embodied his reminiscences of them, as well as some autobiographical matter, in two interesting papers read before the Musical Association on 3 Feb. 1879 and 5 April 1880 (cf. published proceedings of those dates). Osborne was one of the four pianists who played the accompaniments to Chopin's F minor concerto on the pianoforte (the composer playing the solo part) at the famous concert in Paris on 26 Feb. 1832. When Berlioz and Chopin visited England, Osborne was much with them (cf. Berlioz, Mémoires, Paris, 1870, letter 10, cap. lxi.).

Osborne while living in Paris continued his musical studies under Pixis, Fétis, Reicha, and Kalkbrenner. At the same time he wrote a large number of compositions, chiefly of a light character. But he was also the author of some chamber-music, which has been undeservedly neglected. At the beginning of 1844 Osborne quitted Paris, and settled in London (cf. Proceedings of the Musical Association, 1882–3, p. 103). He had already published his ‘La Pluie de Perles,’ which is declared to have brought him several thousands of pounds, and its popularity gained for him numerous pupils in London, where his vogue as a teacher lasted almost until his death. For some years Osborne wrote many refined drawing-room trifles, and occasionally he issued works on a more extensive scale, such as the andante and rondo written for Herr Joachim. He also played not infrequently in public, making tours of the provinces with distinguished artists (cf. Proceedings of the Musical Association, 6th session, p. 101). Osborne, although upwards of eighty years of age, made his last appearance in public at a ‘social evening of the wind-instrument chamber-music society’ on 15 Nov. 1889, when he played the pianoforte part of his quintet for wood-wind and pianoforte (Musical Times, 1889, p. 725). Osborne died at his residence, 5 Ulster Terrace, Regent's Park, London, on 17 Nov. 1893.

Osborne excelled in his performances of Bach, but many young musicians were wont to seek his advice as to the correct manner of playing Chopin. As a composer, he was by no means seen at his best in the trifles which achieved the widest popularity. A clever violoncello sonata and a serenade are musicianly works; but, in addition to chamber-music, he also wrote two operas, one of which has not been published. The other, ‘Sylvia,’ was set down for performance at Drury Lane Theatre, under the Harrison-Pyne régime, and even put in rehearsal, but it was never performed. Three orchestral overtures, one in C written for the Brighton festival of 1875, are worthy of mention. While living in Belgium Osborne was decorated by the king with the order of the Oak-Crown. He was also a member of the Philharmonic Society of London, a director of the Royal Academy of Music, and for years a prominent member of the Musical Association. He was a genial and kind friend to young musicians, and an admirable public speaker, especially when speaking extemporaneously.

[Authorities quoted in the text ; Times. 22 Nov. 1893; Musical Times, December 1893 and January 1894; private information.]

R. H. L.