There is a wood not far away from our house. Majestic oak trees, slender beeches, occasionally a birch. Towards the end of spring, the leaves form a green canopy and very little light penetrates through it. It gives the wood an eery atmosphere. It is one of the woods I imagined when my grandma told me a good-night story. It is one of the woods I imagined when I was reading the Grimms’ fairy tales or Gautier’s novel “Le Capitaine Fracasse”.
Of course there is music I relate to this wood and the magic that radiates from it. George Onslow’s Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon, op. 81. And the reason is fairly simple: too much of Johannes Brahms. Brahms has written a Clarinet Quintet and a Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn which I both like very much. A stroll through a wood inspired Brahms to write the trio. And since I heard the two pieces, the picture of a wood remains hardwired to chamber music for winds in my brain. Once I stumbled over Onslow’s quintet, I immediately fell in love with it.
Onslow most likely wrote the quintet in F major in 1850, it was published in 1852 at the latest, a year before he died. An anonymous researcher of the Palazzetto Bru Zane (Centre de musique romantique française) writes that his “quintet eschews the experiments and bold harmonic strokes of his works for strings. The four movements, concise, cast in classical forms, favour a fluid, transparent style that spotlights each instrument in turn.”
It is Romantic through and through, and as Viviane Niaux points out in a piece for Oxford Music Online it “bear[s] witness to the richness of Onslow’s musical development, which departs from Classicism and embraces a style of composition in which a surprising anticipation of the language of Brahms is apparent.” Brahms, ha! Didn’t I say that there is a musico-emotional connection? Here’s the official confirmation.
Onslow’s op. 81 has been recorded by the Ma’alot Quintet.
© Charles Thibo