As Soon as the Light
George Onslow, "Allegretto Moderato in F Sharp Minor"
It is frustrating to write about a sonata I can find only one piece of, but little of George Onslow's music is available. Onslow (1784-1853) is a name we would have known if we had lived in the first half of the nineteenth century—he was considered the successor to Beethoven. At a time when people thought music had become decadent and strange, Onslow composed in the best traditions of classicism. It may seem strange to us that the decadent and strange music that worried many then is, of course, what we know as the music of the Romantic era, which today seems neither decadent or strange: but, rather, one of the pillars of human achievement (we are talking about Schumann and Schubert, after all: Chopin and Brahms!). But in defense of people living when Romanticism was beginning and changing everything: consider what they had just lived through—the period of Beethoven, Mozart, Hyden and Handel. Who can blame them for so loving those composer's music that anything else seemed less important, less worthy.
Onslow was a British aristocrat born in France, and he lived his life there. The Albany Music Distributor's catalog writes that Onslow's music "evokes the period of the French Restoration, when the monarchy was basking in its last period of glory, when one could find members of the nobility home from exile and ambitious young political upstarts at salons."
Here is a link to a short biography of Onslow, at the site atclassical.com:
It is interesting to encounter a composer I previously knew nothing about—and to like his music. Onslow wrote symphonies, operas, chamber music, and a great deal of piano music. The piece I selected today, "Allegretto Moderato in F Sharp Minor," is, I assume, a movement from a piano sonata, though the only album that contains it does not provide the other movements. I found this piece of a piece compelling enough, however, to make it today's selection. The melody is plaintive and lovely. Here is a link to it as played by pianist Laurent Martin, from the album Onslow: Aussitot que la Lumiére (which means: "As soon as the light"):
I would be interested to hear what my readers think of this piece, and whether anyone had encountered Onslow's music before.
Many people today, when hearing the name "Onslow," might think of the British television comedy Keeping Up Appearances, not a classical composer. Keeping Up Appearances, which ran 1990-95, is still available in re-runs, and is great fun. The endearing character of Onslow, played by Geoffrey Hughes (who died in 2012), is the long-suffering brother-in-law of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced, as she tells everyone, "Bouquet") and husband to the rowdy Daisy (Onslow always has a headache). Hyacinth's attempts to pretend to be part of upper-crust British society provide the humor in the series: but the show is also about discovering a natural nobility in common folk.
I photographed "Not Forgotten," the flowers above, in the gardens south of the Mormon Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City (2006). The title is from Psalm 44:17 (KJV): "yet have we not forgotten thee."