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7 things you (probably) didn’t know about George Onslow

Tue Oct 14 2014

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George Onslow (the ‘French Beethoven’) was famous during his lifetime, but is relatively unknown to modern audiences. As we lead up to our performance of his first symphony, here are seven things you (probably) didn’t know about him:

1. He had an English father, Edward Onslow, and a French mother. They were rich. The fact that George’s childhood home was a château in France makes this pretty obvious.

2. After the French revolution, George’s father was jailed before being exiled from France. George made the most of the opportunity to travel Europe with him, studying with piano masters in England, Germany and Austria.

3. George Onslow’s paternal grandfather was also called George Onslow, and was the 1st Earl of Onslow. Onslow is a place in Shropshire, which is next to Wales.

4. With all the money in the family, George didn’t need critical or financial support and could publish his own pieces. His brothers ended up being painters. It’s amazing how creative a family can be when they don’t have to earn their keep.
 (In fairness, George was renowned in his home town of Clermont for his charity work, and he was very involved in the musical life of his province).

5. George married French heiress Charlotte François Delphine de Fontages, keeping all that lovely money in the family. They had three children.

6. In 1829 George was seriously injured by a bullet during a hunting trip, and was made partially deaf in one ear. He was in the middle of writing his fifteenth quintet at the time (Op.38) and named the final movements ‘Fever,’ ‘Convalescence’ and ‘Recovery’. The whole piece was then given the title ‘Bullet.’

7. George was a very popular man in his day, both with the public and with his fellow composers. In 1834 Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt played his Grand Sonata for four hands (Op. 22) at their debut in Paris. Those are some high level fans right there.


One Comment

  • Fact 8. He was taught by Czech composer Antonín Rejcha.

    Peter Herbert Thu Oct 16 2014