Andre Georges Louis Onslow (or George, as he was more commonly known) was born into a wealthy family, which allowed him to pursue his musical studies without financial worry. He studied piano and composition with some of the leading musicians of the day, including Ignaz Pleyel, Johann Baptist Cramer, and Jean-Baptiste Rey. His father was a lawyer and his mother was a pianist. His mother’s love of music had a profound influence on him, and he began composing at a young age. His first symphony was performed when he was just 16 years old.
A close friend of the composer Hector Berlioz, they often played chamber music together. Berlioz was a great admirer of Onslow’s music, and he once wrote that Onslow was “one of the most original and gifted composers of our time.” He certainly was a prolific composer and wrote over 300 works, including 13 symphonies, 10 string quartets, and 6 piano trios. He also wrote a number of operas, ballets, and choral works. He was also a talented cellist and pioneered the use of the cello in chamber music. His cello concertos are still considered to be some of the best ever written.
Characterized by its lyrical melodies, rich harmonies, and intricate counterpoint, his music is often described as being “French” in style, but it also shows the influence of other European composers. For example, his string quartets are often compared to those of Beethoven (he was sometimes referred to as “the French Beethoven”), and his piano trios are reminiscent of the works of Schubert.
In addition to his musical achievements, Onslow was also a successful businessman. He owned several estates in the Auvergne region, and he was a skilled negotiator. He was also a generous philanthropist, and he was involved in a number of charitable organizations.
A lifelong bachelor who never married, Onslow dedicated his life to music, and he was said to be a very private person. He died in Paris on October 8, 1853, at the age of 68. Although his music was largely forgotten after his death, it’s beauty and originality has been rediscovered in recent years and is now performed more frequently. This is due in part to the efforts of the Onslow Society, which was founded in 1978 to promote his music.