One of the most persistent questions that musicians ask themselves while practicing a piece is the inevitable query of how the composer himself might have performed his music. There are many written reports on how the old masters such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven may have played or improvised; and there are lines of teacher/pupil relationships which can trace their lineage back to the pianistic greats such as Liszt, but still we have to imagine the sound since we cannot actually hear it.
Even when the Symphony No. 1 debuted in 1831, it was considered old fashioned. Although it was well received, audiences that same year were also exposed to Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Old fashioned or not, Onslow’s first symphony was performed throughout Europe to generally high acclaim. There were some dissenters who felt Onslow’s themes would have been better served in chamber works using fewer musicians (Symphony No. 3 actually began as a string quintet), but other people felt Onslow moved the symphony in a new direction and his works should not be compared to the symphonies of other composers. Onslow’s symphonies are classical in structure: four movements, not straying too far from the Classical notions of harmony; however they embrace the burgeoning Romanticism of the time. Onslow’s symphonies may not be as adventurous as Symphonie fantastique or Beethoven’s Ninth, but they’re well crafted, abundantly tuneful, and often quite atmospheric and imaginative.