(b Limerick, 24 Sept 1806; d London, 16 Nov 1893). Irish pianist and composer. The son of an organist and lay vicar of Limerick Cathedral, he was intended for the clergy and first studied theology. Later he learnt to play the piano, in which he was virtually self-taught. He spent the year 1825 as the guest of the Prince of Chimay in Belgium, where he came to know the Classical repertory by attending private and public concerts. He went to Paris the following year and studied the piano with J.P. Pixis and harmony and counterpoint with Fétis. Soon afterwards he perfected his piano technique under the guidance of Frédéric Kalkbrenner, and became one of the finest exponents of Kalkbrenner’s playing style in France.
Osborne rapidly became a fashionable pianist and a well-known teacher in both Paris and London. He settled in London in 1843, but made frequent trips to Paris where his patrons were drawn from the aristocracy and intellectual society, and included in particular wealthy Irishmen and Englishmen living in France. His concerts in Paris attracted the most fashionable audiences, and his friends included the most eminent musicians of the period, among them Chopin, Bériot and particularly Berlioz, who admired Osborne’s playing of Chopin’s works and consulted both Chopin and Osborne about writing for the piano. That Osborne’s fame was perhaps not commensurate with his abilities as a pianist is documented by a critic for the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris of 20 March 1842, who wrote of him as ‘the elegant, fluent, clean and not too energetic pianist whom you well know’.
Osborne’s compositions include a few dozen violin and piano duos, written in collaboration with Bériot, and numerous piano fantasias and transcriptions, mostly derived from operas by Auber, Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi. He also wrote some chamber music, including a septet, a sextet, a piano quintet, several string quartets, three piano trios and a number of songs. Two operas, several scenas, three overtures and some marches for orchestra, are all apparently lost (mentioned in Brown-StrattonBMB). Although his music is not distinguished by its invention or originality, it is well made and had popular appeal; Berlioz found his songs and trios ‘lofty in style and spacious in design’.
In London, Osborne was a member of the Philharmonic Society and was for a time its director; he was also a director of the RAM. He lectured before the Musical Association four times between 1879 and 1885; his reminiscences of Chopin, Berlioz and other musicians active in Paris in the middle of the 19th century are valuable for their biographical – and autobiographical – information and insight into the personalities of his musical friends.
BerliozM; Brown-StrattonBMB; FétisB
G.A.Osborne: ‘Musical Coincidences and Reminiscences’, PMA, ix (1882–3), 95–113
A.W.Ganz: Berlioz in London (London, 1950/R)
Osborne [Osborn], John
(b New England, c1792; d New York, 27 May 1835). American piano maker. He was one of several apprentices who learned their craft under Benjamin Crehore of Milton, Massachusetts. He is said to have served this apprenticeship during the years (c1810–14) when Crehore was associated with the Boston shop of Lewis and Alpheus Babcock and Thomas Appleton. By 1815 Osborne had set up his own shop on Newbury Street, Boston, and by 1820 had moved to Orange Street. Among his Boston apprentices were Jonas Chickering, Lemuel and Timothy Gilbert, and Ebenezer R. Currier. Osborne entered into a short-lived partnership with James Stewart in 1822, and in that year removed his shop to Boylston Square. From about 1830 until his death Osborne worked primarily in New York, although it appears that for much of that time he concurrently had business relationships in Albany, New York, first with Meacham and Pond, and then as a partner with Peter King. According to Spillane, in October 1834 Osborne moved into a large factory that he had built on Third Avenue at 14th Street.
Osborne described himself as a builder of upright, grand, square and cabinet pianos. His pianos won several awards, including the first premium at the American Institute. Of the relatively few Osborne pianos that survive, most are squares, several of which incorporate a longitudinal metal bar that was patented on 29 July 1824 by a Boston medical doctor and inventor named John Dwight. Two extant upright pianos of Osborne’s made between 1818 and 1821, with a range of six octaves (F' to f''''), are among the earliest such pianos built in America. Representative instruments are at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and at Sturbridge, Massachusetts.
R.G. Parker: A Tribute to the Life and Character of Jonas Chickering by one who Knew him Well (Boston, 1854)
H.K. Oliver: Reports and Awards of the International Exhibition, 1876 (Philadelphia, 1878)
D. Spillane: History of the American Pianoforte (New York, 1890/R)
CYNTHIA ADAMS HOOVER, DARCY KURONEN
(b Manchester, 23 June 1948). English composer. He studied composition with Leighton and serial techniques with Wellesz at Oxford (BMus 1970). His studies continued at the Warsaw Academy with Rudziński, and at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio (1970–71). While in Poland, Osborne helped establish an artistic commune and the Materials Service Corporation, a live electronic improvisation group which toured students’ and workers’ clubs. In 1978 he was appointed lecturer in music at the University of Nottingham, leaving in 1990 to become professor at the University of Edinburgh. Awards for his works include the Radio Suisse Romande Opera (1971), Gaudeamus (1973) and Radcliffe (1977) prizes.
Osborne’s compositional development has involved working through the modernism which formed his artistic background. The Concerto for flute and chamber orchestra (1980) employs seven metres, superimposed in various combinations, with seven corresponding sets of pitch relations. Such structuring reflects both the legacy of the avant garde’s concern for pre-compositional organization, and his own capacity and enthusiasm for analytical thought: ‘I don’t view music romantically, if you think about the brain, then part of its natural function is organizing and processing sound’ (Osborne). In the 1970s, he found a useful analogue to musical processes in structuralist thought. Prelude and Fugue (1975), for example, transposes into musical terms a pattern of tensions in the structure of a South American folktale. His interpretation of structuralism led to an exploration of universal ‘deep’ musical structures which he sees as common to different cultures. Osborne’s other pre-compositional interests have centred upon acoustical research, and he developed a chord-building technique derived from the overtones of the harmonic series. Zansa (1985) employs harmonies extrapolated from both harmonic and inharmonic spectra, relating the two in a manner suggesting the traditional interplay between consonance and dissonance. Albanian Nights (1991) uses the beats produced by two classical horns playing pitches close together to set the tempos and metric modulations within the piece. However, such organizational means are always put to serve concrete musical, rather than conceptual, ends; Osborne’s practical sensibility partly is further borne out by his skills in orchestration. He has increasingly sought to be part of music-making which is ‘physically and mentally liberating …, optimistic in spirit and even capable … of giving its strength to a weakened society’, allying himself with such a society in Sarajevo for clarinet, cello and piano (1994).
Ops: Hell’s Angels (chbr op, 2, D. Freeman, after O. Pinizza: Das Liebeskonzil), 1985, London, Royal Court, 6 Jan 1986; The Electrification of the Soviet Union (2, C. Raine), 1987, Glyndebourne, 5 Oct 1987; Terrible Mouth (1, H. Barker), 1991, London, Almeida, 10 July 1992
Orch: Vc Conc., 1977; Conc., fl, chbr orch, 1980; Esquisse, str, 1987; Eulogy, chbr orch, 1990; Vn Conc., 1990; The Sun of Venice, 1991; Albanian Nights, 1991; The Art of Fugue, vc, orch, 1993
Chbr and solo inst: Remembering Esenin, vc, pf, 1974; Prelude and Fugue, ens, 1975; After Night, gui, 1977; Figure/Ground, pf, 1977; Figure/Ground, pf, 1978, rev. 1979; In camera, gui, ens, 1979; Quasi una fantasia, vc, 1979; Mythologies, fl, cl, tpt, hp, vn, vc, 1980; Sonata, pf, 1981; Fantasia, ens, 1983; Wildlife, ens, 1984; Zansa, ens, 1985; Mbira, vn, pf, 1985; Lumière, str qt, 4 children’s groups, 1986; The Black Leg Miner, ens, 1987; Zone, ob, cl, str trio, 1989; Canzona, 4 tpt, hn, 4 trbn, 1990; Sarajevo, cl, pf, vc, 1994
Other vocal: Heaventree (various), SATB, 1973; Kinderkreuzzug (textless), children’s vv, ens, 1974; Chansonnier (medieval Fr. ballads), chorus, ens, 1975; Passers By, 3 vv, b rec, vc, slides, 1976; I am Goya (A. Voznesensky), B-Bar, fl, ob, vn, vc, 1977; Orlando furioso (Osborne, after Ariosto), chorus, wind, 1977; 2 Spanish Songs (trad.), S, 1977; Vienna. Zurich. Constance. (D.M. Thomas), S, vn, vc, 2 cl, perc, 1977; Madeleine de la Ste-Baume, S, db, 1979; Songs from a Bare Mountain (medieval texts), SSAA, 1979; Under the Eyes (T. Paulin), 1v, fl, ob, perc, pf, 1979; Gnostic Passion (Gnostic texts), 1980; Choralis I, vv, 1981; Choralis II, vv, 1981, rev. 1982; Cant. piccola (Raine), S, str qt, 1982; Choralis III, vv, 1982; Alba (S. Beckett), Mez, ens, 1984; Pornography (Raine), Mez, ens, 1985: see also El-ac
El-ac: Musica da camera, vn, tape delay, audience, 1975; Kerenza at the Zawn, ob, 4-track tape, 1978; Poem without a Hero (A. Akhmatova, trans. D. Thomas), S, Mez, T, B, live elecs, 1980; The Cage (J. Whiting), T, ens, live elecs, 1981; Alba (S. Beckett), Mez, ens, 1984; The Four-Loom Weaver, Mez, tape, 1985
Principal publisher: Universal
N. O’Loughlin: ‘The Music of Nigel Osborne’, MT, cxxi (1980), 307–11
P. Griffiths, ed.: New Sounds, New Personalities: British Composers of the 1980s (London, 1985)