Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for his series of 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including such enduring works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. Sullivan composed 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, eight choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous hymns and other church pieces, songs, and piano and chamber pieces. The best known of his hymns and songs include "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "The Lost Chord".
The son of a military bandmaster, Sullivan composed his first anthem at age eight. He was selected as soloist in the boys' choir of the Chapel Royal. The Reverend Thomas Helmore, the choirmaster, encouraged Sullivan and arranged for the publication and performance of his early compositions. In 1856, the Royal Academy of Music awarded the first Mendelssohn Scholarship to the 14-year-old Sullivan, allowing him to study first at the Academy and then in Germany, at the Leipzig Conservatoire. His graduation piece was a suite of incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest. When it was performed in London in 1862, it was an immediate sensation. Sullivan began his composing career with a series of ambitious works, interspersed with hymns, parlour ballads and other light pieces. Among his best received early pieces were a ballet, L'Île Enchantée (1864), and his Irish Symphony, Cello Concerto and Overture in C (In Memoriam) (all in 1866). From 1861 to 1872, he supplemented his income by working as a church organist and as a music teacher.
In 1866, Sullivan composed his first one-act comic opera, Cox and Box, which is still widely performed. His most successful orchestral work, the Overture di Ballo, premiered in 1870, and the next year he published a song cycle, among other works. Sullivan's talent and native charm earned him many friends in musical and social circles, including Queen Victoria's son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Also in 1871, Sullivan wrote his first opera with W. S. Gilbert, Thespis. The two then went their separate ways, and Sullivan produced his Festival Te Deum (1872), an oratorio, The Light of the World (1873), and other pieces, including incidental music for West End productions of several Shakespeare plays. He also had conducting and academic appointments. In 1875, however, producer Richard D'Oyly Carte reunited Gilbert and Sullivan to create a one-act piece, Trial by Jury, which became a surprise hit. Their 1878 opera H.M.S. Pinafore became an international sensation, as did The Pirates of Penzance (1879) and Patience (1881).
Carte used his profits from the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership to build the Savoy Theatre in 1881, and their joint works then became known as the Savoy operas. Later hits in the series were Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885), The Yeomen of the Guard (1888) and The Gondoliers (1889). Sullivan was knighted for his contributions to music in 1883. His infrequent serious pieces during the 1880s included two oratorios, The Martyr of Antioch (1880) and The Golden Legend (1886), his most popular choral work. Sullivan's only serious opera, Ivanhoe, though initially highly successful in 1891, was little-heard after that. Gilbert broke from Sullivan in 1890, quarrelling over expenses at the Savoy. They reunited in the 1890s for two more operas, but those did not achieve popularity. Sullivan continued to compose comic operas with other librettists and a number of other major and minor works throughout the decade. After the death of his brother Fred in 1877, Sullivan supported Fred's widow and children financially for the rest of his life, effectively adopting his nephew Bertie. Sullivan died at the age of 58, regarded as Britain's foremost composer. His comic opera style served as a model for the generations of musical theatre composers that followed, and his music is still frequently performed, recorded and pastiched.
- 1 Life and career
- 2 Personal life
- 3 Music
- 4 Reputation and criticism
- 5 Recordings
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes and references
- 8 Sources
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Life and career
Sullivan was born in Lambeth, London. His parents were Thomas Sullivan (1805–1866), a military bandmaster, clarinettist and music teacher born in Ireland and raised in Chelsea, London, and Mary Clementina (née Coghlan, 1811–1882), English born, of Irish and Italian descent. Thomas Sullivan was based from 1845 to 1857 at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where he was the bandmaster and taught music privately to supplement his income. Young Sullivan became proficient with many of the instruments in the band and had composed an anthem, "By the waters of Babylon", by the age of eight. He later recalled:
I was intensely interested in all that the band did, and learned to play every wind instrument, with which I formed not merely a passing acquaintance, but a real, life-long, intimate friendship. I gradually learned the peculiarities of each ... what it could do and what it was unable to do. I learned in the best possible way how to write for an orchestra.
Despite the boy's obvious musical talent, Thomas Sullivan knew the disappointments and insecurity of a musical career, and discouraged him from pursuing it. While studying at a private school in Bayswater, Sullivan, then aged 11, persuaded his parents and the headmaster, William Gordon Plees, to allow him to apply for membership in the choir of the Chapel Royal. Despite concerns that Sullivan at nearly 12 years of age was too old to give much service as a treble before his voice broke, he was accepted and soon became a soloist and, by 1856, was promoted to "first boy". Even at this age, Sullivan's health was delicate, and he was easily fatigued.
Sullivan flourished under the training of the Reverend Thomas Helmore, master of the choristers, and began to compose anthems and songs. Helmore encouraged the young Sullivan's composing talent and arranged for one of his pieces, "O Israel", to be published in 1855, Sullivan's first published work. Helmore also enlisted Sullivan's assistance in creating harmonisations for a volume of The Hymnal Noted and arranged for Sullivan's compositions to be performed; one of the boy's anthems was given at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace under the direction of Sir George Smart.
In 1856, the Royal Academy of Music awarded the first Mendelssohn Scholarship to the 14-year-old Sullivan, granting him a year's training at the academy.[n 1] His principal teacher there was John Goss, whose own teacher, Thomas Attwood, had been a pupil of Mozart. He studied piano with the head of the academy, William Sterndale Bennett, and with Arthur O'Leary. During this year at the Royal Academy, Sullivan continued to sing solos with the Chapel Royal, which provided a small amount of spending money.
Sullivan's scholarship was extended to a second year, and in 1858 in what the biographer Arthur Jacobs calls an "extraordinary gesture of confidence" the scholarship committee extended his grant for a third year so that he could study in Germany, at the Leipzig Conservatoire. While there, Sullivan studied composition with Julius Rietz and Carl Reinecke, counterpoint with Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Richter and the piano with Louis Plaidy and Ignaz Moscheles. He was trained in Mendelssohn's ideas and techniques but was also exposed to a variety of musical styles, including Schubert, Verdi, Bach, and Wagner. Visiting a synagogue,[n 2] he was so struck by some of the cadences and progressions of the music that thirty years later he could recall them for use in his serious opera, Ivanhoe. Originally intended to spend a year in Leipzig, Sullivan stayed there for three years.
During his years in Germany, Sullivan became friendly with the impresario Carl Rosa and the violinist Joseph Joachim. For his last year at Leipzig, his father scraped together the money for living expenses, and the conservatoire assisted by waiving its fees. Sullivan credited his Leipzig period with tremendous musical growth. His graduation piece, completed in 1861, was a set of incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Revised and expanded, it was performed at the Crystal Palace in 1862, a year after his return to London, and was an immediate sensation. He began building a reputation as England's most promising young composer.
Sullivan embarked on his composing career with a series of ambitious works, interspersed with hymns, parlour songs and other light pieces in a more commercial vein. His compositions were not enough to support him financially, and from 1861 to 1872 he supplemented his income by working as a church organist, which he enjoyed, and as a music teacher, sometimes at the Crystal Palace School, which he hated and gave up as soon as he could.[n 3] Sullivan had an early chance to compose several pieces for royalty, in connection with the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 1863.
Sullivan's long association with works for the voice began with The Masque at Kenilworth (Birmingham Festival, 1864). During a spell as organist at Covent Garden, he composed his first ballet, L'Île Enchantée (1864), and had his first experience of opera, which was directed there by Michael Costa. In 1866, he premiered his Irish Symphony and Cello Concerto, his only works in each such genre. In the same year, his Overture in C (In Memoriam), commemorating the recent death of his father, was a commission from the Norwich Festival. During his lifetime, it achieved considerable popularity. In 1867, his overture Marmion was premiered by the Philharmonic Society. The Times called it "another step in advance on the part of the only composer of any remarkable promise that just at present we can boast."
In the autumn of 1867, Sullivan travelled with George Grove to Vienna, in search of neglected manuscript scores by Schubert. They found and copied several and were particularly excited about their final discovery, which Grove described thus: "I found, at the bottom of the cupboard and in its farthest corner, a bundle of music books two feet high, carefully tied round, and black with the undisturbed dust of nearly half-a-century. ... There were the part books of the whole of the music in Rosamunde, tied up after the second performance, in December 1823, and probably never disturbed since. Dr. Schneider [curator] must have been amused at our excitement ... at any rate, he kindly overlooked it, and gave us permission to ... copy what we wanted."
Sullivan's first attempt at opera, The Sapphire Necklace (1863–64) to a libretto by Henry F. Chorley, was not produced and is now lost, except for the overture and two songs from the work, which were separately published. His first surviving opera, Cox and Box (1866), was originally written for a private performance. It then received charity performances in London and Manchester, and was later produced at the Gallery of Illustration, where it ran for an extraordinary 264 performances. W. S. Gilbert, writing in Fun magazine, pronounced the score superior to F. C. Burnand's libretto. The first Sullivan-Burnand collaboration led to a commission by Thomas German Reed for a two-act opera, The Contrabandista (1867; revised and expanded as The Chieftain in 1894), but it did not do as well. Sullivan wrote a group of seven part songs in 1868, the best-known of which is "The Long Day Closes". Sullivan's last major work of the 1860s was a short oratorio, The Prodigal Son, premiered in Worcester Cathedral as part of the 1869 Three Choirs Festival to much praise.
1870s; first collaborations with Gilbert
Sullivan's most successful orchestral work, the Overture di Ballo, was composed for the Birmingham Festival in 1870.[n 4] 1871 was a busy year for Sullivan. He published his only song cycle, The Window; or, The Songs of the Wrens (1871), to words by Tennyson. In the same year, he wrote the first of a series of suites of incidental music for West End productions of Shakespeare plays.[n 5] Still in 1871, Sullivan composed a dramatic cantata, On Shore and Sea, for the opening of the London International Exhibition and the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers, with words by Sabine Baring-Gould. The Salvation Army adopted the latter as its favoured processional, and it became Sullivan's most enduring hymn.
At the end of 1871, the impresario John Hollingshead commissioned Sullivan to work with W. S. Gilbert to create the burlesque-style comic opera Thespis for the Gaiety Theatre.[n 6] Conceived as a Christmas entertainment, it ran through to Easter 1872, a good run for such a piece.[n 7] After Thespis, Gilbert and Sullivan went their separate ways until they collaborated on three parlour ballads in late 1874 and early 1875.
Sullivan's large-scale works of the early 1870s were the Festival Te Deum (Crystal Palace, 1872); and the oratorio, The Light of the World (Birmingham Festival, 1873). He provided suites of incidental music for a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Gaiety in 1874 and Henry VIII at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in 1877. He continued to compose hymns throughout the decade.[n 8] In 1873, Sullivan contributed songs to Burnand's Christmas "drawing room extravaganza", The Miller and His Man.
In 1875, the manager of the Royalty Theatre, Richard D'Oyly Carte, needed a short piece to fill out a bill with Offenbach's La Périchole. Carte had conducted Sullivan's Cox and Box.[n 9] Remembering Thespis, Carte reunited Gilbert and Sullivan, and the result was the one-act comic opera Trial by Jury.[n 10] Trial, starring Sullivan's brother Fred as the Learned Judge, became a surprise hit, earning glowing praise from the critics and playing for 300 performances over its first few seasons. The Daily Telegraph commented that the piece illustrated the composer's "great capacity for dramatic writing of the lighter class", and other reviews emphasised the felicitous combination of Gilbert's words and Sullivan's music. One wrote, "it seems, as in the great Wagnerian operas, as though poem and music had proceeded simultaneously from one and the same brain." Soon after the opening of Trial, Sullivan wrote The Zoo, another one-act comic opera, with a libretto by B. C. Stephenson. But the latter work had only a few short runs, and for the next 15 years, Sullivan's sole operatic collaborator was Gilbert; the two created an additional 12 operas together.
Sullivan also turned out more than 80 popular songs and parlour ballads, most of them written before the end of the 1870s. His first popular song was "Orpheus with his Lute" (1866), and a well-received part song was "Oh! hush thee, my babie" (1867). The best known of his songs is "The Lost Chord" (1877, lyrics by Adelaide Anne Procter), written in sorrow at the death of his brother Frederic. The sheet music for his best received songs sold in large numbers, and were an important part of his income; many of them were adapted as dance pieces.
In this decade, Sullivan's conducting appointments included the Glasgow Choral Union concerts, 1875–77 and the Royal Aquarium, London, 1876. In addition to his appointment as Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, of which he was a Fellow, he was appointed as the first Principal of the National Training School for Music in 1876. He accepted the latter post reluctantly, fearing that discharging the duties thoroughly would leave too little time for composing. In this he was correct, as his successor Hubert Parry also discovered. Sullivan was not effective in the post, and resigned in 1881.[n 11]
Sullivan's next collaboration with Gilbert, The Sorcerer (1877), ran for 178 performances, a success by the standards of the day, but H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), which followed it, turned Gilbert and Sullivan into an international phenomenon. The bright and cheerful music of Pinafore was composed during a time when Sullivan suffered from excruciating pain from a kidney stone. Pinafore ran for 571 performances in London, and more than 100 unauthorised productions were quickly mounted in America alone.[n 12] Among other favourable reviews, The Times noted that the opera was an early attempt at the establishment of a "national musical stage" ... free from risqué French "improprieties" and without the "aid" of Italian and German musical models. The Times and several of the other papers agreed, however, that while the piece was entertaining, Sullivan was capable of higher art, and frivolous light opera would hold him back. This criticism would follow Sullivan throughout his career.
In 1879, Sullivan suggested to a reporter from The New York Times the secret of his success with Gilbert: "His ideas are as suggestive for music as they are quaint and laughable. His numbers ... always give me musical ideas." Pinafore was followed by The Pirates of Penzance in 1879, another international success, which opened in New York and then ran in London for 363 performances.
In 1880, Sullivan was appointed director of the triennial Leeds Music Festival. For his first festival he was commissioned to write a sacred choral work. He chose Henry Hart Milman's 1822 dramatic poem based on the life and death of Saint Margaret the Virgin for its basis. Gilbert adapted the libretto for Sullivan, abridging it, rearranging sections, reassigning lines, and making a few additions of his own. The Martyr of Antioch premiered in October 1880. Sullivan was not a showy conductor, and some thought him dull and old fashioned on the podium,[n 13] but his composition had an enthusiastic reception and was frequently revived. A grateful Sullivan presented his collaborator with an engraved silver cup inscribed "W.S. Gilbert from his friend Arthur Sullivan."[n 14]
After the run of The Pirates of Penzance, Carte opened the next Gilbert and Sullivan piece, Patience, in April 1881 at London's Opera Comique, where their past three operas had played. In October, Patience transferred to the new, larger, state-of-the-art Savoy Theatre, built with the profits of the previous Gilbert and Sullivan works. The rest of the partnership's collaborations were produced at the Savoy, as a result of which they are widely known as the "Savoy Operas". Iolanthe (1882), Gilbert and Sullivan's fourth hit in a row, was the first of the operas to premiere at the new theatre. Sullivan, despite the financial security of writing for the Savoy, increasingly viewed his work with Gilbert as unimportant, beneath his skills, and also repetitious. After Iolanthe, Sullivan had not intended to write a new work with Gilbert, but he suffered a serious financial loss when his broker went bankrupt in November 1882. Therefore, he concluded that his financial needs required him to continue writing Savoy operas. In February 1883, he signed a five-year agreement with Gilbert and Carte, requiring him to produce a new comic opera on six months' notice.
On 22 May 1883, Sullivan was knighted by Queen Victoria. Although the operas with Gilbert had earned him the broadest fame, the honour was conferred for his services to serious music. The musical establishment, and many critics, believed that this should put an end to his career as a composer of comic opera – that a musical knight should not stoop below oratorio or grand opera. Having just signed the five-year agreement, Sullivan suddenly felt trapped. In mid-December, he bade farewell to his sister-in-law Charlotte, Fred's widow, who emigrated with her young family to America. Sullivan's oldest nephew, Herbert, stayed behind in England as his uncle's ward. The next opera, Princess Ida (1884, the duo's only three-act, blank verse work), had a noticeably shorter run than its four predecessors, although Sullivan's score was praised. With box office receipts lagging in March 1884, Carte gave the six months' notice for a new opera required under the partnership contract. Sullivan's close friend, the composer Frederic Clay, had suffered a serious stroke in early December 1883 that effectively ended his career at the age of 45. Sullivan, reflecting on this, on his own longstanding kidney problems, and on his desire to devote himself to more serious music, replied to Carte, "[I]t is impossible for me to do another piece of the character of those already written by Gilbert and myself."
Gilbert had already started work on a new opera involving a plot in which people fell in love against their wills after taking a magic lozenge. The composer wrote, on 1 April 1884 that he had "come to the end of my tether" with the operas: "I have been continually keeping down the music in order that not one [syllable] should be lost. ... I should like to set a story of human interest & probability where the humorous words would come in a humorous (not serious) situation, & where, if the situation were a tender or dramatic one the words would be of similar character." In a lengthy exchange of correspondence, Sullivan pronounced Gilbert's plot sketch (particularly the "lozenge" element) unacceptably mechanical, and too similar in both its grotesque "elements of topsyturveydom" and in actual plot to their earlier work, especially The Sorcerer,[n 15] and repeatedly requested that Gilbert find a new subject. The impasse was finally resolved on 8 May when Gilbert proposed a plot that did not depend on any supernatural device. The result was Gilbert and Sullivan's most successful work, The Mikado (1885). The piece ran for 672 performances, which was the second-longest run for any work of musical theatre, and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece, up to that time.[n 16]
In 1886, Sullivan composed his second and last large-scale choral work of the decade. It was a cantata for the Leeds Festival, The Golden Legend, based on Longfellow's poem of the same name. Apart from the comic operas, this proved to be Sullivan's best received full-length work. It was given hundreds of performances during his lifetime, and at one point he declared a moratorium on its presentation, fearing that it would become over-exposed Only Handel's Messiah was performed more often in Britain in the 1880s and 90s. It remained in the repertory until about the 1920s, but since then it has been seldom performed, although it received its first professional recording in 2001. The musical scholar and conductor David Russell Hulme writes that the work influenced Elgar and Walton.[n 17]
Ruddigore followed The Mikado at the Savoy in 1887. It ran profitably for nine months but was disappointing compared with most of the earlier Savoy operas. For their next piece, Gilbert submitted another version of the magic lozenge plot; Sullivan immediately rejected it. Gilbert finally proposed a comparatively serious opera, to which Sullivan agreed. Although it was not a grand opera, The Yeomen of the Guard (1888) provided him with the opportunity to compose his most ambitious stage work to date. As early as 1883, Sullivan had been under pressure from the musical establishment to write a grand opera. In 1885, he told an interviewer, ""The opera of the future is a compromise [among the French, German and Italian schools] – a sort of eclectic school, a selection of the merits of each one. I myself will make an attempt to produce a grand opera of this new school. ... Yes, it will be an historical work, and it is the dream of my life.” After The Yeomen of the Guard opened, Sullivan turned once again to Shakespeare, composing incidental music for Henry Irving's production of Macbeth (1888).
Sullivan wished to produce further serious works with Gilbert. He had collaborated with no other librettist since 1875. But Gilbert felt that the reaction to The Yeomen of the Guard had "not been so convincing as to warrant us in assuming that the public want something more earnest still." He proposed instead that Sullivan should go ahead with his plan to write a grand opera, but should continue also to compose comic works for the Savoy.[n 18] Sullivan was not immediately persuaded. He replied, "I have lost the liking for writing comic opera, and entertain very grave doubts as to my power of doing it."[n 19] Nevertheless, a compromise was reached: Sullivan commissioned a grand opera libretto from Julian Sturgis (who was recommended by Gilbert), while suggesting to Gilbert that he revive an old idea for an opera set in colourful Venice. The comic opera was completed first: The Gondoliers (1889) was a piece described by Hughes as a pinnacle of Sullivan's achievement. It was the last great Gilbert and Sullivan success.
The relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan suffered its most serious breach in April 1890, during the run of The Gondoliers, when Gilbert objected to Carte's financial accounts for the production, including a charge to the partnership for the cost of new carpeting for the Savoy Theatre lobby. Gilbert believed that this was a maintenance expense that should be charged to Carte alone. Carte was building a new theatre to present Sullivan's forthcoming grand opera, and Sullivan sided with Carte, going so far as to testify erroneously as to certain old debts. Gilbert took legal action against Carte and Sullivan and vowed to write no more for the Savoy, and so the partnership came to an acrimonious end. Sullivan wrote to Gilbert in September 1890 that he was "physically and mentally ill over this wretched business. I have not yet got over the shock of seeing our names coupled ... in hostile antagonism over a few miserable pounds".
Sullivan's only grand opera, Ivanhoe, based on Walter Scott's novel, opened at Carte's new Royal English Opera House on 31 January 1891. Sullivan completed the score too late to meet Carte's planned production date, and costs mounted as the producer had to pay performers, crew and others, while the theatre sat empty. Sullivan was required to pay Carte a contractual penalty of £3,000 for his delay. The production lasted for 155 consecutive performances, an unprecedented run for a serious opera, and earned good notices for its music. Afterwards, Carte was unable to fill the new opera house with other opera productions, however, and Ivanhoe was blamed for the failure of the opera house. The opera passed into obscurity after a touring revival in 1894–95. The episode was, as the critic Herman Klein observed, "the strangest comingling of success and failure ever chronicled in the history of British lyric enterprise!" Sullivan did not seriously consider writing grand opera again. Later in 1891, Sullivan composed music for Tennyson's The Foresters, which ran well at Daly's Theatre in New York in 1892, but failed in London the following year.[n 20]
Sullivan returned to comic opera, but because of the fracture with Gilbert, he and Carte sought other collaborators. Sullivan's next piece was Haddon Hall (1892), with a libretto by Sydney Grundy based loosely on the historical elopement of Dorothy Vernon with John Manners. Although still comic, the tone and style of the work was considerably more serious and romantic than most of the operas with Gilbert. It enjoyed a modest popularity, running for 204 performances, and earned critical praise. In 1895, Sullivan once more provided incidental music for the Lyceum, this time for J. Comyns Carr's King Arthur.
The partnership with Gilbert had been so profitable that, after the financial failure of the Royal English Opera House, Carte and his wife sought to reunite the author and composer, eventually succeeding with the help of Tom Chappell, their music publisher. Their next opera, Utopia Limited (1893), ran for 245 performances, barely covering the expenses of the lavish production. Sullivan came to disapprove of the leading lady, Nancy McIntosh, and refused to write another piece featuring her, while Gilbert insisted that she must appear in his next opera. Instead, Sullivan teamed up again with his old partner, F. C. Burnand. The Chieftain (1894), a heavily-revised version of their earlier two-act opera, The Contrabandista, flopped. Gilbert and Sullivan reunited one more time, after McIntosh announced her retirement from the stage, for The Grand Duke (1896). This also failed, and Sullivan never worked with Gilbert again, although their operas continued to be revived with success at the Savoy.
In May 1897, Sullivan's full-length ballet, Victoria and Merrie England, opened at the Alhambra Theatre to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The work's seven scenes celebrate English history and culture, with the Victorian period as the grand finale. Its six-month run was considered a great achievement. The Beauty Stone (1898), with a libretto by Arthur Wing Pinero and J. Comyns Carr was based on mediaeval morality plays. The collaboration did not go particularly well: Sullivan wrote that Pinero and Comyns Carr were "gifted and brilliant men, with no experience in writing for music", and, when he asked for alterations to improve the structure, they refused. Sullivan's score, moreover, was too serious for the Savoy audiences' tastes. The opera was both a critical failure and did not attract a following, running for only seven weeks.
In 1899, to benefit "the wives and children of soldiers and sailors" on active service in the Boer War, Sullivan composed the music of a jingoistic song, "The Absent-Minded Beggar", to a text by Rudyard Kipling, which became an instant sensation and raised an unprecedented £250,000 from performances and the sale of sheet music and related merchandise. In The Rose of Persia (1899), Sullivan returned to his comic roots, writing to a libretto by Basil Hood that combined an exotic Arabian Nights setting with plot elements of The Mikado. Sullivan's tuneful score was well received, and the opera proved to be his most successful full-length collaboration apart from those with Gilbert. Another opera with Hood, The Emerald Isle, quickly went into preparation, but Sullivan died before it could be completed.
Death, honours and legacy
Having suffered from long-standing recurrent kidney disease that made it necessary, from the 1880s, for him to conduct sitting down, Sullivan died of heart failure, following an attack of bronchitis, at his flat in London on 22 November 1900. His unfinished opera, The Emerald Isle, was completed by Edward German and produced in 1901. His Te Deum Laudamus, written to commemorate the end of the Boer War, was performed posthumously.
A monument in the composer's memory featuring a weeping Muse was erected in the Victoria Embankment Gardens in London and is inscribed with Gilbert's words from The Yeomen of the Guard: "Is life a boon? If so, it must befall that Death, whene'er he call, must call too soon". Sullivan wished to be buried in Brompton Cemetery with his parents and brother, but by order of the Queen he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. In addition to his knighthood, honours awarded to Sullivan in his lifetime included Doctor in Music, honoris causa, by the Universities of Cambridge (1876) and Oxford (1879); Chevalier, Légion d'honneur, France (1878); The Order of the Medjidieh conferred by the Sultan of Turkey (1888); and appointment as a Member of the Fourth Class of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) on 30 June 1897.
In all, Sullivan's artistic output included 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, eight choral works and oratorios, two ballets, one song cycle, incidental music to several plays, numerous hymns and other church pieces, and a large body of songs, parlour ballads, part songs, carols, and piano and chamber pieces. Sullivan's operas have often been adapted, first in the 19th century as dance pieces and in foreign adaptations of the operas themselves. Since then, his music has been made into ballets (see Pineapple Poll (1951) and Pirates of Penzance - The Ballet! (1991)) and musicals (The Swing Mikado (1938), The Hot Mikado (1939) and Hot Mikado (1986), Hollywood Pinafore (1945), The Black Mikado (1975), etc.). They are not only frequently performed, but also frequently parodied, pastiched, quoted and imitated in comedy routines, film, television, advertising and other popular media. His legacy, apart from writing the Savoy operas and his other works, is felt perhaps most strongly today through his influence on the American and British musical theatre. The innovations in content and form of the works that he and Gilbert developed directly influenced the development of the modern musical throughout the 20th century. In addition, biographies and scholarly articles and analyses continue to be written about Sullivan's life and work.
Sullivan never married, but the handsome composer had serious love affairs with several women.[n 21] The first was with Rachel Scott Russell (1845–1882), the daughter of the engineer John Scott Russell. Sullivan was a frequent visitor at the Scott Russell home in the mid-1860s, and by 1865 the affair was in full bloom. Rachel's parents did not approve of a possible union to a young composer with uncertain financial prospects, but the two continued to see each other covertly. At some point in 1868, Sullivan started a simultaneous (and secret) affair with Rachel's sister Louise (1841–1878). Both relationships had ceased by early 1869.
Sullivan's longest love affair was with the American socialite, Mary Frances ("Fanny") Ronalds née Carter, a woman three years Sullivan's senior, who had two children. He met her in Paris around 1867, and the affair began in earnest soon after she moved to London permanently in 1871. A contemporary account described Fanny Ronalds this way: "Her face was perfectly divine in its loveliness, her features small and exquisitely regular. Her hair was a dark shade of brown – châtain foncé [deep chestnut] – and very abundant ... a lovely woman, with the most generous smile one could possibly imagine, and the most beautiful teeth." Sullivan called her "the best amateur singer in London". She often performed Sullivan's songs at her famous Sunday soirees. She became particularly associated with "The Lost Chord", singing it both in private and in public, often with Sullivan accompanying her. When Sullivan died, he left her the autograph manuscript of that song, along with other bequests.
Ronalds was separated from her American husband, but she was never divorced. Social conventions of the time compelled Sullivan and Ronalds to keep their relationship private. In his diary, he would refer to her as "Mrs. Ronalds" when he saw her in a public setting, but "L. W." (for "Little Woman") or "D. H." (possibly "Dear Heart") when they were alone together, often with a number in parentheses indicating the number of sexual acts completed. It is thought that Ronalds was pregnant on at least two occasions, and she apparently procured an abortion in 1882 and again in 1884. Sullivan had a roving eye, and his diary records the occasional quarrel when Ronalds discovered his other liaisons, but he always returned to her.[n 22] She was a constant companion up to the time of Sullivan's death, but around 1889 or 1890, the sexual relationship seems to have ended. He started to refer to her in the diary as "Auntie", and the tick marks indicating sexual activity were no longer there, although similar notation continued to be used for his relationships with other women who have not been identified, and who were always referred to by their initials.
Leisure and family life
Sullivan loved to spend time in France (both in Paris and the south of France), where his friends ranged from Princess Marie-Amélie of Orleans to the composer Claude Debussy, and where the casinos enabled him to indulge his passion for gambling. He enjoyed hosting private entertainments at his home, often featuring famous singers and well-known actors. In 1865 he was initiated into Freemasonry and was Grand Organist of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1887 during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Sullivan's talent and native charm gained him the friendship of many not only in the musical establishment, such as Grove, Chorley, and Herman Klein, but also in society circles, such as Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Sullivan enjoyed playing tennis although, according to George Grossmith, "I have seen some bad lawn-tennis players in my time, but I never saw anyone so bad as Arthur Sullivan".
Sullivan was devoted to his parents, particularly his mother, with whom he corresponded regularly when away from London, until her death in 1882. Henry Lytton wrote, "I believe there was never a more affectionate tie than that which existed between [Sullivan] and his mother, a very witty old lady, and one who took an exceptional pride in her son's accomplishments. Sullivan was also very fond of his brother Fred, whose acting career he assisted whenever possible,[n 23] and of Fred's children. When Fred died at the age of 39, he left his pregnant wife, Charlotte, with seven children under the age of 14. After Fred's death, Arthur visited the family often and became guardian to all of the children.
In 1883, Charlotte and six of her children emigrated to Los Angeles, California, leaving the oldest boy, "Bertie", in Sullivan's sole care. Despite his reservations about the move to America, Sullivan paid all the costs and continued to give substantial financial support to the family. Only a year after moving to Los Angeles, in January 1885, Charlotte died, leaving the six children to be raised mostly by her brother and the older girls. From June to August 1885, after The Mikado premiered, Sullivan visited the family in Los Angeles and took them on a sightseeing trip of the American west. He continued, throughout the rest of his life, and in his will, to take good care of Fred's children, continuing to correspond with them and to be concerned with their education, marriages and financial affairs. Bertie stayed with his uncle Arthur for the rest of the composer's life.
Three of Sullivan's cousins, the daughters of his uncle John Thomas Sullivan, performed with D'Oyly Carte: Rose, Jane ("Jennie") and Kate Sullivan, the first two of whom used the stage surname Hervey. Kate was a chorister who defected to the Comedy Opera Company's rival production of H.M.S. Pinafore where she had the opportunity to play Josephine in 1879. Jennie was a D'Oyly Carte chorister for fourteen years. Rose took principal roles in many of the companion pieces that played with the Savoy operas.
Method and text setting
Sullivan told an interviewer, Arthur Lawrence, "I don't use the piano in composition – that would limit me terribly". Sullivan explained that his process of composition was not to wait for inspiration like "a miner seated at the top of a shaft", waiting for "the coal to come bubbling up to the surface. ... He has to dig for it. ... The first thing I have to decide upon is the rhythm, and I decide on that before I come to the question of melody. The notes must come afterwards. ... I mark out the metre in dots and dashes, and not until I have quite settled on the rhythm do I proceed to actual notation." Sullivan's text setting, compared with that of his 19th century English predecessors or his European contemporaries, was "vastly more sensitive. ... Sullivan's operatic style attempts to create for itself a uniquely English text-music synthesis", and, in addition, by adopting a conservative musical style, he was able to achieve "the clarity to match Gilbert's finely honed wit with musical wit of his own."
In composing the Savoy operas, Sullivan wrote the vocal lines of the musical numbers first, and these were given to the actors. He, or an assistant, improvised a piano accompaniment at the early rehearsals; he wrote the orchestrations later, after he had seen what Gilbert's stage business would be. He left the overtures until last and often delegated their composition, based on his outlines, to his assistants, often adding his suggestions or corrections. Those Sullivan wrote himself include Thespis, Iolanthe, Princess Ida, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Gondoliers, The Grand Duke and probably Utopia Limited. Most of the overtures are structured as a potpourri of tunes from the operas in three sections: fast, slow and fast. Those for Iolanthe and The Yeomen of the Guard are written in a modified sonata form. The overtures from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas remain popular, and there are many recordings of them. Sullivan invariably conducted the operas on their opening nights.
In 1957, a review in The Times gave this rationale for "the continued vitality of the Savoy operas":
- "[T]hey were never really contemporary in their idiom. ... Gilbert and Sullivan's [world was] an artificial world, with a neatly controlled and shapely precision. ... For this, each partner has his share of credit. The neat articulation of incredibilities in Gilbert's plots is perfectly matched by his language.... [Of] equal importance ... Gilbert's lyrics almost invariably take on extra point and sparkle when set to Sullivan's music. ... Sullivan's tunes, in these operas, also exist in a make-believe world of their own. ... [He is] a delicate wit, whose airs have a precision, a neatness, a grace, and a flowing melody".
Melody and rhythm
The Musical Times noted that Sullivan's tunes, at least in the comic operas, appeal to the professional as much as to the layman: his continental contemporaries such as Debussy, Leoncavallo and Saint-Saëns held the Savoy operas in high regard. Hughes writes, "When Sullivan wrote what we call 'a good tune' it was nearly always 'good music' as well. Outside the ranks of the giants there are few other composers of whom the same could be said." Sullivan told Lawrence that his melodies sprang from rhythm, although some of his themes may have been prompted by his chosen instrumentation or his harmonic techniques.
In the comic operas, where many numbers were in verse-plus-refrain form, Sullivan frequently was required to produce two climaxes in the melodic line. Hughes instances "If you go in" (Iolanthe) as a good example. In Hughes's view, though most of the tunes in the Savoy operas are good ones, Sullivan rarely reached the same class of excellence elsewhere when he had no librettist to feed his imagination. Even so, on those occasions when Gilbert wrote in unvaried metre, Sullivan often followed suit and produced phrases of simple repetition, such as "Love is a plaintive song" (Patience) and "A man who would woo a fair maid" (The Yeomen of the Guard).
Sullivan's deliberate echoes of other composers are covered below under "Musical Quotations", but other echoes may not have been conscious: Hughes cites the concluding bars of "Tell a tale of cock and bull" from The Yeomen of the Guard as an example of Handel's influence, and another critic, Edward Greenfield, found a theme in the slow movement of the Irish Symphony "an outrageous crib" from Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.
Harmony and counterpoint
Sullivan was trained in the classical style, and contemporary music did not greatly attract him. Harmonically his early works used the conventional formulae of Auber, Donizetti, Balfe and Schubert. Later he drew on Gounod and Bizet. Mendelssohn's influence, conspicuous in early works, appears intermittently in later ones. As a contemporary writer observed, Sullivan draws on these various influences while remaining recognisably himself.
In general, Sullivan preferred to write in major keys. In the Savoy operas, there are only eleven substantial numbers wholly in a minor key (less than 5% of the musical numbers), and even in his serious works the major prevails. Examples of Sullivan's rare excursions into minor keys include the long E minor melody in the first movement of the Irish Symphony, "Go away, madam" in the Act I finale of Iolanthe (echoing Verdi and Beethoven) and the funeral march in the Act I finale of The Yeomen of the Guard.
Both Hughes and Jacobs in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians comment adversely on Sullivan's over-use of tonic pedals, usually in the bass, which Hughes attributes to "lack of enterprise or even downright laziness". Another Sullivan trademark criticised by Hughes is the excessive use of the chord of the augmented fourth at moments of pathos. In his serious works, Sullivan attempted to avoid harmonic devices associated with the Savoy operas, with the result, according to Hughes, that The Golden Legend is a "hotch-potch of harmonic styles". The same writer comments that harmonic contrast in the Savoy works is enhanced by Sullivan's characteristic modulation between keys, as in "Expressive glances" (Princess Ida), where he smoothly negotiates E major, C sharp minor and C major, or "Then one of us will be a queen" (The Gondoliers), where he writes in F major, D flat major and D minor.
Though generally conservative in his harmony, Sullivan was happy on occasion to use chords traditionally considered technically incorrect. When reproached for using consecutive fifths in Cox and Box, he replied "if 5ths turn up it doesn't matter, so long as there is no offence to the ear." In the field of harmony, Hughes writes, Sullivan remained an eclectic: "He had easily recognisable habits but his style never achieved individuality".
Despite his thorough academic contrapuntal training in London and Leipzig, as well as his experience as a church organist, Sullivan rarely composed fugues. Hughes cites examples from the Epilogue to The Golden Legend and Victoria and Merrie England. In the Savoy operas, fugal style is reserved for making fun of legal solemnity in Trial by Jury and Iolanthe (it is the Lord Chancellor's leitmotif in the latter). Less formal counterpoint is employed in numbers such as "Brightly Dawns our Wedding Day" (The Mikado) and "When the Buds are Blossoming" (Ruddigore).
Sullivan's best known contrapuntal device was "the simultaneous presentation of two or more distinct melodies previously heard independently". He was not the first composer to combine themes in this way, but it became a characteristic feature of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Sometimes the melodies were for solo voices, as in "Once more the face I loved so well" (The Zoo), and "I am so proud" (The Mikado), which combines three melodic lines; other examples are in choruses, where typically a graceful tune for the ladies is combined with a robust one for the men. Examples include "When the Foeman bares his steel" (The Pirates of Penzance), "Gaily tripping" (H.M.S. Pinafore), "In a doleful train" (Patience), "Welcome, gentry" (Ruddigore), and "Night has spread her pall once more" (The Yeomen of the Guard). At other times, notably in "How beautifully blue the sky" (The Pirates of Penzance), one theme is given to the chorus and the other to solo voices.
Gervase Hughes concludes his chapter on Sullivan's orchestration: "in this vitally important sector of the composer's art he deserves to rank as a master." Sullivan was a competent player of at least four orchestral instruments (flute, clarinet, trumpet and trombone) and a technically highly skilled orchestrator.[n 24] Though sometimes inclined to indulge in grandiosity when writing for a full symphony orchestra, he was adept in using smaller forces to the maximum effect. Percy Young writes that orchestral players generally like playing Sullivan's music: "Sullivan never asked his players to do what was either uncongenial or impracticable."
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Sullivan's orchestra for the Savoy Operas was typical of any other pit orchestra of his era: 2 flutes (+ piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion and strings. According to Geoffrey Toye, the number of players in the Savoy orchestra was originally 31. Sullivan argued hard for an increase in the pit orchestra's size, and starting with The Yeomen of the Guard, the orchestra was augmented with a second bassoon and a bass trombone. Sullivan generally orchestrated each score at almost the last moment, noting that the accompaniment for an opera had to wait until he saw the staging, so that he could judge how heavily or lightly to orchestrate each part of the music. For his large-scale orchestral pieces, Sullivan added a second oboe part, sometimes double bassoon and bass clarinet, more horns, trumpets, tuba, and sometimes an organ and/or a harp. Many of these pieces used very large orchestras.
One of the most recognisable features in Sullivan's orchestration is his woodwind scoring. Hughes especially notes Sullivan's clarinet writing, exploiting all registers and colours of the instrument, and his particular fondness for oboe solos. For instance, the Irish Symphony contains two long solo oboe passages in succession, and in the Savoy operas there are many shorter examples. In the operas, and also in concert works, another characteristic Sullivan touch is his fondness for pizzicato passages for all the string sections. Most of the operas have at least one number that Hughes calls "virtually a pizzicato ostinato"; he instances "Kind sir, you cannot have the heart" (The Gondoliers), "Free from his fetters grim" (The Yeomen of the Guard) and "In vain to us you plead" (Iolanthe).
Musical quotations and parodies
Sullivan often quoted or imitated famous themes and passages from well-known tunes or parodied the styles of famous composers, such as Schubert, Donizetti, Bellini, Gounod and Mendelssohn. He also liked to evoke familiar musical styles, such as his madrigals in The Mikado, Ruddigore and The Yeomen of the Guard, glees in H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado and gavottes in Ruddigore and The Gondoliers. In The Sorcerer, there is a country dance and folksy duet between the men and women's chorus in "If you'll marry me". In Ruddigore, the sailor character dances a hornpipe, while in The Mikado, Sullivan quotes a Japanese war song in "Miya Sama". Sullivan's 1882 trip to Egypt inspired musical styles in his later opera, The Rose of Persia. Of the sextette "I hear the soft note" in Patience, Sullivan said to the singers, "I think you will like this. It is Dr. Arne and Purcell at their best."
In early pieces, in addition to his reflection of Mendelssohn (for example in his incidental music for The Tempest), Sullivan imitated Auber in his Henry VIII music and Gounod in The Light of the World. In his comic operas, Sullivan followed Offenbach's lead in parodying the idioms of French and Italian opera, such as those of Donizetti, Verdi and Bellini. His music also shows the influence of Handel, Schubert and, conspicuously in the fairy music in Iolanthe, Mendelssohn. The then-popular composer Michael Balfe is parodied in The Sorcerer and The Pirates of Penzance, and "Twenty Love Sick Maidens" imitates William Vincent Wallace's "Alas Those Chimes" from Maritana. The sextet "A Nice Dilemma" in Trial by Jury parodies "D'un pensiero" in Bellini's La sonnambula.
Other examples of opera parody include Mabel's aria "Poor Wand'ring One" in The Pirates of Penzance and the duet "Who are you, sir?" from Cox and Box. In H.M.S. Pinafore, the whispered plans for elopement in "This very night" parody the conspirators' choruses in Verdi's Il trovatore and Rigoletto, and the octet, "Farewell, my own," evokes the ensemble "Mag der Himmel euch vergeben" in Flotow's Martha and such concerted numbers as the sextet in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. The mock-jingoistic "He is an Englishman" in H.M.S. Pinafore and choral passages in The Zoo satirise patriotic British tunes auch as Arne's "Rule, Britannia!". The chorus "With catlike tread" from Pirates is an imitation of Verdi's "Anvil Chorus" from Il trovatore.
In Princess Ida, there is a strong Handelian flavour to Arac's song in Act III ("This helmet, I suppose"), and the Act II quartet "The world is but a broken toy" has been called "Gounodesque". Florian's statement in "Gently, Gently": "In this college, useful knowledge/Everywhere one finds" is a quotation from Chopin's Waltz No. 5 in A-flat Major (Op. 42). In The Gondoliers, there are the Spanish cachucha, the Italian saltarello and tarantella, and the Venetian barcarolle. Hughes compares "Here is a case unprecedented" from The Gondoliers to the Act II quintet from Bizet's Carmen. In "A more humane Mikado", when the Mikado mentions "Bach interwoven with Spohr and Beethoven", the clarinet and bassoon quote the fugue subject of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G minor. The Golden Legend shows the influence of Liszt and Wagner.
Sullivan frequently gives groups or locations their own characters and motifs. Hughes points to the striking difference between the male chorus of rustics in The Sorcerer and the eponymous gondoliers, and between the fairies in Iolanthe and the undergraduates in Princess Ida. H.M.S Pinafore retains "a nautical tang throughout", and in The Yeomen of the Guard the Tower of London is evoked continually by its own motif. For example, a distinctive four-note theme is associated with the character Iolanthe, and the Fairy Queen's music parodies that of Wagnerian heroines such as Brünnhilde. This use of Wagnerian leitmotif technique is repeated and developed further in Ivanhoe.
Reputation and criticism
|Cartoon from Punch in 1880. It was premature in declaring Sullivan's knighthood, but was accompanied by a parody version of "When I, good friends" from Trial by Jury that summarised Sullivan's career to that date:|
|"A HUMOROUS KNIGHT."|
|["It is reported that after the Leeds Festival Dr. Sullivan will be knighted." Having read this in a column of gossip, a be-nighted Contributor, who has "the Judge's Song" on the brain, suggests the following verse, adapted to probabilities.]|
Sullivan's critical reputation has undergone extreme changes since he first came to prominence in the 1860s. At first, critics were struck by his potential, and he was hailed as the long-awaited great English composer. His incidental music to The Tempest received an acclaimed premiere at the Crystal Palace just before Sullivan's 20th birthday in April 1862. The Athenaeum wrote:
It was one of those events which mark an epoch in a man's life; and, what is of more universal consequence, it may mark an epoch in English music, or we shall be greatly disappointed. Years on years have elapsed since we have heard a work by so young an artist so full of promise, so full of fancy, showing so much conscientiousness, so much skill, and so few references to any model elect.
His Irish Symphony of 1866 won similarly enthusiastic praise, but as Arthur Jacobs notes, "The first rapturous outburst of enthusiasm for Sullivan as an orchestral composer did not last." A comment typical of those that followed him throughout his career was that "Sullivan's unquestionable talent should make him doubly careful not to mistake popular applause for artistic appreciation."
When Sullivan turned to comic opera with Gilbert, the serious critics began to express disapproval. The critic Peter Gammond writes of "misapprehensions and prejudices, delivered to our door by the Victorian firm Musical Snobs Ltd. ... frivolity and high spirits were sincerely seen as elements that could not be exhibited by anyone who was to be admitted to the sanctified society of Art." For example, in 1877 The Figaro wrote that Sullivan "has all the ability to make him a great composer, but he wilfully throws his opportunity away. ... He possesses all the natural ability to have given us an English opera, and, instead, he affords us a little more-or-less excellent fooling." Few critics denied the excellence of Sullivan's theatre scores; The Theatre wrote that "Iolanthe sustains Dr Sullivan's reputation as the most spontaneous, fertile, and scholarly composer of comic opera this country has ever produced." However, comic opera, no matter how skilfully crafted, was viewed as an intrinsically lower form of art than oratorio. The Athenaeum's review of The Martyr of Antioch declared, "[I]t is an advantage to have the composer of H.M.S. Pinafore occupying himself with a worthier form of art.
Knighthood and later years
Sullivan's knighthood in 1883 gave the serious music critics further ammunition. The Musical Review of that year wrote:
Some things that Mr. Arthur Sullivan may do, Sir Arthur ought not to do. In other words, it will look rather more than odd to see announced in the papers that a new comic opera is in preparation, the book by Mr. W. S. Gilbert and the music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. A musical knight can hardly write shop ballads either; he must not dare to soil his hands with anything less than an anthem or a madrigal; oratorio, in which he has so conspicuously shone, and symphony, must now be his line. Here is not only an opportunity, but a positive obligation for him to return to the sphere from which he has too long descended.
Even Sullivan's friend George Grove wrote: "Surely the time has come when so able and experienced a master of voice, orchestra, and stage effect – master, too, of so much genuine sentiment – may apply his gifts to a serious opera on some subject of abiding human or natural interest." Sullivan finally redeemed himself in critical eyes with The Golden Legend in 1886 . The Observer hailed it as a "triumph of English art". The World called it "one of the greatest creations we have had for many years. Original, bold, inspired, grand in conception, in execution, in treatment, it is a composition which will make an "epoch" and which will carry the name of its composer higher on the wings of fame and glory. ... The effect of the public performance was unprecedented."
Hopes for a new departure were evident in the Daily Telegraph's review of The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), Sullivan's most serious opera to that point: "[T]he music follows the book to a higher plane, and we have a genuine English opera, forerunner of many others, let us hope, and possibly significant of an advance towards a national lyric stage." Sullivan's only wholly serious opera, Ivanhoe (1891), received generally favourable reviews, although J. A. Fuller Maitland, in The Times, expressed reservations, writing that the opera's "best portions rise so far above anything else that Sir Arthur Sullivan has given to the world, and have such force and dignity, that it is not difficult to forget the drawbacks which may be found in the want of interest in much of the choral writing, and the brevity of the concerted solo parts." Sullivan's 1898 ballet Victoria and Merrie England was one of several late pieces that won praise from most critics:
Sir Arthur Sullivan's music is music for the people. There is no attempt made to force on the public the dullness of academic experience. The melodies are all as fresh as last year's wine, and as exhilarating as sparkling champagne. There is not one tune which tires the hearing, and in the matter of orchestration our only humorous has let himself run riot, not being handicapped with libretto, and the gain is enormous. ... All through we have orchestration of infinite delicacy, tunes of alarming simplicity, but never a tinge of vulgarity....
Although the more solemn members of the musical establishment could not forgive Sullivan for writing music that was both comic and accessible, he was, nevertheless, "the nation's de facto composer laureate".[n 25]
In the decade after his death, Sullivan's reputation sank considerably. In 1901, Fuller Maitland took issue with the generally laudatory tone of most of the obituaries: "Is there anywhere a case quite parallel to that of Sir Arthur Sullivan, who began his career with a work which at once stamped him as a genius, and to the height of which he only rarely attained throughout life? ... It is because such great natural gifts – gifts greater, perhaps, than fell to any English musician since ... Purcell – were so very seldom employed in work worthy of them. ... [H]ow can the composer of "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "The Absent-Minded Beggar" claim a place in the hierarchy of music among the men who would face death rather than smirch their singing robes for the sake of a fleeting popularity?" Edward Elgar, to whom Sullivan had been particularly kind, rose to Sullivan's defence, branding Fuller Maitland's obituary "the shady side of musical criticism ... that foul unforgettable episode."[n 26]
Fuller Maitland's followers, including Ernest Walker, also dismissed Sullivan as "merely the idle singer of an empty evening". As late as 1966, Frank Howes, music critic of The Times condemned Sullivan for a "lack of sustained effort ... a fundamental lack of seriousness towards his art [and] inability to perceive the smugness, the sentimentality and banality of the Mendelssohnian detritus ... to remain content with the flattest and most obvious rhythms, this yielding to a fatal facility, that excludes Sullivan from the ranks of the good composers."
Thomas F. Dunhill wrote a chapter entitled "Mainly in Defence" in his 1928 book, Sullivan's Comic Operas because Sullivan's "music has suffered in an extraordinary degree from the vigorous attacks which have been made upon it in professional circles. These attacks have succeeded in surrounding the composer with a kind of barricade of prejudice which must be swept away before justice can be done to his genius." Sir Henry Wood continued to perform Sullivan's serious music,[n 27] but it was not until the 1960s that Sullivan's music other than the Savoy operas began to be widely revived and reassessed. In 1960 Gervase Hughes published the first full-length book about Sullivan's music "which, while taking note of his weaknesses (which are many) and not hesitating to castigate his lapses from good taste (which were comparatively rare) [attempted] to view them in perspective against the wider background of his sound musicianship." The work of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, founded in 1977; books about Sullivan by musicians such as Percy Young (1971) and Arthur Jacobs (1986); and a number of recordings have contributed to the re-evaluation of Sullivan's music.
The Symphony in E had its first professional recording in 1968, and a considerable number of Sullivan's non-Gilbert works have since been recorded, including the overtures and the Shakespeare incidental music, ballet music, the cello concerto, solo piano and chamber music, his cantatas, Ivanhoe and some of his non-Gilbert comic operas. Scholarly critical editions of Sullivan's works have been published.[n 28] In a 2000 article in The Musical Times, Nigel Burton wrote:
[Sullivan] spoke naturally to all people, for all time, of the passions, sorrows and joys which are forever rooted in the human consciousness. He believed, deeply, in the moral expressed at the close of Cherubini's Les deux journées: that the human being's prime duty in life is to serve humanity. It is his artistic consistency in this respect which obliges us to pronounce him our greatest Victorian composer. Time has now sufficiently dispersed the mists of criticism for us to be able to see the truth, to enjoy all his music, and to rejoice in the rich diversity of its panoply. Now, therefore, one hundred years after his death, let us resolve to set aside the "One-and-a-half-hurrahs" syndrome once and for all, and, in its place, raise THREE LOUD CHEERS.
In 1888, Thomas Edison sent his "Perfected" Phonograph to George Gouraud in London, England, and on 14 August 1888, Gouraud introduced the phonograph to London in a press conference, including the playing of a piano and cornet recording of Sullivan's "The Lost Chord", one of the first recordings of music ever made. A series of parties followed, introducing the phonograph to members of society at the so-called "Little Menlo" in London. Sullivan was invited to one of these on 5 October 1888. After dinner, he recorded a speech to be sent to Edison, saying, in part:
I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening's experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever. But all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.
These recordings were discovered in the Edison Library in New Jersey in the 1950s:
The first commercial recordings of Sullivan's music, beginning in 1898, were of individual numbers from the Savoy operas.[n 29] In 1917, the Gramophone Company (also known as HMV) produced the first album of a complete musical score of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, The Mikado, followed by recordings of eight more of the operas. Electrical recordings of the complete musical scores of most of the operas were then issued by the Gramophone Company and Victor Talking Machine Company beginning in the late 1920s. These recordings were supervised by Rupert D'Oyly Carte. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company continued to produce recordings until 1979. Between 1988 and 2003, after the company was revived, it recorded seven of the operas.
Other recordings have been made by opera companies such as Gilbert and Sullivan for All, English National Opera and Australian Opera. Ad hoc companies of operatic singers conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent in the 1950s and 60s and Sir Charles Mackerras in the 1990s have made audio sets of several Savoy operas, and in the 1980s Alexander Faris conducted video recordings of most of the operas with casts including show-business stars as well as professional singers. The long-running Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance presented by Joseph Papp, re-orchestrated with synthesisers replacing the strings, was put on record in 1981. Since 1994, the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival has released numerous professional and amateur CDs and videos of its productions and other Sullivan recordings.
Sullivan's non-Savoy works were infrequently recorded until more recent decades. A few of his songs were put on disc in the early years of the 20th century, including versions of "The Lost Chord" by Enrico Caruso and Clara Butt. The first of many recordings of the Overture di Ballo was made in the 1940s. Sullivan's Irish Symphony was first recorded in 1968 under Sir Charles Groves. Since then, much of Sullivan's serious music and his operas without Gilbert have been recorded. The first recording of the cello concerto was by Julian Lloyd Webber in 1986. Ivanhoe was recorded under the conductor David Lloyd-Jones in 2009, and The Golden Legend was recorded under Ronald Corp in 2001. Mackerras's Sullivan ballet score, Pineapple Poll, has received many recordings since its premiere in 1951, four of them conducted by Mackerras.
Notes and references
- The soprano Jenny Lind, devastated by the premature death of Felix Mendelssohn in 1847, waited a year to sing the soprano part in his oratorio, Elijah, which he had written for her, at a concert at the Exeter Hall in 1848, raising £1,000 to fund a scholarship in his name. After Sullivan was the first recipient of the scholarship, Lind encouraged him in his career.
- A few sources stated that Sullivan had some Jewish ancestry. In his 1984 biography, Arthur Jacobs devotes two pages to the matter and concludes that there is no evidence of any Jewish antecedents.
- Between 1861 and 1872 Sullivan worked as an organist at two fashionable London churches: St. Michael's, Chester Square, Pimlico and St. Peter's, Cranley Gardens, Kensington.
- The work received an enthusiastic public reception, but The Musical Times printed an early example of critical censure of Sullivan for his accessibility: "The applause which it received was general and spontaneous [but] it may be a question whether, if Mr. Sullivan could not be requested to furnish a higher class of work, he should not have been passed over altogether until a more fitting opportunity presented itself."
- This was for The Merchant of Venice at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester. Sullivan's earlier Tempest incidental music had been composed for concert hall, rather than theatrical, performance, although it was later used for at least one stage production.
- With a classical story and a mixture of political satire and grand opera parody, Thespis was reminiscent of Orpheus in the Underworld and La belle Hélène by Offenbach, whose operettas were extremely popular on the English stage in both French and English. La belle Hélène entered the Gaiety's repertory eight weeks before the premiere of Thespis. Sullivan may have been encouraged to write the music for Thespis by Hollingshead's offer of the role of Apollo to the composer's elder brother, the comic actor and singer Fred Sullivan.
- The musical score of Thespis was never published and is now lost, except for one song that was published separately, a chorus that was re-used in The Pirates of Penzance, and the Act II ballet.
- Sullivan composed 72 hymns, including two settings of "Nearer, my God, to Thee", of which the "Propior Deo" is the better known. Young gives a complete list of Sullivan's hymns.
- Carte conducted Cox and Box and some operettas on a tour, in 1871, managed by the composer's brother, Fred, who played Cox. Cox and Box, again with Fred as Cox, had been revived in 1874, and Arthur Sullivan may have been considering a return to comic opera.
- The title page of the libretto describes the work as "A Dramatic Cantata"; Gilbert and Sullivan insisted on calling the rest of their joint works "operas", often with a descriptive adjective, such as a "nautical comic opera" (Jacobs, p. 118), an "aesthetic opera" or a "Japanese opera" (Jacobs, Preface).
- In a study of the early years of the School and its successor, the Royal College of Music, David Wright comments on Sullivan: "He lacked any fresh perspective on musical training and any vision of what the NTSM needed to achieve if it was to make a mark on the musical environment and so justify its existence. ... Neither did Sullivan have real sympathy with the Society of Arts' progressive social ideals of scholarship education regardless of social origin, despite having himself gained his education through scholarship support." After Sullivan's resignation, the School was reconstituted as the Royal College of Music and was headed by Grove (1881–1895) and then Parry (1895–1918).
- Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte tried for many years to control the American performance copyrights over their operas, but they were unable to do so.
- The Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick wrote of Sullivan's conducting of a Mozart symphony: "Sullivan presides on the podium from the comfortable recesses of a commodious armchair, his left arm lazily extended on the arm-rest, his right giving the beat in a mechanical way, his eyes fastened on the score. ... Sullivan never looked up from the notes; it was as though he was reading at sight. The heavenly piece plodded along for better or for worse, listlessly, insensibly." Bernard Shaw, who praised Sullivan as a composer ("They trained him to make Europe yawn, and he took advantage of their teaching to make London and New York laugh and whistle.") was less impressed by him as a conductor: "Under his bâton orchestras are never deficient in refinement. Coarseness, exaggeration, and carelessness are unacquainted with him. So, unfortunately, are vigor and earnestness. ... It is well for Sir Arthur to be fastidious; but one cannot help thinking that he would get a firmer grip sometimes if he took his gloves off."
- Gilbert replied, "it most certainly never occurred to me to look for any other reward than the honour of being associated, however remotely and unworthily, in a success which, I suppose, will endure until music itself shall die. Pray believe that of the many substantial advantages that have resulted to me from our association, this last is, and always will be, the most highly prized."
- Even after Gilbert made changes (but retained a magic lozenge that changed people into what they pretended to be, Sullivan could not accept it.
- The longest-running piece of musical theatre was Robert Planquette's 1877 opéra-comique Les Cloches de Corneville, which held the record until Alfred Cellier's operetta Dorothy ran for 931 performances beginning in 1886.
- "King Olaf, Caractacus and Gerontius owe much to The Golden Legend – as, via them, does Walton's Belshazzar's Feast."
- Gilbert wrote, "We have a name, jointly, for humorous work, tempered with occasional glimpses of earnest drama. I think we should do unwisely if we left, altogether, the path which we have trodden together so long and so successfully. I can quite understand your desire to write a big work, well, why not write one? But why abandon the Savoy business? Cannot the two things be done concurrently? If you can write an oratorio like The Martyr of Antioch while you are occupied by pieces like Patience and Iolanthe, can't you write a grand opera without giving up pieces like The Yeomen of the Guard?"
- Sullivan continued, "I have lost the necessary nerve for it, and it is not too much to say that it is distasteful to me. The types used over and over again (unavoidable in such a company as ours), the Grossmith part, the middle-aged woman with fading charms, cannot again be clothed in music by me. Nor can I again write to any wildly improbable plot in which there is not some human interest. ... You say that in serious opera, you must more or less sacrifice yourself. I say that this is just what I have been doing in all our joint pieces, and, what is more, must continue to do in comic opera to make it successful. Business and syllabic setting assume an importance which, however much they fetter me, cannot be overlooked. I am bound, in the interests of the piece, to give way. Hence the reason of my wishing to do a work where the music is to be the first consideration – where words are to suggest music, not govern it, and where music will intensify and emphasize the emotional effects of the words.
- Sullivan's biographers and scholars of his work have censured Tennyson's text. Gervase Hughes called it "puerile rubbish". Arthur Jacobs thought the piece "perhaps the oddest of all the stage works which [Sullivan] was invited to undertake." Percy Young found the text, "Devoid of any kind of merit whatsoever." Sullivan's music was initially well-received. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, for example, wrote that the songs were "set with rare taste, discrimination and melody by Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose delightful music gives charm and interest". Sullivan's biographers were not impressed: "One of Sullivan's lamest ... resourceless in magic" (Young); "[not] even one memorable number" (Jacobs). Recent critics, however, have praised Sullivan's contribution.
- Some books and websites speculate that Sullivan was homosexual or bisexual. For example, Caryl Brahms speculates on the nature of Sullivan's relationship with the Duke of Edinburgh. Sullivan and the Duke (who was married) were friends, but the only evidence cited for a sexual relationship is unspecified "Victorian cartoonists".
- One such flirtation was with "Anna", whom he met in Paris in 1878.
- Fred's acting career owed much to his brother. In 1871, he appeared as Cox in his brother's Cox and Box at the Alhambra Theatre, and he toured as Cox in his own production that summer. Later that year, he played Apollo in Gilbert and Sullivan's Thespis at the Gaiety Theatre, remaining at the Gaiety thereafter. He took his own company on tour in the summer of 1874, appearing in his brother's Cox and Box and The Contrabandista, and later that year he again played Cox, this time at the Gaiety. The next year, he created the role of the Learned Judge in Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury, a role that he would play in London and on tour for the rest of his career.
- Sullivan could also play the oboe and bassoon, but less proficiently.
- Gian Andrea Mazzucato wrote this glowing summary of Sullivan's career in The Musical Standard of 16 December 1899: [T]he English history of the 19th century could not record the name of a man whose "life work" is more worthy of honour, study and admiration than the name of Sir Arthur Sullivan ... it is a debatable point whether the universal history of music can point to any musical personality since the days of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, whose influence is likely to be more lasting than the influence the great Englishman is slowly, but surely, exerting. ... I make no doubt that when, in proper course of time, Sir Arthur Sullivan's life and works have become known on the continent, he will, by unanimous consent, be classed among the epoch-making composers, the select few whose genius and strength of will empowered them to find and found a national school of music, that is, to endow their countrymen with the undefinable, yet positive means of evoking in a man's soul, by the magic of sound, those delicate nuances of feeling which are characteristic of the emotional power of each different race.
- Fuller Maitland was later discredited when it was shown that he had falsified the facts, inventing a banal lyric, passing it off as genuine and condemning Sullivan for supposedly setting such inanity. In 1929 Fuller Maitland admitted that he had been wrong in earlier years to dismiss Sullivan's comic operas as "ephemeral".
- "Sullivan ... was one of the composers featured in Wood's Golden Jubilee concert in 1938 in a programme that featured the premiere of Vaughan Williams's Serenade to Music." In 1942, Wood presented a Sullivan centenary concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
- These include Ernst Eulenburg (The Gondoliers), Broude Brothers (Trial by Jury and H.M.S. Pinafore), David Russell Hulme for Oxford University Press (Ruddigore), Robin Gordon-Powell at The Amber Ring (The Masque at Kenilworth, the Marmion overture, the Imperial March, The Contrabandista, The Prodigal Son, On Shore and Sea, Macbeth incidental music, Ivanhoe and The Beauty Stone), and R. Clyde (Cox and Box, Haddon Hall, Overture "In Memoriam", Overture di Ballo and The Golden Legend).
- The first was "Take a pair of sparkling eyes", from The Gondoliers, by the tenor Charles Russell recorded in the Berliner studios in London.
- Jacobs, p. 4
- Young, pp. 1–2
- Ainger, pp. 6 and 22–23
- Jacobs, pp. 6–7
- Ainger, p. 24; Jacobs, p. 7
- Sullivan, quoted in Young, pp. 4–5
- Young, p. 5
- "Plees" according to Ainger (p. 24) and Jacobs (p. 7); "Flees", according to Young, p. 5
- Jacobs, pp. 8 and 12
- Jacobs, pp. 12–13
- Jacobs, pp. 10–11
- Young, p. 8
- "Arthur Sullivan", The Musical Times, 1 December 1900, pp. 785–87 (subscription required)
- Rosen, Carole. "Lind, Jenny (1820–1887)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 7 December 2008 (subscription required)
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- Lawrence, Arthur H. "An Illustrated interview with Sir Arthur Sullivan", The Strand Magazine, vol. xiv, No. 84, December 1897
- Musgrave, Michael. The Musical Life of the Crystal Palace, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 171–172 ISBN 0-52137562-2
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- Branston, John. "Christian Soldiers: The Salvation Army brings humility and $48 million to the fairgrounds discussion", Memphis Flyer, 18 November 2005
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- Rees, p. 15
- Rees, p. 78. Its run was extended beyond the length of a normal run at the Gaiety: Walters, Michael. "Thespis: a reply", W. S. Gilbert Society Journal, Vol. 4, part 3, Issue 29, Summer 2011
- Rees, pp. 34, 49 and 89
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- McElroy, George. "Whose Zoo; or, When Did the Trial Begin?", Nineteenth Century Theatre Research, 12 December 1984, pp. 39–54
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- Young, pp. 273–78, gives a complete list
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- Sands, John. "Dance Arrangements from the Savoy Operas" (Introduction), The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 4 April 2010, accessed 19 October 2011
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- The Times, 27 May 1878, p. 6
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- The London Gazette: . 29 May 1883.
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- Mackerness, E.D. "Cellier, Alfred," Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, accessed 18 August 2011 (subscription required), and Gänzl, Kurt. "Cloches de Corneville, Les," The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, accessed 18 August 2011
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- "Sir Arthur Sullivan: A Talk With the Composer of Pinafore", San Francisco Chronicle, 22 July 1885, p. 9
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- Gordon-Powell, Robin. Ivanhoe, full score, Introduction, vol. I, pp. XII–XIV, 2008, The Amber Ring
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- Entry from Sullivan's diary, quoted in Jacobs p. 379
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- e.g., Jacobs and Ainger
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- Ainger, p. 87; Jacobs, pp. 53–55. Some two hundred love letters from the two women have survived; they are excerpted in detail in Wolfson.
- Ainger, pp. 128–29
- Quoted in Jacobs, p. 88
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- Ainger, pp. 210 and 237–38
- Jacobs, p. 20
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- Ainger, pp. 364–65; Beddington later married Sydney Schiff, who used elements of her relationship with Sullivan in his 1925 novel Myrtle. She was the younger sister of Ada Beddington. See Whitworth, Michael H. "Schiff, Sydney Alfred (1868–1944)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2008, accessed 26 October 2012. See also Usher, David A. "In Search of Miss Violet: The Personal Journey of a Gilbert & Sullivan Devotee", GASBAG, Friends of the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Volume XLIV, No. 1, Issue 259, Summer 2013, pp. 24–29
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- Hayes, passim
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- Hayes, pp. 10–12. One of the children, Frederic Richard Sullivan, went on to become a well-known film director.
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- See Sullivan family tree in appendix to Jacobs
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- Williams, Carolyn (2010). Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-14804-6.
- Young, Percy M. (1971). Sir Arthur Sullivan. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-460-03934-2.
- Allen, Reginald; Gale R. D'Luhy (1975). Sir Arthur Sullivan – Composer & Personage. New York: The Pierpont Morgan Library. OCLC 642398593.
- Bradley, Ian C (1997). Abide With Me: The World of the Victorian Hymn. London: SCM-Canterbury Press. ISBN 0-334-02703-9.
- Cellier, François; Cunningham Bridgeman (1914). Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas. New York: Little, Brown and Company. OCLC 58942004.
- Dillard, Philip H. (1996). Sir Arthur Sullivan: A Resource Book. Boston: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-3157-0.
- Lawrence, Arthur (1899 (1907 edition)). Sir Arthur Sullivan, Life Story, Letters and Reminiscences. London: Duffield & Co. OCLC 1303888.
- Wolfson, John (1984). Sullivan and the Scott Russells: A Victorian love affair told through the letters of Rachel and Louise Scott Russell to Arthur Sullivan – 1864–1870. Chichester: Packard Publishing. ISBN 0-906527-14-7.
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Arthur Seymour Sullivan
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Arthur Sullivan.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Arthur Sullivan|
- Extensive list of links to Sullivan works and materials, Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
- Obituary notices in The Times
- Detailed 1879 article about Sullivan
- Analysis of Sullivan music and legacy
- Gilbert and Sullivan Discography
- "Sir Arthur Sullivan Buried in St. Paul's" The New York Times, 1900
- "The Other Side of Sullivan", lecture by Robin Wilson, 2008.
- Sir Arthur Sullivan Society
- Archival material relating to Arthur Sullivan listed at the UK National Archives
- Free scores by Arthur Sullivan in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free scores by Sullivan at the International Music Score Library Project
- The Mutopia Project has compositions by Arthur Sullivan
- Works by Arthur Sullivan at Project Gutenberg
- Works by Arthur Sullivan at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)