Alfred Cellier

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Cellier, c. 1880s

Alfred Cellier (1 December 1844 – 28 December 1891) was an English composer, orchestrator and conductor.

In addition to conducting and music directing the original productions of several of the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan works and writing the overtures to some of them, Cellier conducted at many theatres in London, New York and on tour in Britain, America and Australia. He composed over a dozen operas and other works for the theatre, as well as for orchestra, but his 1886 comic opera, Dorothy, was by far his most successful work. It became the longest-running piece of musical theatre in the nineteenth century.


Woodblock engraving of Cellier, 1887

Cellier was born in South Hackney, London, the second child and eldest son of Arsène Cellier, a language teacher from France, and his wife Mary Ann Peterine, formerly Peacock, née Thomsett.[1] He was educated at the grammar school in Hackney. From 1855 to 1860, he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, St. James's, under the Rev. Thomas Helmore, where Arthur Sullivan was one of his schoolmates.[2] Cellier later married Harriet Emily.[3] Cellier's brother, François, also became a conductor.[4]

Early career[edit]

Cellier's first appointments were as organist at All Saints' Church, Blackheath and as conductor of the Belfast Philharmonic Society (both in 1862). In 1866 he succeeded Dr. Chipp as organist and director of the Ulster Hall concerts, Belfast, at the same time acting as conductor of the Belfast Philharmonic Society.[5] In 1868 he returned to London as organist of St Alban's Church, Holborn.[6] In January 1871, Cellier became the first conductor and music director at the Royal Court Theatre in London.[3] From 1871 to 1875 he was conductor and musical director at the Prince's Theatre in Manchester.[6]

During this period he composed many comic operas and operettas, the first of which was Charity Begins at Home (1872 at the Gallery of Illustration), with librettist B. C. Stephenson.[7] The piece was a success and played more than 200 times.[8] A reviewer in the London and Provincial Entr'Acte wrote that the music "is unexpectedly apropos and pretty ... and we have no hesitation in saying that Mr. Alfred Cellier's melodies will live even after the long life [of the production] shall have come to an end."[9] He achieved a favourable outcome with The Sultan of Mocha, produced at Prince's Theatre, Manchester, in 1874 and revived in London in 1876 and 1887 (with a new libretto) and in New York in 1880, among others.[10][11] Most of his early works for the theatre, however, including Dora's Dream (1873), Topsyturveydom (1874, with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert), The Tower of London (1875, Manchester), Nell Gwynne (1876), Two Foster Brothers (1877, St. George's Hall, with a libretto by Gilbert Arthur à Beckett), and Bella Donna (1878), had only modest success.[2] Cellier also wrote numerous separate songs and composed for orchestra (including his Suite Symphonique (1978)) and the piano; his Danse pompadour achieved particular popularity.[3]

D'Oyly Carte years[edit]

Programme for Dora's Dream and The Sorcerer from 1877

In December 1877 Cellier joined the D'Oyly Carte company as musical director at the Opera Comique in London. There he conducted The Sorcerer (1877), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878, for which he wrote the overture, based on themes from the opera),[12] Trial by Jury (1878), George Grossmith's Cups and Saucers (1878–79), and three of his own one-act works: Dora's Dream (1877–78 revival), The Spectre Knight (1878), and After All! (1878–79).[2] Cellier was conducting the performance of Pinafore during which the partners of The Comedy Opera Company attempted to repossess the set, and he was noted for his attempts to calm the audience during the fracas.[13] His brother, François, succeeded him as musical director at the Opera Comique in 1879. Alfred Cellier was a conductor of a series of promenade concerts at the Queen's Theatre, Long Acre and, in 1878–1879 he was joint conductor, with Sullivan, of the Covent Garden Promenade Concerts.[6]

Cellier, H. J. Leslie and Stephenson

In 1879, he travelled with Gilbert, Sullivan, and Carte to America, where he acted as conductor for Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, with Carte's first American touring company. Cellier prepared the overture to Pirates using Sullivan's music from the rest of the score.[14][15] Back in London in July 1880, he directed the music at the Opera Comique for Pirates and another of his own pieces with Desprez, In the Sulks. In April 1881, he left the D'Oyly Carte company, ceding the baton to his brother. Cellier composed a three-act grand opera, Pandora, a version of Longfellow's The Masque of Pandora (with a libretto by B. C. Stephenson) that was presented in Boston in 1881.[16] He returned to America later that year as music director of D'Oyly Carte's New York and touring productions of Billee Taylor (1882), Les Manteaux Noirs and Rip Van Winkle (both in the fall of 1882), and Iolanthe (1882–83), for the latter of which he prepared the New York overture.[2]

In 1883, Cellier's setting of Gray's Elegy, in the form of a cantata, was produced at the Leeds music festival.[14] In 1883, Cellier left the D'Oyly Carte company, but he was back for brief periods as music director with D'Oyly Carte's touring companies for Princess Ida (1884) and The Mikado (1885). In 1885, also, Cellier composed incidental music for a production of As You Like It. He composed two more companion pieces that had Savoy Theatre premieres, both with libretti by Desprez: The Carp (performed with The Mikado and Ruddigore in 1886–87), and Mrs. Jarramie's Genie (composed together with his brother François, which played together with several different operas at the Savoy between 1887 and 1889.[2]

While in London, Cellier conducted at several London theatres, including the Criterion, the St James's, and the Savoy. Later, as a result of ill health, he resided mostly in America, where he was at times a representative for the D'Oyly Carte company, and Australia, where he conducted for the J. C. Williamson organization.[3]

Dorothy and later pieces[edit]

"Queen of my Heart", Dorothy's hit song, was very popular as a parlour ballad.

In 1885, Cellier composed a song, "There once was a time, my darling", for a piece produced by George Edwardes, Little Jack Sheppard (1885). Meanwhile he had composed what would become his greatest success, the comic opera Dorothy, with a libretto by B. C. Stephenson. To create the score, Cellier repurposed some of his music from his 1876 failure, Nell Gwynne, which had, nevertheless, received praise for its music.[6] Dorothy had been announced for production at the Royalty Theatre in 1884, but ultimately Edwardes mounted it at his Gaiety Theatre on 25 September 1886. Cellier was in Australia from February 1886 to February 1887, conducting The Mikado and other Gilbert and Sullivan operas for J. C. Williamson and was absent from London during the productions of The Carp, at the Savoy, and Dorothy. Neither the music nor the libretto of Dorothy initially attracted critical praise. The Times wrote, "Gentility reigns supreme, and with it unfortunately also a good deal of the refined feebleness and the ineptitude which are the defects of that quality."[17] Stephenson rewrote the lyrics of one of Cellier's old songs, "Old Dreams" as "Queen of My Heart"; this helped the work to find success after it transferred in December to the Prince of Wales Theatre. The following year H. J. Leslie took over the production from Edwardes and introduced new stars, including Marie Tempest and Ben Davies, who made Dorothy an even greater success at the box office. It transferred in December 1888 to the Lyric Theatre, built using the profits from the production, where it ran into 1889. Its initial run of a total of 931 performances was the longest of any piece of musical theatre up to that time,[18] considerably longer than even The Mikado, a fact that caused consternation to Cellier's friend Arthur Sullivan. Some critics reconsidered their earlier condemnation, the work became regarded as a classic Victorian piece,[19] and the initially despised plot was traced seriously back to the Restoration playwrights David Garrick and Aphra Behn, and to Oliver Goldsmith and even Shakespeare.[20] Its success led to revivals of some of Cellier's earlier works.[21]

Cellier returned to Australia in 1888 to conduct Dorothy and a revival of his earlier work, Charity Begins at Home, and made a final brief visit there for health reasons in early 1891, together with Stephenson.[22] His last comic operas, Doris (1889, with Stephenson) and The Mountebanks (with Gilbert, produced in January 1892, a few days after the composer's death), were both modestly successful.[2] Also after Cellier's death, Rutland Barrington used some of his music in his 1902 adaptation of Water Babies. Often in ill health throughout his life,[23] Cellier was unable to finish The Mountebanks, and Ivan Caryll completed the score.[24] A reviewer of the 2018 recording of The Mountebanks commented: "There is a free-flowing style to Cellier’s compositions, with fine lyrical detail and sumptuous orchestration with which he provides a wide variety of musical effects."[25]

Cellier owed much to the influence of Sullivan.[5] He was a fertile melodist, and his writing exhibited elegance and refinement, although he was not able to infuse his music with humour in the way that Sullivan did.[6]

Cellier died at his home in Bloomsbury, London, at the age of 47. He was buried in West Norwood Cemetery.[3]

Major works[edit]

In addition to numerous songs and piano pieces, Cellier composed these major works:

Operas and musical comedies[edit]

Poster from Cellier's last opera, The Mountebanks

Incidental music to plays[edit]

  • Les manteaux nois (1882)
  • As You Like It (1885)
  • The Water Babies (1902)

Orchestral and other works[edit]

  • Gray's Elegy (1883), for chorus and orchestra
  • Suite symphonique
  • Barcarolle for flute and pianoforte


  1. ^ François Cellier", Ancestry Institution, Wellcome Library, accessed 20 January 2018 (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Stone, David. "Alfred Cellier", Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (2001), accessed 11 June 2018
  3. ^ a b c d e Edwards, F. G., rev. James J. Nott "Cellier, Alfred (1844–1891)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 9 October 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4989
  4. ^ Cellier and Bridgeman, pp. 30–33
  5. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cellier, Alfred". Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 604.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Mr. Alfred Cellier", The Times, 30 December 1891, p. 4, col. B
  7. ^ Adams, p. 273; Stephenson wrote under the pen name "Bolton Rowe".
  8. ^ The Morning Post, 16 November 1872, p. 1; and "Dramatic and Musical Chronology for 1872", The Era, 5 January 1873, supplement.
  9. ^ London and Provincial Entr'Acte, 9 March 1872, reproduced in the liner notes to the 2018 recording of The Mountebanks: Smith, Donald J. "W.S. Gilbert & Alfred Cellier: The Mountebanks & Alfred Cellier: Suite Symphonique, Dutton Vocalion, March 2018
  10. ^ "The Sultan of Mocha", The Guide to Musical theatre, accessed 11 June 2018
  11. ^ "The Sultan of Mocha", The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 11 June 2018
  12. ^ Ainger, p. 157
  13. ^ Gillan, Don. "Fracas at the Opera Comique", Stage Beauty website
  14. ^ a b Scowcroft, Philip L. "A Twentieth Garland of British Light Music Composers" Archived 18 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine, MusicWeb.UK
  15. ^ Ainger, p. 177
  16. ^ "The Drama in America", The Era, 1 August 1880, p. 5
  17. ^ The Times, 27 September 1886, p. 10
  18. ^ Gillan, Don. Longest Running Plays in London and New York, 1875 to 1920 at the Stage Beauty website (2007)
  19. ^ "Dorothy", The Times, 22 December 1908, p. 11
  20. ^ "Things Theatrical", The Sporting Times, 23 July 1892, p. 2
  21. ^ Kenrick, John. "Cellier, Alfred", The Cyber Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, TV and Film
  22. ^ Lamb, Andrew. "Alfred Cellier in Australia", Sir Arthur Sullivan Society Magazine, No. 97, Summer 2018, p. 22
  23. ^ Stedman, p. 279
  24. ^ Gänzl, Kurt, "Caryll, Ivan (1861–1921)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 12 January 2011 (subscription required)
  25. ^ Walker, Raymond J. "Alfred Cellier (1844-1891): The Mountebanks, comic opera (1892); and Suite Symphonique (1878)", Music Web International, 2018


  • Adams, William Davenport. A Dictionary of the Drama, Chatto & Windus, 1904
  • Ainger, Michael (2002). Gilbert and Sullivan, a Dual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514769-3.
  • Ayre, Leslie (1972). The Gilbert & Sullivan Companion. London: W.H. Allen & Co Ltd. ISBN 0-396-06634-8.
  • Cellier, François; Cunningham Bridgeman (1914). Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
  • Hyman, Alan (1978). Sullivan and His Satellites. London: Chappell.
  • Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.

External links[edit]