François Cellier

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From an advertisement for The Emerald Isle in The Sketch, April 24, 1901.

François Arsène Cellier (14 December 1849 – 5 January 1914), often called Frank, was an English conductor and composer. He is best known for his tenure as music director and conductor of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company during the original runs and early revivals of the Savoy operas.

Life and career[edit]

Cellier was born in South Hackney, London to Arsène Cellier, a professor of languages from France, and his wife Mary Ann. He was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, St. James's, where his brother Alfred and Arthur Sullivan had also been choristers. His son was the West End theatre actor Frank Cellier, and his grandson is actor Peter Cellier.

Conductor and music director[edit]

François Cellier succeeded his brother Alfred as the resident conductor of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Opera Comique and then the Savoy Theatre from 1879 to 1902 during their initial runs and revivals (except that Sullivan usually conducted the first night of each) other than from July 1880 to April 1881, after Alfred returned from America. He also served as co-musical director at Richard D'Oyly Carte's Royal English Opera House for the runs of Ivanhoe and La Basoche in 1891–92. He conducted non-Sullivan Savoy Theatre pieces like Alexander Mackenzie's His Majesty and Ivan Caryll's The Lucky Star, and he also sometimes conducted for the company on tour.

In 1902–03, Cellier toured with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in South Africa, conducting the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, as well as The Rose of Persia. He left the D'Oyly Carte organisation upon his return to England. Soon afterwards, he conducted his new operetta, Bob (libretto by Cunningham Bridgeman) at the Adelphi Theatre. Bob was also played by D'Oyly Carte touring companies in 1903–04. Cellier conducted a comic opera, Ladyland, at the Avenue Theatre in 1904. In 1905, he returned to the D'Oyly Carte Repertory Opera Company as its musical director until retiring in 1913. He conducted the successful London repertory seasons of Gilbert and Sullivan operas in 1906–07 and 1908–09, respectively.

Henry Lytton wrote:

"Cellier had his heart and soul in every performance, and what that means is known only to those who work on the stage, and who do sometimes become dull and listless because of their very familiarity with the parts they are playing or because the audience cannot easily be aroused to 'concert pitch'.... It is at just such times as these that a real conductor is worth his weight in gold. Notwithstanding that he may have seen the piece hundreds of times – and might with reason be more bored than the principals themselves – he comes to each new performance with an enthusiasm which shakes the company out of themselves and makes everything go with a will."[1]

Composer and orchestrator[edit]

In addition to Bob, which never played at the Savoy Theatre, Cellier composed music for several companion pieces that played together with the Savoy Operas (and often also on tour), including Mrs. Jarramie's Genie (composed jointly with his brother Alfred in 1888, libretto by Frank Desprez), Captain Billy (1891, libretto by Harry Greenbank), Old Sarah (1897, libretto by Greenbank), Pretty Polly (1900, libretto by Basil Hood) and Bob (1903, libretto by Cunningham Bridgeman).[2]

For the Children's Pinafore in 1879–80 and the Children's Pirates in 1884, Cellier transposed the key of every song to fit each individual child's voice. The choruses, especially of the string parts, were re-arranged so that the children's voices could be heard, and orchestral accompaniment was provided for the normally unaccompanied numbers for the support of the young male voices.


Cellier devoted his brief retirement to writing a book of reminiscences about Gilbert, Sullivan, and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas). However, he died in Kingston upon Thames in 1914 before the book was completed, and his collaborator, Bridgeman, completed and published it later that year.

Arthur Sullivan willed to Cellier the original manuscript scores for The Pirates of Penzance and Patience.



External links[edit]