The Sensational Song Scriber, Sir Arthur Sullivan
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The Sensational Song Scriber, Sir Arthur Sullivan
“He was essentially the most broad-minded musician in perhaps the most narrow and unoriginal school of thought in musical history,” said Ian Parrott on Sir Arthur Sullivan. Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan was an English composer best known for his fourteen operatic collaborations with dramatist, Sir William Schwenck Gilbert. Sullivan composed a total of 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, 8 choral works and 2 ballets in addition to incidental music for plays as well as church hymns and piano pieces (Jacobs). His musical style was very classical, as he did not fancy contemporary music composition too much. Sullivan’s works were noted for their magical music and appealing libretto. Sullivan was recognized as the most talented young composer in England in his day.
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan was bon on May 13, 1842 in Lambeth, London. His parents were Thomas Sullivan, a military bandmaster, clarinetist and music teacher, and Mary Clementina of England. With Thomas Sullivan’s intense background of music his son, Arthur, quickly picked up many instruments at an early age and by the time Arthur was 8 years old he had composed his first anthem, “By the Waters of Babylon.” Arthur’s father recognized his talent and actually persuaded him to pursue other interests because he knew how music careers could be insecure. However, his parents did let him join the choir at the Chapel Royal where he flourished under the direction of Thomas Helmore. Helmore strongly encouraged Sullivan to compose. Helmore even arranged for one of Sullivan’s pieces, “O Israel,” to be published in 1855, making this his first published work (Allen).
In 1856, Sullivan was awarded the first Mendelsohn Scholarship at The Royal Academy of Music at just 14 years old. His professor there was John Gross, whose teacher was Thomas Attwood, who was previously a student of Mozart himself. Here, he studied primarily piano. Sullivan’s scholarship with the Royal Academy of Music was renewed each year, and he went on to study music composition in Germany. His family scrapped enough money together for him to study in Leipzig for three years. In 1861, he performed his graduation piece, which was a set of incidental music of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” After revision, and expansion, the piece was later performed at the Crystal Palace in London in 1862, and it was an immediate sensation.
“Sullivan embarked on his composing career with a series of ambitious works, interspersed with hymns, parlor songs and other light pieces in a more commercial vein” (Musgrave). Unfortunately, his compositions were not enough to support him financially so from 1861-1872 he worked as a church organist as well as a music teacher. In 1863, he even composed a song for the Prince of Wales’ wedding. The Masque at Kenilworth was Sullivan’s first orchestration for the voice and orchestra performed at the Birmingham Festival in 1864. Later in the same year, he composed his first ballet titled Lille Encahntee as he also wrote Overture in C in honor of his father’s death. This piece was quite popular all over the world (Jacobs 34).
Sullivan’s first attempt at opera was during 1863 with The Sapphire Necklace to a libretto by Henry F. Chorely. This work was not produced and it was all lost with the exception of the overture and two songs that were published separately. The surviving songs from this piece include: “When Love and Beauty (Madrigal) and “Over the Roof.” “His first surviving opera, Cox and Box (1866), was 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” (Jacobs 42). Popular songs from this comic opera include: the Overture, “Rataplan,” “Who Are You, Sir?” and “Hush-a-bye Bacon.” In 1868, Sullivan wrote a group of seven part songs, the best known of which is “The Long Day Closes.” To wrap up the 1860’s Sullivan’s last major work in this decade was a short oratorio, The Prodigal Son, which premiered at the Three Choir festival in 1869 to which it received much praise. (“Worcester Music Festival” p.10)
One of Sullivan’s most enduring orchestrations, the Overture di Ballo was written in 1870 for the Birmingham Festival where he met Gilbert. The next year would be a busy one for Sullivan. In 1871 he published his first and only song cycle and he also wrote a series of incidental music for Shakespeare plays on the West End. “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 Armyadopted the latter as its favored processional, and it became Sullivans most enduring hymn” (Jacobs 55-56).
“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” (Ainger 7). This particular production was for Christmas entertainment; however, the production continued on through Easter of 1872. After Thespis Gilbert and Sullivan did their own thing until they reunited in 1874 to write three parlor ballads. Sullivan’s large-scale works of the early 1870’s included Festival Te Deum at the Crystal Palace in 1872 and The Light of the Wood performed at the Birmingham festival in 1883. Throughout the 1870’s he continued to write incidental music for different productions and companies as well as the continuation of choral music and hymns. In 1875, the Gilbert and Sullivan team worked together again and created the one-act comic opera, Trial By Jury. The show stared Sullivan’s brother, Ted, as the judge. It went on to be a huge success earning raving reviews and played over 300 performances. The reviews raved about how the music and lyrics coincided so beautifully together. Here is an expert from one review by The Daily Telegraph; “it seems, as in the great Wagnerian operas, as though poem and music had proceeded simultaneously from one and the same brain.” Soon after Trial By Jury, Sullivan wrote another one-act comic opera called, The Zoo with lyrics by B.C. Stephenson. This work was unfortunately not as nearly as triumphant as Trial By Jury and for the next 15 years Sullivans sole operatic collaborator was Gilbert; the two created an additional 12 operas together (Rollins and Witts 5-12).
Throughout the 1980’s, he wrote over 80 popular songs and parlor ballads. The best known of his songs is “The Lost Chord” written in 1887 with lyrics by Adelaide Anne Proctor. This song was written in the sorrow of Sullivan’s brother, Fredrick’s, death. “The sheet music for his best