Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan

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Sullivan, (Sir) Arthur (Seymour) (b Lambeth, 1842; d Westminster, 1900). Eng. composer, conductor, and organist. Son of Irish bandmaster at Sandhurst. Chorister, Chapel Royal, 1854. First comp., an anthem, pubd. 1855. First holder of Mendelssohn Scholarship, RAM, 1856, becoming pupil of Goss and Sterndale Bennett. Went to Leipzig Cons. where his teachers incl. Rietz, David, and Moscheles. Returned to Eng. 1861 and became organist, St Michael, Chester Sq. In 1862 his mus. for Shakespeare's The Tempest was played under Manns at Crystal Palace and made Sullivan's name. Ballet L'Île enchantée prod. CG 1864 and cantata Kenilworth Birmingham Fest. later same year. To 1864 also belongs comp. of Irish Symphony. Prof. of comp. RAM 1866, in which year he wrote vc. conc. for Piatti. Went with Grove to Vienna in 1867 to recover Schubert's Rosamunde mus. and to examine MS of ‘Great’ C major Sym. In 1866 wrote light opera Cox and Box, first of works in genre which was to ensure Sullivan's lasting fame.

For a time, however, Sullivan persisted with oratorio (The Prodigal Son, Worcester 1869) and incidental mus. to Shakespeare. In 1871 met playwright William Schwenck Gilbert (1836–1911) and collaborated in unsuccessful light opera Thespis, following it in 1872 with tune for hymn ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’. Festival Te Deum followed, then another Birmingham oratorio, The Light of the World (1873). By now much in demand as cond. and administrator, and was also friend of royalty. In 1875 another collaboration with Gilbert, engineered by Richard D'Oyly Carte, resulted in successful curtain-raiser Trial by Jury. This led to D'Oyly Carte's leasing of Opéra-Comique Th. especially to produce operas by Gilbert and Sullivan. The Sorcerer (1877) justified the risk, running for 175 nights, but this was eclipsed by the 700-night run of H.M.S. Pinafore (1878). Despite copyright pirates, these works were in demand throughout the Western world, particularly in USA. The Pirates of Penzance (1879) continued run of success, followed by Patience (1881). During run of Patience, D'Oyly Carte opened his new th., the Savoy, and the operas became known as the Savoy operas and the cast ‘Savoyards’. Sullivan was knighted 1883. It is a tragic irony that Sullivan and some of his friends felt that the success of the operettas was beneath the dignity of the dir. of the Nat. Training Sch. for Mus., 1876–81; they were happier with The Martyr of Antioch (Leeds 1880) and The Golden Legend (Leeds 1886) than with Iolanthe (1882), Princess Ida (1883), and The Mikado (1885). These were followed by further ‘hits’: Ruddigore (1886), The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), and The Gondoliers (1889). During run of the last-named, the 2 partners quarrelled (supposedly over a new carpet at the Savoy Th.). Haddon Hall (1892) was comp. to a lib. by S. Grundy. Reconciliation with Gilbert led to Utopia Limited (1893) and The Grand Duke (1896). During quarrel, Sullivan's only ‘grand opera’, Ivanhoe, to a lib. by Julian Sturgis, was prod. in 1891 at new Eng. Opera House built by D'Oyly Carte. Had 160 perfs., but costly venture failed and th. became a mus.-hall. By then, Sullivan's health was beginning to rebel against the strain he put on it. He was cond. of the Phil. Soc. 1885–7, frequently cond. at the Hallé Concerts in Manchester, was cond. of the Leeds Fest. from 1883, and continued to write th. mus., anthems, etc. In his last years his path crossed that of the rising Elgar. He died on St Cecilia's Day 1900 at comparatively early age of 58.

Sullivan's ‘serious’ work, by which he set such store, survives in the occasional ch. from The Golden Legend and the infrequent revivals of his sym. and incidental mus. and of Ivanhoe. These show talent, not quite as much, it could be argued, as in his hymn-tunes and in his popular ballads, such as My dearest heart and The Lost Chord (written in 1877 on the death of his brother and given a further lease of fame by the Amer. comedian Jimmy ‘Schnozzle’ Durante in his song ‘The guy who found the Lost Chord’). But in the Savoy operettas there is genius. In them Sullivan's melodic felicity, light-fingered orchestration, and truly astonishing gift for pastiche and parody ( Handel, Verdi, Donizetti, Wagner—all are paid the compliment of witty imitation) found their proper outlet and gave England a unique type of mus. entertainment and cult. Sometimes parody seems to have taken over completely and one longs to call out ‘Will the real Sullivan stand up?’ At other times, Gilbert's cruelties and facetiousness become oppressive; also the stylized, unchanging ritual of the D'Oyly Carte prods. became wearisome except to devotees, of whom there are millions, seemingly versed in every phrase of both mus. and lib. With such a following, Sullivan's fame seems secure for as long as one dares to foretell. Prin. works:OPERA: Ivanhoe (1890).OPERETTAS (where no librettist is given, Gilbert is implied): Cox and Box (Burnand, 1866); Contrabandista (Burnand, 1867); Thespis (1871, lost); Trial by Jury (1875); The Zoo (Stevenson, 1875); The Sorcerer (1877, rev. 1884); H.M.S. Pinafore (1878); The Pirates of Penzance (1879); Patience (1880–1); Iolanthe (1882); Princess Ida (1883–4); The Mikado (1884–5); Ruddigore (1886–7); The Yeomen of the Guard (1888); The Gondoliers (1889); Haddon Hall (Grundy, 1892); Utopia Limited (1893); The Chieftain (Burnand, 1894); The Grand Duke (1895–6); The Beauty Stone (Pinero and Comyns Carr, 1897–8); The Rose of Persia (Hood, 1899); The Emerald Isle (Hood, 1900, mus. completed by German).INCIDENTAL MUSIC: Shakespeare: The Tempest (1862); The Merchant of Venice (1871); The Merry Wives of Windsor (1874); King Henry VIII (1877); Macbeth (1888); The Foresters (Tennyson, 1892); King Arthur (Comyns Carr, 1894).ORCH.: sym. in E (Irish) (1864–6); Ov., In Memoriam (1866); Overture Di Ballo (1870); Imperial March (1893); vc. conc. (1866).CHORAL: Oratorios: The Prodigal Son (1869); The Light of the World (1873, rev. 1890); The Martyr of Antioch (1880, rev. as opera 1898); Cantatas: Kenilworth (1864); On Shore and Sea (1871); The Golden Legend (1886).

Also songs, chamber mus., ballads, hymns, anthems.

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Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan

The English composer Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900) collaborated with the librettist Sir William Gilbert to produce operettas that are the finest examples of light, satirical comedy in the English musical theater.

Arthur Sullivan had a thorough schooling in music, beginning early with instruction from his father, who was then bandmaster at the Royal Military College in London. His studies continued at the Chapel Royal, where he was enrolled as a chorister at the age of 12, then at the Royal Academy of Music, and at the Leipzig Conservatory (1858-1861). It was a musical education in the conservative German mode of the time, which was as strongly entrenched in England as in Germany itself.

Sullivan then entered on a career marked by versatility and enormous popular success. At first he earned his way as an organist. Later he turned to conducting and held a variety of posts, notably as conductor of the Philharmonic Society of London (1885-1887) and of the Leeds Festival (1880-1899). He also taught composition at the Royal Academy of Music and was the first director of the Royal College of Music.

All the while Sullivan kept at his primary vocation of composing. His first published piece was an anthem written when he was 13. Thereafter he composed a quantity of church music, including such old-time favorite hymns as "Lead, Kindly Light, " "Rock of Ages, " and "Onward, Christian Soldiers, " many songs, incidental music to plays, a few tidbits for piano, a violoncello concerto (1886), an Irish Symphony (1866), six overtures, two ballets, several large choral works commissioned for festival performance, and one grand opera, Ivanhoe (1891).

What keeps Sullivan's name alive are his operettas. The list begins with Cox and Box (1867) and ends with The Rose of Persia (1899). In between are 19 others, 14 with texts by Sir William Gilbert, of which the most successful are Trial by Jury (1875), H. M. S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Patience (1881), Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885), The Yeoman of the Guard (1888), and The Gondoliers (1889). Similar to the French opéra comique and the German Singspiel in their mixture of song and spoken dialogue, these works offer a brisk, light-handed satire on social customs of the time. Musically, they are memorable not only for earcatching tunes but for the clever variations on poetic meters that Sullivan brought to his settings of the verses. No composer since Henry Purcell had treated the English language so skillfully. Sullivan's orchestrations, too, are models of their kind, disposing a small pit orchestra to support the singers firmly yet lightly and with many subtle touches of instrumental color.

Further Reading

A detailed analysis of Sullivan's musical style is in Gervase Hughes, The Music of Arthur Sullivan (1960). Sullivan's place in the history of the operetta is defined in Gervase Hughes, Composers of Operetta (1962). Frank Howes, The English Musical Renaissance (1966), shows Sullivan as one of the targets for the 20th-century reaction against Victorian music.

Additional Sources

Baily, Leslie, Gilbert and Sullivan, their lives and times, Harmondsworth, Eng.; New York: Penguin Books, 1979, 1973.

Findon, Benjamin William, Sir Arthur Sullivan, his life and music, New York: AMS Press, 1976.

Jacobs, Arthur, Arthur Sullivan: a Victorian musician, Aldershot, England: Scolar Press; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate Pub. Co., 1992.

James, Alan, Gilbert & Sullivan, London; New York: Omnibus Press, 1989.

Lawrence, Arthur, Sir Arthur Sullivan: life story, letters, and reminiscences, New York: Da Capo Press, 1980.

Wolfson, John, 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, 1984. □

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Sullivan, Sir Arthur (1842–1900). Sullivan's musical pedigree was Mendelssohnian and the influence may be traced in much of his music, particularly Iolanthe. He was born in Lambeth Walk (London), son of a professional musician at one time bandmaster at Sandhurst. Blessed with a fine voice, Sullivan was a chorister at the Chapel Royal and was publishing by the time he was 13. In 1856 he won the Mendelssohn scholarship and entered the Royal Academy of Music. From 1858 to 1861 he studied at Leipzig. At the age of 21 his incidental music for The Tempest won great acclaim. In 1866 he produced his only symphony and was offered the professorship in composition at the academy. The following year his short comic opera Box and Cox received its first performance. The year 1870 saw the overture Di Ballo—stylish and elegant—and 1873 the oratorio The Light of the World. The great collaboration with Gilbert got off to a faltering start in 1871 with Thespis but took fire in 1875 with Trial by Jury. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), and Mikado (1885) followed in quick succession. The Savoy theatre, specially built by D'Oyly Carte for the operas, opened in 1881. Sullivan's serious work continued with The Golden Legend (1886) and Ivanhoe (1891). The last of the collaborations, The Grand Duke, was put on in 1896. He was knighted in 1883 at Gladstone's suggestion. His popular pieces included ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ (1871) and ‘The Lost Chord’ (1877), written on the death of his brother Frederick. Sullivan possessed a wealth of melody, brilliant orchestration, considerable poetry, and much humour. The serious work is good; the comic operas incomparable.

J. A. Cannon

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Sullivan, Sir Arthur Seymour (1842–1900) English composer, famous for a series of operettas written with the librettist W. S. Gilbert. They included HMS Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), and The Mikado (1885). Sullivan also composed one opera, Ivanhoe (1881), and oratorios, cantatas and church music, including many hymns, such as “Onward, Christian Soldiers”.