Personalities | (Sir) Arthur Sullivan | Late Romantic | Classical

English composer

Sullivan was a Chapel Royal chorister, the first-ever Mendelssohn scholar and a student of William Sterndale Bennett. He was already a composer of distinction when, in 1867, he collaborated with the playwright W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) in Cox and Box (1866). Their Trial by Jury (1875) set the seal on a historic partnership that spawned a string of gems culminating with The Gondoliers (1889). Produced by the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte at the Savoy theatre, Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Savoy operas’ swept through audiences like a whirlwind, rivalling Offenbach in Paris and Johann Strauss in Vienna. The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Patience (1881), Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885) and many others ran for extended seasons on both sides of the Atlantic, and still retain their immense appeal. Gilbert’s witty satires on contemporary English culture were matched in Sullivan’s piquant parodies of Italian opera and bel canto, Handelian choruses and attractive melodies that were instant hits (his famous ballad ‘The Lost Chord’ sold some 10,000 copies within a few days). Sullivan’s finely crafted serious output includes the oratorios The Prodigal Son (1869) and The Light of the World (1873), the opera Ivanhoe (1890), symphonies, stage music and songs.

Recommended Recording:
Iolanthe, soloists, Pro Arte Orchestra (cond) Sir Malcolm Sargent (EMI/Warner)

Sounds Familiar

Trial by Jury
Trial by Jury, which ran for 131 performances at the Royalty Theatre, Soho, in 1875, exemplifies many of the essential ingredients that made Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy operas so successful. Its witty libretto about a breach-of-promise trial was set to a sparkling score which abounds with familiar choruses.

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