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Arthur Sullivan

Birthdate: 13. May 1842
Date of death: 22. November 1900

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO was an English composer. He is best known for 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. His works include 24 operas, 11 major orchestral works, ten choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous church pieces, songs, and piano and chamber pieces. His hymns and songs include "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "The Lost Chord".

The son of a military bandmaster, Sullivan composed his first anthem at the age of eight and was later a soloist in the boys' choir of the Chapel Royal. In 1856, at 14, he was awarded the first Mendelssohn Scholarship by the Royal Academy of Music, which allowed him to study at the academy and then at the Leipzig Conservatoire in Germany. His graduation piece, incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest , was received with acclaim on its first performance in London. Among his early major works were a ballet, L'Île Enchantée , a symphony, a cello concerto and his Overture di Ballo . To supplement the income from his concert works he wrote hymns, parlour ballads and other light pieces, and worked as a church organist and music teacher.

In 1866 Sullivan composed a one-act comic opera, Cox and Box, which is still widely performed. He wrote his first opera with W. S. Gilbert, Thespis, in 1871. Four years later, the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte engaged Gilbert and Sullivan to create a one-act piece, Trial by Jury . Its box-office success led to a series of twelve full-length comic operas by the collaborators. After the extraordinary success of H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance , Carte used his profits from the partnership to build the Savoy Theatre in 1881, and their joint works became known as the Savoy operas. Among the best known of the later operas are The Mikado and The Gondoliers . Gilbert broke from Sullivan and Carte in 1890, after a quarrel over expenses at the Savoy. They reunited in the 1890s for two more operas, but these did not achieve the popularity of their earlier works.

Sullivan's infrequent serious pieces during the 1880s included two cantatas, The Martyr of Antioch and The Golden Legend , his most popular choral work. He also wrote incidental music for West End productions of several Shakespeare plays and held conducting and academic appointments. Sullivan's only grand opera, Ivanhoe, though initially successful in 1891, has rarely been revived. In his last decade Sullivan continued to compose comic operas with various librettists and wrote other major and minor works. He died at the age of 58, regarded as Britain's foremost composer. His comic opera style served as a model for generations of musical theatre composers that followed, and his music is still frequently performed, recorded and pastiched. Wikipedia

Photo: Unknown author / Public domain

Quotes Arthur Sullivan

„After all we [have] each of us only eight notes to work upon.“

—  Arthur Sullivan

Quoted in Thomas F. Dunhill Sullivan's Comic Operas: A Critical Appreciation (London: Edward Arnold, 1928) p. 182.
On being accused of plagiarism.

„I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the results of this evening's experiments – astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever! … I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.“

—  Arthur Sullivan

A message on a phonograph cylinder, recorded by Arthur Sullivan at a demonstration of Thomas Edison's phonograph in London on 5 October 1888; cited from Michael Chanan Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and its Effects on Music (London: Verso, 1995) p. 26. See also "Historic Sullivan Recordings" http://diamond.boisestate.edu/gas/sullivan/html/historic.html at the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive; and Very Early Recorded Sound http://www.nps.gov/edis/photosmultimedia/very-early-recorded-sound.htm at the National Historical Park website. The recording was issued on CD by the British Library (Voices of History 2: NSACD 19-20, 2005).

„Goss and Bennett…trained him to make Europe yawn; and he took advantage of their training to make London and New York laugh and whistle.“

—  Arthur Sullivan

George Bernard Shaw, in The Scots Observer, September 6, 1890; cited from Dan H. Laurence (ed.) Shaw's Music (London: The Bodley Head, 1989) vol. 2, p. 174.
Criticism

„The theatre is not the place for the musician. When the curtain is up the music interrupts the actor, and when it is down the music interrupts the audience.“

—  Arthur Sullivan

Quoted in The Musical Times, February 1909; cited from Percy A. Scholes The Mirror of Music, 1844-1944 (London: Novello, 1947) vol. 1, p. 267.

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