MORE STORIES FROM THE CATALYST:
Remembering Arthur Sullivan
Of the Savoy Operas...
and 'Onward Christian Soldiers
Sir Arthur Sullivan, best known for the brilliant comic operas he wrote with W S Gilbert, was born 175 years ago this month, on 13th May 1842.
Ironically, he never wanted to be remembered for the operas, such as The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. Instead, he wrote: “My sacred music is that on which I base my reputation as a composer.” But although he wrote striking oratorios such as The Prodigal Son and The Light of the World, by far his most popular sacred music remains the tune for “Onward, Christian Soldiers”.
The young Arthur Seymour Sullivan – his father an Irish musician and his mother of Italian descent – was a Choirboy of the Chapel Royal and the first winner of the Mendelssohn Scholarship, which enabled him to study at the Royal Academy of Music and the Leipzig Conservatory. He became organist of St. Michael’s, London, in 1861, and the following year a performance in London of his incidental music to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” made him an overnight elebrity.
He then became a professional musician, teaching, playing the organ, editing and conducting, as well as composing various classical works, including a ballet, a cello concerto, a symphony, choral works, several overtures and a series of chamber pieces and hymns. His first successful comic opera (without Gilbert) was Box and Cox, but Richard D’Oyly Carte brought the two men together for the immensely popular Trial by Jury.
The rest is history. The G&S collaborations are now known as the Savoy Operas, after the theatre where they were performed from 1882.
Sir Arthur’s relationship with Gilbert – portrayed in the brilliant Mike Leigh film Topsy-Turvy – was not always calm, but Gilbert’s satire and verbal ingenuity were matched beautifully by Sullivan’s technically brilliant tunefulness.
Sir Arthur died in London in 1900.