Sullivan, Sir Arthur Seymour



One of the foremost British composers of his day, who occupied a unique place in the history of music. He had the distinction of having founded and brought to perfection the school of high-class comic opera in England. Before his time the place of this form of entertainment had been filled by the French burlesque operas of Offenbach and his followers; but these had grown very coarse and trashy, and Sullivan's clean, clever music quickly supplanted the imported product.


From his childhood Sullivan had unusual educational opportunities. His father was an Irish military bandmaster, and principal teacher of clarinet at Kueller Hall, the military music school of Great Britain. Arthur Sullivan was born in London, and from his infancy was surrounded by a musical atmosphere. He was a regular attendant at the rehearsals of his father's band, and by the time he was eight years old was able to play almost all the brass wind-instruments in the military band. The thorough knowledge of the powers and limitations of each instrument that he gained in this way was of infinite help to him later in his work of orchestration and conducting. Although his thoughts were already concentrated on music, his father decided to delay his musical education, and sent him to a private school at Bayswater, where he remained until he was almost twelve years old. He then persuaded his family to let him seek admission to the school of th.$ Chapel Royal, and was accepted in 1854. He remained here about three years, gaining much from the thorough training of the admirable Mr. Helmore, master of the children. During that time he composed many anthems and churchpieces. The Mendelssohn Scholarship was opened to competition, and after consulting Mr. Helmore, Sullivan entered. Toward the end of the contest it was known that the winning lay between Sullivan and Joseph Barnby, his oldest competitor, and a severe examination was necessary to determine the award. As a result of this extra examination the scholarship was given to Sullivan. For a year he remained in the Chapel Royal school, and then entered the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied piano under Sterndale Bennett and Arthur O'Leary, and composition and harmony under John Goss.


In the autumn of 1858 Sullivan went to Leipsic to enter the Conservatory. Here his masters were Plaidy and Moscheles in piano, Julius Reitz in composition, Hauptmann in counterpoint, and Ferdinand David in orchestral playing and conducting. Aside from the famous masters under whom he studied, his educational advantages were broad, as the city of Leipsic was a musical center, and he became familiar with the music of Schumann, Schubert and Wagner, music at that time practically unknown in England, and met many famous living musicians. Among his compositions at this time were his overture in E major to Moore's Lalla Rookh, entitled The Light of the Harem, and his incidental music to the Tempest, which was performed with great success in Leipsic in April of 1861. A few days later the young musician returned to London.


With the first performance of his Tempest music at a Crystal Palace concert, in April, 1862, Arthur Sullivan's reputation among Englishmen was securely established. Casting aside teaching he turned his attention to composition, writing six Shakespearean songs, a processional march and trio in E flat, and the song, Bride from the North. On a visit to Paris about this time his attention was strongly  attracted to dramatic music by hearing Gluck's Orfeo. He determined to write for the stage, and in order to gain more knowledge of he technical requirements applied to Michel Costa for permission to attend rehearsals at Covent Garden. Costa offered him instead the position of organist to the Opera and while he was filling this position asked him to write the ballet, L'ile Enchantee. As he gained his knowledge of churchmusic at first hand in the Chapel Royal school, he now gained his knowledge of the theatre at first hand at Covent Garden Opera. He also held the post of organist at St. Michael's Church in Chester Square, until 1867; but in spite of these active duties he found time for much composition. He wrote his symphony in E, and worked on an opera, entitled The Sapphire Necklace, of which only the overture remains. His next important undertaking was the cantata, Kenilworth, written for the Birmingham Festival of 1864. In 1866 appeared Cox and Box, his first dramatic piece, written for amateurs, but afterward put upon the regular stage. During the same year In Memoriam, commemorating the sudden death of his father, was played at the  Norwich Festival. A concerto for violoncello and orchestra, and the overture, Marmion, followed in 1867, and in the autumn of that year Sullivan went to Vienna with Sir George Grove in search of the famous Schubert manuscript. During this trip he was invited to conduct his overture, In Memoriam, at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipsic. His next important works were the oratorio, The Prodigal Son; his overture, di Ballo; the cantata, On Shore and Sea; and a Thanksgiving Te Deum.


The year 1872 saw a renewal of Sullivan's work for the stage in Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old, in which he collaborated with W. S. Gilbert, with whom he later did some of his best theatrical work. During this year he was editing the collection of Church Hymns with Tunes for the Christian Knowledge Society and conducting the classical Night Promenade concerts at Covent Garden. In August, 1873, he returned to serious music again in the oratorio, The Light of the World, which created a profound impression. His next production was in the operatic field again, when Trial by Jury appeared at the Royaltv Theatre in 1875. This was the first important joint production of Gilbert and Sullivan, and it showed clearly what might be obtained by their working together. In this year, 1875, Sullivan reluctantly accepted the position of principal of the National Training School of Music, a post which he retained until 1881. Trial by Jury had been so successful that in 1877 Gilbert and Sullivan produced The Sorcerer, a piece which attained immense popularity. In May, 1878, H. M. S. Pinafore began its extraordinary run of seven hundred nights in London and countless nights by a number of companies in America. The furore it created was absolutely unprecedented, and induced such piracies in the United States that its authors paid a visit of some months to that country in an effort to protect their interests. The next successful opera was The Pirates of Penzance, quickly followed by Patience, lolanthe, Princess Ida, and the Mikado, the greatest success of all. The joint productions of Gilbert and Sullivan marked a new development in English music, the development of clean, healthy light opera, a combination of excellently written music, artistic and appropriate, and plots of the highest possible type of true comedy. These were followed by Ruddigore, The Yeomen of the Guards, and The Gondoliers to librettos of Gilbert.


Of his works in the more serious forms of music, The Golden Legend was perhaps one of the finest of all his works. It reaches a far higher plane than any of his preceding compositions, and indeed in the nobler forms of musical composition may be considered the last thing he ever wrote. His single venture into the field of grand opera was composed to a libretto by Julian Sturgis taken from Scott's Ivanhoe, a libretto which handicapped the composer, although through the opera there are excellent bits of music and especially fine orchestration. This opera ran for some months to crowded houses, and was followed by several comic operas, Hadden Hall, Utopia Limited, and The Chieftain, which are altered versions of Contrabandista, The Grand Duke, and the romantic opera, The Beauty Stone. Another opera, The Emerald Isle, was in process of writing, when Sullivan's death occurred from heart failure Nov. 22, 1900.


Perhaps no British composer has been more truly or more widely beloved than he. His comic operas, particularly Pinafore and Mikado, are known in almost every civilized country and are standards wherever English is spoken. The Light of the World and The Golden Legend are favorite festival pieces, and among the many hymns and church tunes which he found time to write, Onward Christian Soldiers holds a prominent place. He wrote numberless other songs, some for special occasions, among them the Exhibition Ode and Imperial Institute Ode in honor of the laying of the cornerstone of the Imperial Institute by Queen Victoria, The Imperial March, on the opening of the Institute, and the hymn tune, A King of Kings, on the Queen's Jubilee, for he was really musicianlaureate of England. He also wrote a number of compositions for the piano, on which he was an excellent performer. He received many honors, among them the degree of Doctor of Music from both Cambridge and Oxford, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and the order of Knighthood from the Queen in 1883. Although many musicians lament that he did not devote himself exclusively to the higher forms of art, the nation as a whole is grateful to him for the delight and happiness he has given it, and he holds first place in the hearts of the common people.