|Sullivan > Obituary from The Times
The death of Sir Arthur Sullivan, which we announce this morning with great regret, not only deprives England of the man who for many years has been her most conspicuous composer, but will afflict all who care for music with a keen sense of personal loss. Savoy opera has been so long a popular institution and has given so much genuine pleasure that the loss of the musician who had such power to charm all classes is in the nature of a public calamity. No one who had any ear for music at all could fail to appreciate the grace and fancy which always marked Sir Arthur Sullivan’s work. Trained musicians delighted in the marvellous cleverness and resource of the orchestration. The critic and the student found new beauties at every fresh hearing. What captivated the majority and set Sullivan in popular esteem far above all the other English composers of his day was the tunefulness of his music, that quality in it by which, without ever descending to mere trickery or to commonplace “catchiness,” it found its way to the ear at once and was immediately recognized as a joyous contribution to the gaiety of life. The Savoy opera is the one form of dramatic and musical art which this generation has evolved – the only form which can be called in any sense characteristic. Unfortunately the tradition has not taken root deeply enough to permit the hope that this peculiarly English art-form will persist. It was the creation of two men, both men of original genius. Perhaps it is too deeply marked by their individualities for them to hand on the tradition to a school. Both Sir Arthur Sullivan and Mr. Gilbert have had imitators. But it is by no means a case of
The imitators flatter as sincerely as they can, but they lag hopelessly behind. Like most imitators, they can copy the form closely enough. It is the spirit that escapes them; the polished sarcasm of Mr. Gilbert, the fascinating freshness of melody, the spontaneous originality and humour of Sullivan. It is only necessary to think first of The Mikado or H.M.S. Pinafore or Patience, which after twenty years is still as delightful as ever to-day, and then to think even of the best of the numberless “musical farces” that have made their blatant bid for popularity during the last few years, to see how wide, how measureless a distance lies between. From a Savoy opera one was certain to come away cheerful and amused, humming snatches of delicious music, chuckling over the topsy-turvy humour of the libretto. “Musical farce” is very often no more than a depressing jumble of antiquated jests and music-hall jingles. In fact, it is to all intents and purposes a variety entertainment. Between the music-hall and severely classical music there is a great gulf fixed. It was Sir Arthur Sullivan who bridged this gulf, and set the example in providing an entertainment, light and gay in character, that appealed to all persons of any degree of refinement, and especially to that very large class which cannot be content with the music-hall and yet is scarcely educated up to listening for two or three hours together to music which requires an intellectual effort to follow and understand it.
Many who are able to appreciate classical music regret that Sir Arthur Sullivan did not aim consistently at higher things, that he set himself to rival Offenbach and Lecocq instead of competing on a level of high seriousness with such musicians as Sir Hubert Parry and Professor Stanford. If he had followed this path, he might have enrolled his name among the great composers of all time. He might have won a European reputation in addition to his fame at home. As it was Sullivan became little known as a composer on the Continent. The Mikado introduced him to German .audiences, but to the Latin races there was something utterly incomprehensible in Mr. Gilbert’s sardonic, inverted humour, and this contributed probably to hindering their full appreciation of the music. Frenchmen, for instance, insisted upon thinking that the fun which Mr. Gilbert poked at his fellow-countrymen in Ruddigore was intended to insult the French. That Sir Arthur Sullivan could aim high and succeed he proved by The Golden Legend and by a good deal of Ivanhoe,though the latter was not entirely successful as a whole. Perhaps he knew his own limitations better than any one else. Perhaps he was as content to give refined and innocent pleasure to a vast number as he would have been to please the scholarly few. That he did give very great pleasure is indisputable, and by all who have found recreation, full of charm, in listening to the ever-delightful flow of his melody, he is sincerely mourned to-day.
Friday, November 23, 1900, p. 9.
DEATH OF SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN
It is with great regret that we announce the sudden and premature death of Sir Arthur Sullivan, the eminent musical composer, which took place yesterday morning at his residence, Queen’s-mansions, Victoria-street, Westminster. His health had been ailing ever since his visit to Switzerland, from which country he returned about the middle of September. While in Switzerland Sir Arthur Sullivan caught a severe chill and he came back to London feeling very unwell, but for a time there were no serious developments. He suffered at first from a loss of voice, but was able to go about as usual. Then his chest and lungs became affected and a fortnight ago he was obliged to take to his bed. Mr. Buckston Browne, his medical adviser, was in constant attendance, and under his treatment Sir Arthur Sullivan was believed to be making satisfactory progress towards recovery. On Wednesday night he was not so well, but even then there appeared to be no reason for anticipating any serious result. Yesterday morning, however, quite suddenly and altogether unexpectedly, alarming symptoms were observed by the nurse in attendance upon him. A messenger was at once despatched to Mr. Buckston Browne, but before that gentleman could arrive the end came at 9 o’clock. The only relative present in the house at the time was a nephew, and even he had no warning of the imminence of death and was absent from his uncle’s chamber. The immediate cause of death is said to have been failure of the heart’s action. Sir Arthur was aware that he was suffering from heart trouble.
It has been decided to embalm the body, and, pending this, the date of the funeral cannot be fixed, but it will probably be Tuesday. The Rev. Edgar Sheppard, Sub-Dean of her Majesty’s Chapels Royal, a personal friend of the composer, will officiate at the funeral, and the choir of the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, will render the musical portions of the service. Numerous telegrams of condolence, chiefly from private and professional friends, have been sent to Queen’s-mansions, and there have been several personal callers.
The death of Sir Arthur Sullivan, in his 59th year, may be said without hyperbole to have plunged the whole of the Empire in gloom; for many years he has ranked with the most distinguished personages, rather than with ordinary musicians. Never in the history of the art has a position such as his been held by a composer; and it was earned simply and solely by his own achievement, unaided by interest or side influences of any kind. For all the English-speaking races, with the exception of a very small and possibly unimportant class, Sullivan’s name stood as a synonym for music in England. Perhaps it is not strange that, this being so, the small class referred to was principally if not entirely composed of musicians of earnest aims and highly cultivated tastes. These regarded Sullivan as a “lost leader”; one who, dowered with natural gifts of an almost unexampled kind, had preferred the applause of the patrons of comic opera to the less noisy appreciation of genuine musicians. It is true that this opinion was to some extent modified in recent years. When The Golden Legend was brought out the lovers of music were amazed to find that the wonderful early promise of the man who wrote The Tempest music was not, as they feared, unfulfilled, for here was a work of picturesque and imaginative quality, poetical in conception, artistic in design, and consummate in workmanship. Yet he had not relinquished the more popular methods by which he had so long held the public ear, and the later Savoy operas were certainly not on a higher level than their predecessors in that successful series. In some ways his most representative work was the serious opera concerning which public expectation was wrought up to so high a pitch nine years ago. If Ivanhoe represents Sullivan at his best, as it undoubtedly does in its most dramatic scenes, it is not without examples of his less happy vein; and the story of its production illustrates as completely as possible the position in public estimation held by the composer. For no other composer that the world has seen would a manager have even dreamt of mounting a serious opera for a long run; yet the performances of Ivanhoe stretched to so large a number that the enterprise of Mr. D’Oyly Carte was almost justified. Not altogether, for within the first weeks of its appearance the truth, which had been patent to all observant persons from the beginning, forced itself at last upon public notice, that in the present day, and indeed as long as lovers of music form a minority in the population, no serious opera can command the amount of attention which even an ordinarily successful comic opera is sure to attain.
It is interesting to see how, up to a certain turning point in his career, Sullivan lived the life of an ordinary musician. Born on May 13, 1842, the son of a bandmaster at Kneller Hall, the school of military musical instruction, Arthur Seymour entered the Chapel Royal at twelve years of age, and remained there until 1857. While still holding this office, he obtained the Mendelssohn scholarship, then quite recently established, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Goss and Sterndale Bennett. In 1858 he went to Leipzig, remaining at the Conservatorium till the end of 1861. In the following year his music to The Tempest was brought out, and it was perceived by all musicians of discernment that the young composer had a great future before him. The cantata Kenilworth, produced at the Birmingham Festival of 1864, was his next work of importance; it is now remembered chiefly by the lovely duet, “How sweet the moonlight.” His opera, The Sapphire Necklace, written to a very poor libretto by H. F. Chorley, was never produced, and the overture alone remains in its original form. Time brought its revenges, for very few composers have owed as much to their librettists as Sullivan did to the writer with whom he was so long and successfully allied. The “In Memoriam” overture, played at the Norwich Festival of 1866, commemorated the death of the composer’s father. Other works of minor importance belong to this early period, among which was a symphony in E, played at the Crystal Palace, the Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and other concerts. A good many of the songs which at first drew the attention of the larger public to his talents date from the same time; among them is the beautiful “Orpheus with his Lute.”
In 1867 was produced (at first in private), that famous adaptation of Maddison Morton’s farce under the title of Cox and Box, a work which its author never surpassed in freshness or wealth of musical drollery. Up to that time, in England, music of a light or comic order had never been remarkable for elegance of design or piquant melody, such as Sullivan displayed in this and the operettas by which it was followed, The Contrabandista (1867), Thespis (1871), and The Zoo (1875). Of these, Thespis alone was written by Mr Gilbert, who from the date of Trial by Jury (1875), worked with the composer in a whole series of light operas which have achieved an extraordinary popularity. The uninterrupted series were ten in number, and they made the name of the Savoy Theatre – which was built for them – famous throughout the world. Out of the ten (The Sorcerer, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe, Princess Ida, The Mikado, Ruddigore, The Yeomen of the Guard, and The Gondoliers) only some two or three failed of complete success, while in almost all are to be found songs or phrases that have become national possessions. As a matter of course it is impossible to say how far the extraordinary success of the undertaking was due to the composer, or how much credit should be given to the witty librettist; still, there can be no doubt that if associated with dull or unattractive music even Mr. Gilbert’s funniest ideas would have failed of their object. It is beyond controversy, too, that not only the admirable way in which the works were produced, but their entire freedom from all trace of objectionable allusion or suggestion, had much to do with their effect on the public at large. The first of several experiments in connexion with other librettists was Haddon Hall (Sydney Grundy) (1892); a welcome return to Mr. Gilbert was made in the following year, when Utopia, Limited, seemed to have revived the fortunes of the theatre. Near the end of 1894, The Chieftain, a rearrangement of The Contrabandista (by F. C. Burnand), was produced. Yet another example of the famous combination was forthcoming in The Grand Duke (1896), but this, the last of the series in which Sir Arthur Sullivan collaborated with Mr. Gilbert, was not one of the great successes of the house, and another experiment was tried in The Beauty Stone (1898), in which the librettists, Messrs. Comyns Carr and A. W. Pinero, were apparently compelled by the traditions of the theatre to make their serious story more or less comic, and so achieved something very like a failure. Far different was The Rose of Persia (Captain Basil Hood), produced in November, 1899, a work which can only be pronounced one of the best of the whole series; it did not attract the public for very long, but in any estimate of the composer’s work it must be given a place beside The Mikado. Grace, spontaneity, originality, humour, all these qualities are present more conspicuously than in any of the series, if we except The Sorcerer. The frequent necessity for filling up gaps in the Savoy productions, when the new opera was not ready by the time the old one had ceased to draw large audiences, led to the occasional substitution of some other name for Sir Arthur Sullivan’s as composer, and on one occasion a classic of the comic stage, Offenbach’s Grande Duchesse, was revived, although in so exceedingly prudish a spirit that all its point was gone. More recently a regular set of revivals of the older operas has taken place, in chronological order, Patience being brought out again only the other day, and proving little, if at all, the worse for wear.
Sir Arthur Sullivan was appointed to succeed Costa as conductor of the Leeds Festival in 1880, and directed the subsequent festivals until two years ago, when he announced his intention of giving up the work after the festival of 1898.
Of the three oratorios, properly so called, which preceded The Golden Legend, the earliest, The Prodigal Son, written for Worcester, 1869, is perhaps the best. In the others, The Light of the World (Birmingham, 1873) and The Martyr of Antioch (Leeds, 1883) (sic), a want of spontaneity was felt in all the more serious portions of the music, and the influence of the comic operas was not entirely thrown off in some of the less earnest parts. The comparative failure of these of course enhanced the success of The Golden Legend, (Leeds, 1886), which still enjoys a popularity accorded to no other English work of the kind.
It remains to speak of a few works which are now comparatively seldom heard. The brilliant “Overtura di Ballo,” (sic) first played at Birmingham in 1870, is fairly often found in concert programmes, but the cantata, On Shore and Sea, written for the International Exhibition of 1871, and the “Festival Te Deum” composed in celebration of the recovery of the Prince of Wales in 1872, possibly from their “occasional” character, are almost forgotten. Besides the Tempest music, incidental music was written for several other Shakespearian plays – The Merchant of Venice (1871), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1874), Henry VIII., (1878), and Macbeth (1888). The last was a conspicuous feature of the revival of the play at the Lyceum Theatre, and the dance tunes from Henry VIII. are often heard.
In connexion with the festivities in commemoration of her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote an elaborate ballet for the Alhambra Theatre, “Victoria and Merrie England,” and at that time it seemed as if the attention of our best composers would be turned to the ballet as affording a new opportunity for their powers; but the piece failed to please for very long, and the prospect of getting good music in the ballet has faded for the present. It was at the same house that Sir Arthur’s setting of Kipling’s “Absent-Minded Beggar” was brought out.
During the early days of the comic operas, the composers popularity was drawn, to a large extent, from certain songs which became fashionable, and were, of course, each in its turn, sung to death. Such effusions as “Will he come?” “O ma charmante,” “Looking Back,” “Sweethearts,” and the rest, among which “The Lost Chord” enjoys still an unenviable supremacy, have done more to advance the estimation of the writer among the general public than the beautiful “Orpheus with his lute “ of the earlier times did to endear him to musicians. It is strange that the dainty set of songs to words by Tennyson, published under the title of “The Window, or Loves of the Wrens,” never reached the highest degree of popularity. A couple of settings of Tennyson’s famous lyrics, “Tears, Idle Tears” and “O Swallow, Swallow,” were lately sung for the first time by Mr. Kennerley Rumford, and admired by a large number of hearers; these seem to have been the last compositions of Sullivan’s yet made public, although rumours have been for some time current that an Irish opera, written for the Savoy, is nearly ready. The many hymn-tunes and anthems composed by Sullivan point to his early career as a church organist in London, which only ceased in 1871; in the early days of the Royal Aquarium he organized the musical performances there; for two seasons, 1878 and 1879, he conducted the Promenade Concerts, and from 1875 to 1877 the Glasgow Festivals. From 1876 to 1881 he was principal of the National Training School of Music, the predecessor of the Royal College; he received the honorary degrees of Mus.D. at Cambridge in 1876, and at Oxford in 1879, and in 1883 the honour of knighthood.
It is, of course, impossible to give a decided opinion as to what proportion of Sullivan’s music will be added to the great and lasting heritage of music; even if the Savoy operas should fail of a permanent place in the history of the art, their influence will be felt on other productions of the same order for many a year to come; there is no reasonable doubt, however, that The Golden Legend, as a whole, and many scenes from Ivanhoe, to say nothing of the orchestral works, the early vocal compositions, and much of the incidental music to plays, will perpetuate the name of Sir Arthur Sullivan, though they will not perhaps explain to posterity the position which he held for so long among his contemporaries.
The Savoy Theatre was closed last night out of respect to the memory of Sir Arthur Sullivan.
The news was received with universal regret in Bristol, which city Sir Arthur Sullivan had promised to visit next week to take part in the inaugural ceremonies of the new Colston-hall and conduct a performance of his Golden Legend at a festival concert to be given in the hall. He was feeling unwell when he responded to the invitation, but he said he would attend if his health permitted him to do so.
Saturday, November 24, 1900. 36308, p. 10.
SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN
Sir, – While appreciating fully the tone of much of your leading article in The Times of to-day on the merits of Sir Arthur Sullivan, I regret exceedingly that the writer of the article should have stated that the deceased composer “set himself to rival Offenbach and Lecocq instead of competing on the level of high seriousness with such musicians as Sir Hubert Parry and Professor Stanford.”
Why it is necessary to make any such comparison I am at a loss to know. Neither of these gentlemen would, I am sure, claim to have produced a work which will rank higher or live longer than the Golden Legend, the In Memoriam, and other overtures, the Shakespeare music (The Tempest), and his many beautiful songs.
Sir Arthur Sullivan’s church music is a worthy continuation of the best Cathedral traditions, and he has shown light opera writers how to combine wit and humour with perfect taste and fine and original musicianship.
Does not all this disprove the statement to which I take exception?
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