Gilbert and Sullivan

Sullivan, Sir Arthur Seymour

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan, 1842–1900, English composer, famous for a series of brilliant comic operas written in collaboration with the librettist W. S. Gilbert. As a boy he sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal. He was the first holder of the Mendelssohn scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, entitling him to study at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he composed the incidental music to Shakespeare's Tempest, produced in 1862. Sullivan became organist at St. Michael's, London, in 1861 and professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music in 1866. His first comic opera, Cox and Box, appeared in 1867. In 1871 he began his long and successful collaboration with Gilbert. Their first important satirical operetta, Trial by Jury (1875), was followed by even greater triumphs, such as H. M. S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Patience (1881), Iolanthe (1882), Princess Ida (1884), The Mikado (1885), Ruddigore (1887), The Yeoman of the Guard (1888), and The Gondoliers (1889). These were produced by Richard D'Oyly Carte, who in 1881 built the Savoy Theater in London expressly for the production of works by Gilbert and Sullivan. Sullivan brought to Gilbert's witty lyrics a wealth of melodic invention and orchestral ingenuity, creating light operas that have charmed audiences for many generations. Despite the success of the comic operas, Sullivan felt that his best work was his serious music, chiefly his oratorios—which include Kenilworth (1864), The Prodigal Son (1869), The Light of the World (1873), and The Golden Legend (1886)—and his serious opera Ivanhoe (1891). He composed many songs, among which "The Lost Chord" (1878) became very popular; hymns, including "Onward, Christian Soldiers" (1871); anthems; ballets; and dramatic music. He was also noted as a conductor. In addition to performances of the operettas, he conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1885–87, and the Leeds Festivals, 1880–98. When the National Training School for Music was organized (1876), he became its principal, remaining in that position until 1881. Although he and Gilbert were ideally suited as collaborators, their different temperaments caused quarrels and eventual separation in about 1896.

See biography by H. Sullivan and Sir Newman Flower (2d ed. 1952); studies by G. Hughes (1960, repr. 1973), P. Young (1971), and C. Williams (2010).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Gilbert and Sullivan: Selected full-text books and articles

Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography By Michael Ainger Oxford University Press, 2002
The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan By W. S. Gilbert; Arthur Sullivan The Modern Library, 1936
The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan By W. S. Gilbert; Arthur Sullivan; Ian Bradley Oxford University Press, 1996
W. S. Gilbert, His Life and Letters By Rowland Grey; Sidney Dark Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1923
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Gilbert and Sullivan"
W. S. Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and His Theatre By Jane W. Stedman Oxford University Press, 1996
British Playwrights, 1880-1956: A Research and Production Sourcebook By William W. Demastes; Katherine E. Kelly Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911)" begins on p. 144
Life Plus Ninety-Nine Years: W.S. Gilbert and the Fantasy of Justice By Kertzer, Jon Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 36, No. 2, June 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle By Gerald Bordman Oxford University Press, 1992 (2nd edition)
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