Sullivan, Sir Arthur (Seymour)
(Born; London, 13 May 1842; Died; there, 22 Nov 1900). English composer. A Chapel Royal chorister, he became a pupil of Sterndale Bennett at the RAM (1856) and studied at the Leipzig Conservatory (1858-61). The promise shown by his incidental music for The Tempest (1861) and other early concert works led to festival commissions and conducting posts, which he complemented with work as organist, teacher and song and hymn tune writer; from 1866, he also dabbled in comic opera. His increasing success in this last field - with C. F. Burnand in Cox and Box and then W.S. Gilbert in Trial by Jury - culminated in the formation by Richard D'Oyly Carte of a company expressly for the performance of Gilbert and Sullivan works. With HMS Pinafore the collaborators became an institution. Their works, produced at the Savoy Theatre from 1881 (the most popular 'Savoy Operas' were The Mikado and The Gondoliers), won a favour with English-speaking audiences that has never waned. Sullivan was knighted in 1883 and continued to conduct, notably the Leeds Festival and the Philharmonic Society concerts, but his serious ouput dwindled. A breach with Gilbert (1890), recurring ill-health and the relative failure of his last works clouded his final years.
Sullivan was essentially an eclectic, drawing on elements from opera, ballads, choral and church music, by composers from Handel to Bizet. Some lack of emotional depth and an unsure grasp of large-scale structure have limited the success of his more serious music (Golden Legend, Ivanhoe). It was in Gilbert's satirical subjects and witty verses that his talents found their happiest, most graceful and consistent inspiration, underpinned as they are by a highly professional compositional technique. Here his inventive melodies fit perfectly the sense and accentuation of the words, while lively choruses underscore traits of particular groups (male and female) and deft instrumentation points up character. His clever parodies of serious music and use of 'tune combination' increase the fun.
Dramatic music: Cox and Box (1866); Trial by Jury (1875); The sorcerer (1877); HMS Pinafore (1878); The Pirates of Penzance (1879); Patience (1881); Iolanthe (1882); Princess Ida (1884); The Mikado (1885); Ruddigore (1887); The Yeomen of the Guard (1888); The Gondoliers (1889); Ivanhoe (1891); 11 others; incidental music to 7 plays; 2 ballets
Orchestral and chamber music: 'Irish' Sym., E (1866); In memoriam, ov. (1866); Vc Conc., D (1866); Overture di ballo (1870); choral works with orch, incl. The Golden Legend, cantata (1886); 2 oratorios; 9 chamber piecesChurch musicservice music, anthems; over 50 hymn tunes, including St Gertrude ('Onward, Christian soldiers')Songs Circa; 20 partsongs; over 80 songs, duets, trios, including cycle, The Window (1871); The Lost Chord (1877)
© Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK