Sullivan, Arthur

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan is a British composer of Irish and Italian descent, organist, conductor and music teacher.


Arthur Sullivan was born on May 13, 1842 in Lambeth, London. His father, Thomas Sullivan, was the musician as well- bandmaster of a military band, clarinet player and teacher. Arthur had an older brother – Frederick. In 1845, The family moved to Sandhurst, where Thomas Sullivan served as a bandmaster at the Royal Military College and taught private music lessons additionally.

Arthur spent a lot of time in the classes of this military college, playing various wind instruments and piano. Subsequently, he became interested in this sphere. Gradually familiarized with all orchestra instruments and become acquainted with their peculiarities.

At the age of eight, Arthur composed the anthem " y the waters of Babylon". The biographical books about the life of composers were his favourite ones. Being affected by the idea that all major English musicians studied at the Royal Chapel, St. James or Westminster Abbey, he dreamed of studying there as well. His father respected he boy's obvious musical gift, hence he was aware of a musical career insecurity and discouraged the boy from pursuing it. Later, he decided to send Arthur to a private school in Bayswater, where he could get perfect basic education.

However, the boy’s eagerness to take up music was so strong that in 1854, while studying at the Bayswater school, Arthur Sullivan persuaded his father to let the school director let him go for live audition to George Smart, the organist of the Royal Chapel. Sir G. Smart cordially welcomed Arthur, who possessed a fine voice and sang to him, backed up by the piano. After the entrance examination, Arthur was immediately enrolled at the Royal Chapel. He was assigned to the class of choir choirmaster Thomas Helmore. As all other choirboys, he lived with the teacher in the ancient house on Cheyne Walk in London's Chelsea and was taught together with other boys.

After eighteen months of training, he composed the anthem and showed it to Sir George Smart, who said that this composition should be performed. When the bishop of London, rector of the Royal chapel rector of the Royal chapel, heard the anthem, he wondered who wrote it. When he learned that the author was a certain Sullivan, he invited him to the sacristy, patted his head and gave him ten shillings, which was a smart sum of money for the boy. Soon Arthur became the chapel soloist. Thomas Helmore encouraged the young composer and organized publication of his work “Oh, Israel” in 1855 that became his first published work. Th. Helmore invited Sullivan to assist in harmonizing of The Hymnal Noted volume, the collection of famous church hymns, and arranged them to be performed.

In 1856, Arthur Sullivan won the Royal Academy of Music prize and became the first Mendelssohn Scholarship holder. This scholarship was enough for some time of studying at the Royal Academy of Music, where Sullivan studied with the leading teachers - John Goss, whose teacher was Thomas Attwood. By the third year of studying, the young musician was sent to the Leipzig Conservatory. Sullivan lived in Germany for three years. At the Leipzig Conservatory, he studied composition with Julius Ritz and Karl Reinecke, counterpoint - with Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Richter, and piano – with Louis Plaidy and Ignaz Moscheles. He was trained according to the Mendelssohn technique of piano playing, however, various musical styles – such as the Schubert, Verdi, Bach and Wagner techniques, had impact on his creative work. While in Leipzig, Sullivan wrote a string quartet, which was performed at the Conservatory in the presence of the outstanding German violinist, composer and conductor, Louis Spohr. He personally congratulated and praised the young composer after the concert.

In Leipzig Arthur Sullivan wrote his prominent composition – the music for the play "The Tempest" by Shakespeare. This work turned out to be his graduate thesis. Subsequently, it was performed in London. Returning to England, he continued studies and composed great quantity of keynote works.

In 1863, Arthur received the opportunity to write music for the pompous event in England - the wedding of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, and Alexandra of Denmark. He wrote a wedding march that was repeatedly performed during this day. Shortly, the composer was presented at court and since that time, he was on friendly terms with the Prince. The same year, he went to Paris for the first time, in the company of Charles Dickens and Henry Chorley. In Paris, he met Pauline Viardot and Gioachino Rossini. Rossini showed great interest in Sullivan’s enthusiastic talent, played for him and gave valuable advice, especially regarding the dramatic music. Rossini embreathed Sullivan so much that he decided to devote all his time to composing. Thus, he wrote his first opera “The Sapphire Necklace”, the first ballet is “The Charmed Island” and the cantata “Masquerade in Kenilworth”.

Sullivan was teaching composition at the Royal Academy of Music since 1866. In the same period his “Irish symphony”, the Concert for cello and orchestra and the Overture in C minor “In Memoriam”, written to commemorate his father, were performed for the first time.

In the 1870-1880s, Sullivan wrote many outstanding works - festive anthems, about 80 popular songs and salon ballades. During this creative period, he conducted concerts at the Glasgow Choral Union and the Royal Aquarium. He resumed his collaboration with the librettist W.S. Gilbert and wrote the one-act dramatic cantata “Trial by the Jury”.

Interestingly, that during a state visit of Emperor Alexander II to London on May 18, 1874, at the Gala concert in The Royal Albert Hall, where Sullivan was present as well, the national Russian anthem “God Save the Tsar!” that the composer adapted for the orchestra, was performed.

Vivid and cheerful music of H.M.S. “Pinafore” was written by Sullivan in 1878 and was performed 571 times, becoming one of the most popular theater musical pieces in the world. “Pinafore” was followed by the opera ”The Pirates of Penzance” that brought international success to the Victorian theater community. The first performance of the opera took place in New York, later it was shown 363 times in London.

From the 1880s, the composer wrote many comic operas, among which the most distinguished are the comic operas “Patience”, “Iolanta” and “Mikado”.

In 1886, Sullivan composed his second and last major choral work. It was the cantata for the Leeds festival – “The Golden Legend”, based on the eponymous poem by Henry Longfellow, apart the comic operas, it became the most prominent large-scale work of Sullivan.

The only grand opera by Sullivan, “Ivanhoe”, based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott, was premiered on 31 January 1891, at the new Royal English Opera House opening. It was performed 155 times running and received good reviews.

On May 22, 1883, Queen Victoria knighted Sullivan for his "services ... to the advancement of musical art" in the UK.

In May 1897, the ballet “Victoria and Merry England” by Sullivan was premiered at The Alhambra Theatre of Variety. It was written to celebrate the Queen diamond Jubilee. The ballet was performed for six months that was considered a great success. The ballet seven pieces glorified the English history and culture and the Victorian era as the grand finale.

In 1899, to the benefit of the wives and children of the soldiers and sailors, the participants of Second Boer War, Sullivan composed the military-patriotic song "The Scattered Beggar" to the words by Rudyard Kipling, which instantly became a sensation. The performance of this song, the notes’ and related products sale made it possible to collect unprecedented amount of £ 250,000 for the needs of the distressed.

The same year, the comic opera “The Rose of Persia” was written to the libretto by Basil Hood. This opera, full of Sullivan's beautiful melodies, received critical acclaim, and proved to be his most successful full-length one, apart from those that he create together with W.S. Gilbert. Shortly, Sullivan started writing another opera with Hood, “The Emerald Isle”, but he died before it was completed. The score was finished by Edward German, and performed in 1901.

During his life, Sullivan created 23 operas, 13 major orchestral compositions, 8 choral works and oratorios, 2 ballets, numerous hymns and church music, ballads, songs, and many other pieces. Although some of the Sullivan’s serious works were successful during his lifetime, most of them were forgotten – in contrast to his comic operas, which are still very popular, especially in English-speaking countries.

His operas were often performed in the original and staged in the foreign languages as well; they were frequently quoted in comedy performances, commercials, movies, television programmes and other popular media. His creative work influenced British and American musical theaters, the content and form of his works, written in collaboration with Gilbert, had a direct impact on the development of contemporary musicals throughout the 20th century.

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