Review by Chris Browne
the April meeting the Society was entertained and instructed by
the Sullivan expert David Mackie.
the music for the Savoy Operas is created may not be of especial
interest to many lovers of the music, but David's presentational
skills drew us all in through his enthusiasm and knowledge of
basic outline was given to demonstrate essential elements of musical
composition : melody, harmony and counterpoint (punctus contra
punctum "note against note"). This groundwork was necessary as
the main focus of the talk was to explore Sullivan's double-choruses.
The provenance of this device was traced back to the works of
Bach and Mendelssohn no less.
were played on the (unmoveable) grand piano :Jesu, Joy of Man's
Desiring (this is the title of a transcription by the English
pianist Myra Hess (1890-1965) of the chorale that ends each part
of the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147) and Mendelssohn's
St. Paul oratorio. Mendelssohn, was working in Leipzig as conductor
of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 (Bach was Cantor
of Thomasschule, adjacent to the Thomaskirche - St. Thomas's Lutheran
Church - 1723-1750).
an enthusiast for the by now unfashionable Bach, concentrated
on developing the musical life of Leipzig and in 1843 founded
the Leipzig Conservatory. This was where Sullivan studied from
1858-1861 having won the Royal Academy of Music Mendelssohn scholarship
in 1856 (where he started his studies).
early example of the use of counterpoint (or double-chorus technique)
was demonstrated in the finale of Sullivan's Festival Te Deum
(Crystal Palace, 1872) where the tune St. Anne (1708 by William
Croft) was pitted against a jaunty military march.This perfectly
captured the joy at the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later
Edward VII). The critic for the Musical Times expressed himself
in italics such was the surprise at Sullivan's daring originality.
been closely connected with Sullivan's music as repetiteur and
assistant conductor with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (1976-1982)
David has a particular insight into the unstoppable flair exercised
by Sullivan's talent. Rarely was an opportunity missed to add
an element of surprise to enrich the score. Sullivan thought orchestrally,
and the operas are full of delightful examples of orchestral brilliance
(e.g. Climbing Over Rocky Mountain from Thespis and Pirates).
David warmed to his subject with a canter through as many examples
of double-choruses in the operas that were possible to fit into
the normal time-span of the Society's monthly meetings!
thorough investigation in the second half of the evening examined
in detail the clever interweaving and adaptation of musical themes
from The Sorcerer (e.g. as developed in the Act I duet for Lady
Sangazure and Sir Marmaduke) . In all here was enough material
for a whole day of fascinating study. A monograph by David would
be a marvellous addition to the library of any lover of G&S. Even
more fascinating would be David's completion of the Lord Chancellor's
fugue from Iolanthe (a passing comment from David which I'd like
to hold him to!).
An evening such as this means you invariably come away from the
meeting richer than when you arrived. For example, I had no idea
that Gounod's Ave Maria was applied to Bach's First Prelude. This
is an example used to show how two tunes can be amalgamated, even
by different composers (in the same way Sullivan uses St.Anne
against which to set his March).
finally one is left knowing so much more of Sullivan's techniques.
What isn't clear is why his music always sounds so spontaneous,
and works so well in the Theatre. His robust musical training
must have given him the foundation on which to establish and develop
his fount of musical talents.
thanks to David for giving us special compositional insights that
perhaps help to explain the perennial and enduring success of
the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and the Savoy Operas.
Irvin Browne BA(Hons)