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NEW SERIES.-No. 22.
ENGLAND has given to the world of art comparatively little in the way of music. But England is only just awakening to an artistic consciousness in certain respects, while, curiously enough, the mechanical supremacy which has been hers so long is now becoming less conspicuously manifest. Perhaps, when we attain our full beatific vision of beauty, we shall have put away many of the old qualities for which the sturdy Englishman has been noted; and, like the swan, shall come to our music only when we are going to die. However, John Bull is not yet quite so far gone as to think of making his will, and waning away to slow music; and indeed the kind of music which is a native product is not at all like the pathetic swan-song, but rather the reverse. Mr. Sullivan's music, for instance, and especially his recent music, is rather the voice of a humorous person who persists in enjoying living, and is fond of having a quip with his friends. “H.M.S. Pinafore” certainly seems to suggest rude health rather than sublimated æsthetics or bardic forewarnings; and yet-one ominous fact shines out with weird prominence even in the matter of “H.M.S. Pinafore.” The ancient decaying races of the world are those in whom politeness is the most conspicuous quality. The captain of that famous vessel has a remarkable and exemplary gift of politeness, quite foreign to the recorded character of those stentorian old salts who won our victories for us. But our subject is leading us too deep into political economy; we have to follow the career of Mr. Sullivan, and not to let out line for deep-sea soundings into the future and the effects of art.
Arthur Seymour Sullivan was born May 13, 1842, his father being bandmaster at Sandhurst, and after Kneller Hall, the Military School of Music, was founded, in 1857, professor there of the bass brass instruments. Arthur was thus brought up to music. When a very small child he went into the Chapel Royal, under Helmore. Here his sweet and charming voice brought him into notice, and was a marked attraction, which people flocked to the Chapel Royal to hear. While there he used to compose anthems, &c., thus evidencing his natural bent.
What gave the boy his real advance both as regards musical equipment and prestige was the Mendelssohn scholarship. A fund had been raised for the purpose of creating a memorial scholarship to Mendelssohn. Sullivan was the first scholar elected, and accordingly, after studying a short time at the Royal Academy of Music, with Sterndale Bennett and John Goss, he went to Leipzig, to enjoy the highest musical advantages. While there, he was under Moscheles, Hauptmann, Plaidy, the old pianofortist, and others, and returned at the end of 1861. He did not come back empty-handed, but brought with him his “ Tempest” music -an overture, incidental music, dances, &c., representative of Shakespeare's play of the “ Tempest."
The work was first played in this country in April, 1862. Chorley, who was musical critic of the Athenæum, took up the young composer at once. His words may be quoted from the Athenaeum of April 12, 1862, as showing how undoubted was his recognition, and how candid his welcome of the new musician :
“ Crystal Palace. The Tempest' music, by Mr. A. Sullivan. Last week our friend at Leipzig sent us an account of Herr Taubert's music to The Tempest.' We have now the pleasant task of recording the very remarkable and legitimate success gained at the Crystal Palace this day week by the illustrations to the same drama, written by Mr. Arthur Sullivan. It was one of those events which mark an epoch in a man's life; and, what is of more universal consequence, it may mark an epoch in English music, or we shall be greatly disappointed. Years on years have elapsed since we heard a work by so young an artist so full of promise, so full of fancy, showing so much conscientiousness, so much skill, and so few references to any model elect.
“Though 'The Tempest' has tempted many and many another composer-Purcell, Arne, Rolle, Mendelssohn, Halévy-having been thus illustrated the most frequently of Shakespeare's plays, we suspect (“Romeo and Juliet' making possibly the exception), it is still, we think, a difficult subject for music; inasmuch as, in spite of the exquisite care and great cost with which it has been put on the stage in late years, is it one of those plays which we the most care to see ? When delicate Ariel, the invisible to all save Prospero, must needs be represented by a lady or a child, making painful stage flights on visible wires, much of the poetry of the dream vanishes; and, except there be such a Caliban as Lablache (whose conception of that character, aided by great physical adaptitude, was one of the most remarkable things ever seen upon the stage, though it amounted to merely an opera-sketch), the semi-brute too constantly trenches on the verge of disgust to be acceptable—since few artists can, with the needful rudeness and vigour, combine the restraint, without which such a stage-creation becomes intolerable when set before the eye. Another fact, we think, may be more clearly proved that the limits within elemental, spiritual, and elfin music are restricted, to say
the least of them. A storm in music can be hardly treated in two ways —whether by Beethoven, or Rossini, or Cherubini, or Mendelssohn. The elves of Oberon' must have of necessity a dainty family likeness to the midsummer fairies of the ‘ Dream.' This, we think, should be borne in mind by young composers, seduced, by the exquisite poetry and fancy of the legend, to forget how real are the boundaries which it presents. It is also more emphatically to be dwelt on, as an earnest of real and original vigour, when a young composer, with such precedents before him, can assert himself within these boundaries with anything like freshness and novelty. “ This Mr. Sullivan has done, we repeat, in a remarkable degree,
as to make a real impression on a large audience miscellaneously composed-an English audience being habitually indisposed to an entertainment new in form. This music, being intended for the stage and to accompany action, was of necessity given with reading of a compressed text, with links of explanation, thus laying on it another disadvantage. The storm introduction in the first act is excellentgloomy, sinister, and not the old storm over again. There is something of the deep sea in it. Then come bits of melodramatic music, where Miranda is put to sleep; where Ariel goes forth on his mission, &c.; then Ariel's first song, which is picturesque, tunable (open to an objection presently to be stated). The music of the second act is slight; but it closes to the setting of
While you here do snoring lie.' Nothing can be more quaint and elvish than this; and the treatment of the words, ' Awake, awake,' completely roused the audience. The curtain tune to the third act is full of graceful melody and charm; but the feature in it is the bewilderment of the shipwrecked folks, and the solemn and strange music, and dance with pipe and tabor, led by Ariel (encored). We might look far ere we found anything so fantastic, so seizing without vulgarity, so charmingly scored. Act the Fourth opens with a short masque overture--brilliant, clear, and thoroughly happy in its subjects—an overture which will be welcome anywhere; then the duett between Juno and Ceres (encored)
'Honour, riches, marriage, blessing,' which has a stateliness and a real flow of melody combined that place it above most modern duetts ; the glowing and beauteous poetry of the words receives no discredit from the musician. The dance of nymphs and reapers, which closes the act (encored), is the number in the work calculated to remind the hearer most that Mr. Sullivan is the Mendelssohn scholar in the quick staccato figure harmonised, which everyone has been used to consider as Mendelssohn's own particular property; yet not so, since it is in Cherubini's quartetts. The movement is a capital one
brisk, clear, and with a bold and rustic trio full of character. Perhaps the best piece of the whole is the Orchestral Prelude to the fifth act, before the dissolving of Prospero's spell, which is grandiose, poetical, mysterious, yet not formless, and delicious in sonority. There is no musician that need have refused the signature to this symphony. Last of all came (as concerns the public) the least gracious task of all, a new setting of Where the Bee sucks' (encored), the charm, joyance, and delicacy of which well deserved the encore.
“So that here, if this young composer wills, there is something to look to. There are no signs of inexperience and shortcoming in this music, save, perhaps, in an over-solicitude of instrumentation in Ariel's first song and in the duett. Mr. Sullivan has already obviously no common power in this branch of his art. He has the faculty of setting out gracious ideas (there is not a bar of ugly music in this work), in most becoming and ornamental framework. In brief, it is a real gratification to think that there is already such good justification of the hope on which he was sent to study abroad. We can imagine no doubt for his future life and leisure permitting.
“But it must be added that, for a beginner, Mr. Sullivan had a great chance. The performance of his work was excellent. The day was a pleasant day altogether for those who wish well to English music.'
In 1863 Mr. Sullivan wrote a Procession March to celebrate the occasion of the marriage of the Prince of Wales. His next work was Kenilworth, which was produced at the Birmingham Festival in 1864, and afterwards at the Crystal Palace, November 12, 1864. The words of “Kenilworth, a masque of the days of Queen Elizabeth,” are by H. F. Chorley, or rather, as was afterwards corrected, are principally drawn from Shakespeare. The music consists of a cantata, with solos, songs, duets—a beautiful duet, “How sweet the Moonlight sleeps," between Lorenzo and Jessica, being one of the finest things ever done by the composer.
The Musical World of Oct. 8, 1864, gives a glowing account of the work: “Mr. Sullivan's masque, Kenilworth, the fourth novelty of the festival, was produced at the third evening concert. Concerning its subject, it is enough to say that, without any pretext of plot or story, the masque presents some of the entertainments offered to England's maiden queen when she became the guest of the Earl of Leicester in his princely palace. Mr. Sullivan's music contains four numbers out of the nine with which the rhymester has nothing to do. Of these the critic may speak. They are an instrumental prelude, a slow and brisk dance, the former with a choral burden, and a setting of the lovely dialogue between Lorenzo and Jessica from The Merchant of Venice, introduced (under peril of its being blamed as an anachronism) as the play set
before the Queen, among other of the pleasures of Kenilworth. All these, it may be said without hesitation, will do more than bear out every favourable impression excited and retained by the writer's Tempest music, the first hearing of which set him in a foremost place among English composers. An elegance of fancy, a brightness of instrumentation, a power of working out happy, natural ideas, only to be acquired by diligent study, placed at the service of taste, distinguish these movements, most especially the one among them which was most difficult to write, the Shakespeare scene. It is no easy matter to approach the delicious sweetness of the poet's words, but Mr. Sullivan has done so; and the tenderness, grace, and simplicity of his melody, borne out by an orchestral treatment, which suggests, without any puerile imitations, the calm, the perfume, the whispering leaves, the placid moonlight heaven of a summer night, mark another step upward in a career which it rests with himself to render remarkable in the annals of art. Let it be hoped that success won by one so young will be acknowledged in the most gracious spirit.”
In 1864, also, Mr. Sullivan wrote a ballet, the Isle Enchantée, which was brought out at Covent Garden on the 14th May.
He began to write songs at this time, among which may be specially named the solo treble, “ Sweet Day so cool, so soft, so bright," a lovely composition, worthy to be signed by Schubert, “Orpheus with his Lute," "O Mistress mine," and "The Willow Song." He also composed an opera to Chorley's words, entitled the Sapphire Necklace. Unfortunately, it was an unsatisfactory libretto ; but pieces out of the opera are sung at concerts from time to time with great applause, and the overture is well known and constantly performed.
Mr. Sullivan's Symphony in E, an important work, was produced at the Crystal Palace, March 10, 1866, and is one of the stock pieces in the repertoire of the Saturday Concerts. For the melodiousness of its themes, the variety of treatment, and the beauty of the orchestration, it is surpassed by no work of the English school. The same year appeared a concerto for the violoncello, performed frequently by Signor Piatti.
In this year also, immediately after the death of his father, he wrote the overture In Memoriam, which was produced at the Norwich Festival.
Cox and Box was a great step in his career, manifesting new qualities, great dramatic power, and a comic gift, which are more practically useful and remunerative than the grandest oratorios or operas. It was brought out at the Adelphi, May 11, 1867, the play being altered from Madison Morton's Box and Cox, by Burnand. Cox and Box has been much played since.
The Contrabandista, the play also by Burnand, was brought out at St. George's Hall, soon after the appearance of Cox and Box. An overture called Marmion was written for the Philharmonic Society, and produced