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Arthur Sullivan

Arthur Seymour Sullivan was born in London on 13 May 1842. He became a chorister of the Chapel Royal, published his first composition at thirteen, won the first Mendelssohn Scholarship, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Leipzig conservatory.

In April 1862 his incidental music to The Tempest was performed at Crystal Palace and he became famous overnight. He was appointed Organist at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where his ballet LíIle Enchantée was produced in 1864. 1866 saw the premiere of his cello concerto, symphony and overture In Memoriam.

Also in 1866, Sullivan set an adaptation by F.C. Burnand of J.M. Mortonís farce Box and Cox. Originally intended purely for private presentation, Cox and Box was so successful that public performances followed and the collaborators produced a full-scale operetta, The Contrabandista (1867). An 1869 oratorio, The Prodigal Son, for the Three Choirs Festival, the 'peace cantata' On Shore and Sea (1871) and a massive Festival Te Deum (1872) to commemorate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from typhoid, pointed the way to The Light of the World (1873), an oratorio on the life of Christ. Sullivan did not forget the stage, providing incidental music for The Merchant of Venice and collaborating with W.S. Gilbert on an almost forgotten 1871 Christmas novelty, Thespis.

In 1875 the impresario Richard DíOyly Carte needed a piece to complete a triple bill at London's Royalty Theatre. Gilbert had a libretto but no composer. Carte suggested Sullivan. The libretto was Trial by Jury; the rest, as they say, is history. Carte, realising the potential of the partnership, contracted Sullivan and Gilbert to write for him. The Sorcerer appeared in 1877 followed by 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) and The Gondoliers (1889), during the run of which Gilbert picked the so-called 'carpet quarrel' with Carte and Sullivan, leading to an estrangement that eventually ended with Utopia Limited (1893). Sullivan continued to compose operettas but none were successful until The Rose of Persia (1899).

From 1880-1898 Sullivan was conductor of the Leeds Musical Festival, for which he wrote his two most famous choral works, The Martyr of Antioch (1880) and The Golden Legend (1886). He wrote incidental music for Henry VIII (1877) and Macbeth (1888). In 1883 Sullivan was knighted for his services to music and in 1891 his romantic opera Ivanhoe ran for an unprecedented 155 consecutive performances. Queen Victoriaís diamond jubilee in 1897 was celebrated with a patriotic ballet, Victoria and Merrie England. His final completed work was a commission in 1900 from the Dean and Chapter of St. Paulís Cathedral for a setting of the Te Deum Laudamus to commemorate the expected British victory in the Boer War.

In the autumn of 1900 Sullivanís health, which had never been good, declined rapidly and he died on 22 November. His wish to be buried with his family was over-ridden by the Queen, and he was laid to rest in St. Paulís after what amounted to a state funeral.

Copyright Stephen Turnbull 2006

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