As an aspirant music composition major, what’s the fun in studying a composer if you can’t emulate him? Igor Stravinsky once said, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.” However, I somehow think the College would frown on plagiarism, so this project steers a bit clear from Stravinsky’s recommendation. My project entails the composition of four pieces a la Sullivan, so here is an outline of certain traits of the four Sullivan archetypes I’ve writing in homage, along with the text I used, with some indication of how they fit into a hypothetical Sullivan operetta.
Phase II consisted of the analysis of extracts from the thirteen extant operettas Sullivan wrote with W.S. Gilbert, with particular emphasis on the types of pieces I would be emulating in Phase III, composition.
I figure I’m quite long overdue for a post, but as Professor Griffioen told me, most “decent research is behind its ideal timetable.” For those of you who are just ‘tuning in,’ I am examining the compositional style of Sir Arthur Sullivan in his operatic collaborations with the Victorian playwright Sir William Schwenck Gilbert. In the intervening 135 years since the duo’s first work, Sullivan has been largely dismissed by the musicological community as “the idle singer of an empty evening” (Ernest Walker), the “English Offenbach” (Sir George Macfarren), or worse. As a result, the minds most qualified to analyze his artistry have generally steered clear of it. The object of this project is not to fashion a musicological defense or condemnation of Sullivan; but rather to emulate his ‘Savoy style’ in composition. So, without further ado…
For over one hundred and twenty years, the comic operas of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan have delighted the English-speaking world with their combination of textual and musical charm and wit. However, while the Gilbert’s words have been mined by literary scholars over the past century, Sullivan’s music has been largely neglected by academia. This is largely due to the opinion held by the Victorian musical establishment, Sullivan himself included, that his popular theatrical works were beneath the dignity of a classically-trained composer. Despite this contemporary opinion, of all Sullivan’s works, only his comic operas have enjoyed continued performance. In fact, his collaborations with Gilbert (such as The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Mikado) have made a significant impact on our culture.