Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Sullivan, Arthur Seymour
SULLIVAN, Sir ARTHUR SEYMOUR (1842–1900), composer, younger son of Thomas Sullivan, was born at 8 Bolwell Terrace (now Street), Lambeth Walk, London, on 13 May 1842. His father, an excellent musician, played the violin in the orchestra of the Surrey Theatre, and afterwards became bandmaster at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst (1845–56); subsequentlv until his death, 22 Sept. 1866, at the age of sixty-one he held a professorship at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, from its institution in 1857. Thomas Sullivan's elder son, Frederick (1837–1877), distinguished himself as an actor. The mother of the two boys, Mary Clementina, daughter of James Coghlan, came of an old Italian family named Righi.
Arthur Sullivan was cradled in music. At Sandhurst he obtained a practical knowledge of all the instruments in his father's band 'not a mere passing acquaintance, but a lifelong and intimate friendship.' He was sent to a boarding-school kept by W. G. Plees, at 20 Albert Terrace, Paddington. On 12 April 1854, aged nearly twelve, Sullivan was admitted one of the children of the Chapel Royal, St. James's, and two days later he was entrusted with the singing of a solo at one of the services. 'His voice was very sweet,' records Thomas Helmore [q. v.], the master of the children, 'and his stvle of singing far more sympathetic than that of most boys.' The children were boarded at 6 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, with Helmore, who not only laid the foundations of Sullivan's musical education on a solid basis, but remained his attached friend till death. During his choristership Sullivan composed in 1855 a setting of 'Sing unto the Lord and praise His name.' This 'full anthem' was sung in the Chapel Royal when the dean (Bishop Blomfield of London), to show his appreciation of the youthful effort, rewarded the boy composer with half a sovereign. His first published composition, a sacred song, 'O Israel,' was issued by Novello & Co. in November of the same year (1855).
In June 1856 Sullivan was the youngest of seventeen candidates who entered for the recently founded Mendelssohn scholarship to perpetuate the memory of Mendelssohn in England. The result was a tie between Sullivan and Joseph Barnby [q. v. Suppl.], the youngest and oldest competitors. In a final trial, however, Sullivan became the victor. He entered, under the terms of the scholarship, the Royal Academy of Music as a student, though he did not leave the choir of the Chapel Royal until 22 June 1857. His teachers at the Royal Academy were Sterndale Bennett [q. v.] and Arthur O'Leary for pianoforte, and John Goss [q.v.] for composition. During his student period at Tenterden Street a setting by him of 'It was a Lover and his Lass,' for duet and chorus, was performed at the academy concert of 14 July 1857, and an overture on 13 July 1858. The latter work was praised by the 'Musical World' of 17 July 1858 (the leading musical journal of the day) for its cleverness, 'and an independent way of thinking, which, in one so young as the Mendelssohn scholar, looks well.' Outside his academy studies he took an active part in composing music for, and, clad in the academy uniform, in conducting the orchestra of, the Pimlico Dramatic Society, an amateur organisation which had the advantage of his brother Fred's assistance in the capacity of stage manager and director-in-chief.
In the autumn of 1858 Sullivan was sent by the Mendelssohn scholarship committee to the Conservatorium, Leipzig. He studied there under Moritz Hauptmann (counterpoint), Julius Rietz (composition), Ignatz Moscheles and Louis Plaidy (pianoforte), and Ferdinand David (orchestral playing and conducting). At Leipzig his publicly performed compositions included a string quartett; an overture, 'The Feast of Roses,' suggested by Thomas Moore's 'Lalla Rookh' (26 May 1890); and the music to Shakespeare's 'Tempest' — the last-named being his exit opus from the Conservatorium.
Sullivan returned to England in April 1861, when he immediately had to set about earning his own living. He took a course of lessons on the organ from George Cooper [q. v.] in order to qualify himself for an organist appointment. In the summer of 1861 he became organist and choirmaster of St. Michael's church, Chester Square, the adult members of his choir being composed of policemen! The turning-point of his life as a composer was reached by the performance of his wonderfully beautiful 'Tempest' music, played under the conductorship of Mr. August Manns at the Crystal Palace Saturday concert of 5 April 1862. Among the audience on that occasion was Charles Dickens, who said to the composer: 'I don't profess to be a musical critic, but I do know that I have listened to a very remarkable work.' The professional critics fully endorsed the opinion of the great novelist, and Sullivan at the age of twenty-one suddenly found himself famous. The 'Tempest' music, which was repeated at the concert on the following Saturday, must be placed among his best work. In melodic charm, dainty orchestration, and poetic fancy, Sullivan never surpassed this spontaneous composition of his youth. The arrival of the princess of Wales (Queen Alexandra) in London in March 1863 prompted a song, 'Bride from the North,' and a processional march. Sullivan's success as a song composer may be said to date from his five Shakespearean songs, produced at this time, of which 'Orpheus with his lute' stands out pre-eminently as a composition of sterling merit. The post of organist at the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden Theatre, which he held for a time under Costa's conductorship, resulted in the composition of the ballet of 'L'Ile enchantée,' produced at Covent Garden on 16 May 1864. In the same year he made his first appearance as a composer at one of the great musical festivals by the production of his cantata 'Kenilworth' (libretto by H. F. Chorley) at Birmingham, 8 Sept. 1864. 'Kenilworth' contains a duet, 'How sweet the moonlight sleeps,' which is 'far too good to be forgotten.' He lost much time over an opera (libretto also by Chorley) entitled 'The Sapphire Necklace,' of which only the overture came to maturity, and which has been frequently performed in the concert-room. From 1865 to 1869 Sullivan held his first appointment as a chef d'orchestre in the conductorship of the Civil Service Musical Society.
The year 1866 was an important one in his career. He was offered by Sterndale Bennett, the principal, a professorship of composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He also became professor of 'pianoforte and ballad singing' at the Crystal Palace School of Art. His only symphony (in E) was produced at the Crystal Palace on 10 March 1866. On 11 July he gave a concert at St. James's Hall, made additionally notable by the co-operation of Jenny Lind and the veteran Ignatz Moscheles. The sudden death of his father, on 22 Sept. 1866, furnished the promptings for the composition of his 'In Memoriam' overture, written for the Norwich musical festival, and first performed there 30 Oct. 1866. A concert for violoncello and orchestra was performed (the solo part played by Signor Piatti) at the Crystal Palace concert of 24 Nov.
The chief event of this eventful year (1866) was the beginning of Sullivan's comic opera career. His first venture in this extraordinarily successful field of artistic creativeness was 'Cox and Box: a new Triumviretta, an adaptation by Mr. F. C. Burnand of the well-known farce by Maddison Morton [q.v.], 'Box and Cox,' made still more comic by Mr. Burnand's interpellations, and set by Sullivan 'with a brightness and a drollery which at once placed him in the highest rank as a comic composer.' This amusing piece was privately performed at the residences of Mr. Burnand and Mr. Arthur J. Lewis (the latter on 27 April 1867), and in public at the Adelphi Theatre on 11 May 1867, at a benefit performance organised by the staff of 'Punch' for their late colleague, C. H. Bennett. 'Contrabandista' (libretto also by Mr. Burnand) followed in December. Then came a pause till the production of 'Thespis, or the Gods grown old; an operatic extravaganza,' libretto by Mr. W. S. Gilbert (Gaiety Theatre, 26 Dec. 1871). This work was important in that it furnished the first fruits of that remarkable Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration which for nearly thirty years was extraordinarily prolific in results, and in fact inaugurated a new era in comic opera in this country. Its landmarks, so to speak, may be indicated by 'Trial by Jury' (1875), 'H.M.S. Pinafore' (1878), and 'The Mikado' (1885), the most popular of the series. In 'Trial by Jury' the composer's brother Frederick distinguished himself in the part of the Judge, and this comicality, by introducing the late Richard D'Oyly Carte as manager, initiated what may be called the Savoy Triumvirate—Gilbert, Sullivan, Carte. On 10 Oct. 1881 the Savoy Theatre, built by D'Oyly Carte specially for the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, was opened. A complete list of these works, with places and dates of their production, will be found at the end of this article.
To return to the more serious side of Sullivan's career, an overture, 'Marmion,' was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society and first performed at their concert of 3 June 1867. In the same month he became the first organist and choirmaster of St. Peter's church, Cranley Gardens, Kensington (consecrated 29 June 1867). This post he held for a short time concurrently with that of St. Michael's, Chester Square; but early in 1872 he entirely relinquished his ecclesiastical offices. These appointments, however, were largely the means of bringing into existence his anthems, hymn tunes, and other sacred music. In October 1867 he visited Vienna in company with his friend Sir George Grove [q.v. Suppl.], an expedition made memorable by the discovery of some valuable manuscripts of Schubert (Hellborn, Life of Franz Schubert, English transl., with appendix by George Grove, ii. 297).
As Sullivan had now fully established his reputation as a composer, it is not surprising that commissions began to reach him. For the Worcester musical festival of 1869 he composed his first oratorio, 'The Prodigal Son,' Sims Reeves [q.v. Suppl.] taking the principal part on its production on 8 Sept. The Birmingham festival of the following year brought forth his 'Overture di Ballo' (performed 31 Aug. 1870), 'which, while couched throughout in dance-rhythms, is constructed in perfectly classical forms.' In the spring of this year he delivered at the South Kensington Museum a course of lectures (illustrated by part singing) on the 'Theory and Practice of Music,' in connection with a scheme entitled 'Instruction in Science and Art for Women.' For the opening of the International Exhibition on 1 May 1871, he composed the cantata 'On Shore and Sea' (words by Tom Taylor), and exactly a year later his festival 'Te Deum,' to celebrate the recovery of King Edward VII, then prince of Wales, from his serious illness, was performed at the Crystal Palace by two thousand executants in the presence of thirty thousand people. In November of the same year he became the first conductor of the Royal Amateur Orchestral Society. His second oratorio, 'The Light of the World,' was composed for the Birmingham festival of 1873, and first performed 27 Aug. In the following year he edited the musical section of 'Church Hymns, with Tunes,' published by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge. At Manchester, on 26 Feb. 1874, after a performance of 'The Light of the World' he was presented with an old English silver goblet and a purse containing 200l. In July 1874 he was appointed conductor of the Royal Aquarium orchestra: this post he held till May 1876. His other conducting engagements, in addition to those already mentioned, were: Messrs. Gatti's promenade concerts at Covent Garden Theatre during the seasons of 1878 and 1879; the Glasgow Choral Union orchestral concerts for two seasons, 1875–7; the Leeds musical festival (triennial) from 1880 to 1898; and the Philharmonic Society (London) from 1885 to 1887.
Sullivan was appointed the first principal of the National Training School of Music (South Kensington) in 1876, which office he held till 1881, when he was succeeded by Dr. (afterwards Sir John) Stainer. On 1 June 1876, in company with his old master, John Goss, he received the degree of Doctor in Music (honoris causa) at the university of Cambridge. A similar distinction was bestowed upon him at Oxford three years later, the occasion being the first time that honorary degrees in music were conferred by the university. In 1878 he acted as British Commissioner for Music at the International Exhibition at Paris, when he was decorated with the Order of the Légion d'honneur of France. A visit to America in November 1879, in company with Mr. W. S. Gilbert and D'Oyly Carte, was in the nature of a triumphal reception.
To inaugurate his conductorship of the Leeds festival—in succession to Michael Costa [q.v.]—he composed his sacred music drama 'The Martyr of Antioch' (the words selected from Dean Milman's poem), performed 15 Oct. 1880. At the festival of 1886 (16 Oct.) his setting of Longfellow's 'Golden Legend' was first produced with a success that has ever since been accorded to this his finest as well as his most popular choral work. The Leeds festival of 1886 was made additionally memorable by a very remarkable performance under Sullivan of Bach's Mass in B minor. Apart from the succession of his comic operas, the outstanding event in the latter years of Sullivan's life was his serious (or 'grand') opera 'Ivanhoe,' produced at the Royal English Opera House (now the Palace Theatre), Shaftesbury Avenue, 31 Jan. 1891.
Delicate as a child, Sullivan suffered much ill-health during the greater part of his life. He died, somewhat suddenly, at his residence, 1 Queen's Mansions, Victoria Street, Westminster, on 22 Nov. 1900. His funeral partook of the nature of a public ceremony, and, after a service in the Chapel Royal, St. James's, where he had so often sung as a boy, his remains were interred in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral. Shortly before his death he returned to his early love, church music, by composing, at the request of the authorities of St. Paul's Cathedral, a 'Te Deum ' for chorus and orchestra to celebrate the cessation of hostilities in South Africa when that happy consummation should take place (Sir George Martin's letter to the Times, 29 Nov. 1900).
Sullivan, who was unmarried, received the following distinctions: fellow of the Royal Academy of Music (his alma mater); Mus.Doc. Cantabr. (1876) and Mus.Doc. Oxon. (1879), both honoris causa; Order of the Légion d'honneur of France, 1878; Order of the Medjidieh from the sultan of Turkey, 1888; Order of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; the Royal Victorian Order. He was knighted on 22 May 1883.
A portrait of Sullivan by Sir J. E. Millais, painted in 1888, is destined for the National Portrait Gallery. It is proposed (1901) to place a mural tablet above his grave in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral. A memorial tablet placed on the house where he was born was unveiled on 20 July 1901 (Times, 22 July).
As a composer Sullivan was typically British (see his letter, signed 'A British Musician,' to the Times, 20 July 1897, on the subject of neglect of native music by British military bands). Melody, that rare gift, he possessed in a degree that may be classed as genius. The influence of his early training in the choir of the Chapel Royal is traceable in all his vocal music, solo and concerted, which is always grateful to sing and interesting to the singer. He was a master of orchestration, his treatment of the wood-wind being in many instances worthy of Schubert. Here again the seed sown in the band-room at Sandhurst bore rich fruit. Moreover, not a little of the humour of the comic operas is due to his masterfulness in extracting fun from his lifelong friends, the instruments. His creative achievements may be summarised in the words of his friend and early encourager, Sir George Grove: 'Form and symmetry he seems to possess by instinct; rhythm and melody clothe everything he touches; the music shows not only sympathetic genius, but sense, judgment, proportion, and a complete absence of pedantry and pretension; while the orchestration is distinguished by a happy and original beauty hardly surpassed by the great masters' (Grove, Dict. of Music and Musicians, iii. 763 ).
The following is an attempt at a complete list of Sullivan's compositions:
Oratorios and Cantatas.—'Kenilworth' (H. F. Chorley), Birmingham festival, 8 Sept. 1864; 'The Prodigal Son,' Worcester festival, 8 Sept. 1869; 'On Shore and Sea' (Tom Taylor), composed for the opening of the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, 1 May 1871; Festival 'Te Deum,' Crystal Palace, 1 May 1872, to commemorate the recovery of King Edward VII, then prince of Wales; 'The Light of the World,' oratorio, Birmingham festival, 27 Aug. 1873; 'The Martyr of Antioch' (Dean Milman), Leeds festival, 16 Oct. 1880; 'The Golden Legend' (Longfellow, adapted by Joseph Bennett), Leeds, 16 Oct. 1886; Exhibition ode (Tennyson), opening of the Colonial exhibition, Royal Albert Hall, 4 May 1886; Imperial Institute ode (Lewis Morris), composed for the laying of the foundation-stone by Queen Victoria, 4 July 1887; Imperial March, opening of the Imperial Institute by Queen Victoria, 10 May 1893.
Operas and Plays.—'Cox and Box' (F. C. Burnand), Adelphi Theatre, first public performance 11 May 1867; 'The Contrabandists' (F. C. Burnand), St. George's Hall, 18 Dec. 1867; 'Thespis, or the Gods grown old,' Gaiety Theatre, 26 Dec. 1871; 'Trial by Jury,' new Royalty Theatre, 25 March 1875 ; 'The Zoo: an original musical folly' (B. C. Stephenson, who wrote the libretto under the pseudonym W. M. Bolton Rowe), St. James's Theatre, 5 June 1875; 'The Sorcerer,' Opera Comique, 17 Nov. 1877; 'H.M.S. Pinafore,' the same, 25 May 1878; 'Pirates of Penzance,' 3 April 1880; 'Patience,' the same, 23 April 1881. The following were produced at the Savoy Theatre: 'Iolanthe,' 25 Nov. 1882;' Princess Ida,' 5 Jan. 1884; 'The Mikado,' 14 March 1885; 'Ruddigore,' 22 Jan. 1887; 'The Yeomen of the Guard,' 3 Oct. 1888; 'The Gondoliers,' 7 Dec. 1889; 'Haddon Hall' (Sydney Grundy), 24 Sept. 1892; ' Utopia (Limited),' 7 Oct. 1893; 'The Chieftain,' enlarged version of 'Contrabandista' (F. C. Burnand), 12 Dec. 1894; 'The Grand Duke,' 7 March 1896 ; 'The Beauty Stone' (A. W. Pinero and Comyns Carr), 28 May 1898; 'The Rose of Persia,' 29 Nov. 1899; 'The Emerald Isle' (Basil Hood), an unfinished opera, but completed by Edward German, and produced at the Savoy Theatre, 27 April 1901 (unless otherwise stated, all the foregoing are settings of librettos by W. S. Gilbert); grand opera, 'Ivanhoe' (Julian Sturgis), produced at the Royal English Opera House, 31 Jan. 1891.
Incidental Music to Plays.—'The Tempest' (op. 1), Crystal Palace, 5 April 1862; 'Merchant of Venice,' Prince's Theatre, Manchester, 19 Sept. 1871; 'Merry Wives of Windsor,' Gaiety Theatre, 19 Dec. 1874; 'Henry VIII,' Theatre Royal, Manchester, 29 Aug. 1877; 'Macbeth,' Lyceum Theatre, 29 Dec. 1888; 'The Foresters,' by Tennyson, Daly's Theatre, New York, 25 March 1892; 'King Arthur,' Lyceum Theatre, 12 Jan. 1895.
Orchestral Compositions.—Procession March, composed in celebration of the marriage of King Edward VII, then prince of Wales, and performed at the Crystal Palace on 14 March 1863; Symphony in E, Crystal Palace, 10 March 1866. Overtures: 'In Memoriam' (of his father), Norwich festival, 30 Oct. 1886; 'Marmion,' Philharmonic Society, 3 June 1867; 'Di Ballo,' Birmingham festival, 31 Aug. 1870; Concertino for violoncello and orchestra, Crystal Palace (Piatti soloist), 24 Nov. 1866. Ballets: 'L'Ile Enchantée,' Covent Garden Theatre, 16 May 1864 ; 'Victoria and Merrie England' (ballet), Alhambra, 25 May 1897.
Pianoforte Compositions.—Reverie in A, Melody in D (originally published as 'Thoughts'), 1862; 'Day Dreams,' six pieces, 1867; and 'Twilight,' 1868.
Violoncello Compositions.—Concerto in D (composed expressly for Signer Piatti), 1866; and Duo concertante for pianoforte and violoncello, 1868.
Songs and Duets.—Nearly one hundred. Of these 'The Lost Chord' (a setting of Adelaide Procter's words) has attained extraordinary popularity. The cycle of (eleven out of twelve) songs entitled 'The Window, or the Loves of the Wrens,' lyrics by Tennyson, published in 1871, take high rank in the realm of the art-song.
Part-songs (secular).—Ten. The settings of Sir Walter Scott's lines, 'O hush thee, my babie' (for mixed voices), first performed by Barnby's choir, St. James's Hall, 23 May 1867, and 'The long day closes' (for male voices), words by H. F. Chorley, are the best known.
Sacred Music.—Thirteen anthems; Morning Service in D; part-songs, arrangements of tunes, &c. (a complete list of these appeared in the Musical Times, January 1901, p. 24); Hymn tunes, about fifty, of which 'St. Gertrude,' a setting of the Rev. S. Baring-Gould's words, 'Onward, Christian soldiers,' was composed for the 'Hymnary,' 1872, but the tune first appeared in the 'Musical Times,' December 1871. A practically complete collection of his hymn tunes is about to be published by Messrs. Novello.Sullivan edited 'Church Hymns with Tunes' (1874), and Messrs. Boosey's edition of operas, and he wrote additional accompaniments to Handel's 'Jephtha' for the performance of that work at the Oratorio Concerts, St. James's Hall, 5 Feb. 1869.
[Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians, iii. 761, iv. 797; Lawrence's Sir Arthur Sullivan, Life-story, Letters, and Reminiscences, 1899; Willeby's Masters of English Music, 1893; James D. Brown and S. S. Stratton's British Musical Biography, 1897; Fredk. R. Spark and Joseph Bennett's History of the Leeds Musical Festival, 1892; Musical Times, December 1900 p. 785, January 1901 p. 21, February 1901 p. 99, March 1901 p. 167, April 1901 p. 241; Brit. Mus. Cat.]