An amusing feature of the London journal The Musical World is a series of illustrations by the English tenor Charles Lyall. One of his many subjects was English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. Though he also composed serious choral, ballet, and orchestral works, Sullivan is best known for his fourteen “comic operas” created with librettist W.S. Gilbert. They are often referred to as “Savoy operas,” named after the Savoy Theatre, a London venue built specifically to showcase Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Many of these works, like the Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, continue to have broad international success.
On the 117th anniversary of his passing, we present these four illustrations.
This depicts Arthur Sullivan after receiving an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University in 1876.
The Musical World, Vol. 54 No. 28 (8 July 1876): 467.
After traveling to Egypt in 1882, there was much speculation that Sullivan was composing a symphony on Egyptian themes. The symphony never materialized, but Lyall fueled the rumor with this illustration.
The Musical World, Vol. 60 No. 14 (8 April 1882): 212.
Sullivan’s conducting was often criticized as being unenergetic and restrained.
The Musical World, Vol. 56 No. 39 (28 September 1878): 626.
He invariably sat in the usual high chair and seemed to keep his eyes always on the score in front of him. His beat was restrained and rather cramped, his baton moving across the top or up and down the sides of the score.
David Bispham, A Quaker Singer’s Recollections (New York, 1920): 174-175.
An illustration entitled, “In Purgatory,” depicts Sullivan tormented by Anton Rubinstein at the piano (left), Richard Wagner (upper right), and a variety of devilish gremlins.
The Musical World, Vol. 56 No. 33 (17 August 1878): 530.
A common, humorous trademark of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas is the patter song, featuring a rapid paced, tongue-twisting text sung by a comic bass or baritone. Here is a famous example: “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” from Act I of the Pirates of Penzance.
Remarkably, Arthur Sullivan’s voice was captured on a very early recording by George Gouraud, Thomas Edison’s representative in England. At a dinner party on 5 October 1888, Sullivan remarks on the newly invented phonogram.
RIPM search tip: To view Charles Lyall’s illustrations, select the Advanced Search option of the Retrospective Index and fill in the following fields: Keyword = Charles Lyall; Periodical = Musical World, The [1836-1891]; Type = Illustration.
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