Today, on a cold and blustery Edinburgh afternoon, Mr Tracks and I went to see a rollicking production of HMS Pinafore, written and composed by that marvellous partnership Sir William Schwenk Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan respectively.
I don’t have any G&S music on my iPhone, so this seemed like a good opportunity to talk briefly about this genre of music, and to tell you what a fun time we had too!
Gilbert and Sullivan were each successful men in their own right in the latter part of the nineteen century. They collaborated on a couple of small pieces, but it was when impresario Richard D’Olyly Carte brought them together in 1874 to write a proper full length work to balance Offenbach’s La Perichole that the match really took hold. This first work, Trial By Jury was not only a major hit on the London theatre scene, running for 131 performances, but it gave birth to an incredibly strong musical working trio.
HMS Pinafore was finished in 1878 and ran for 571 performances in London. It also crossed the Atlantic to become a success in New York too.
As with many G&S plots, one has to avoid looking too hard at the logic of how things in HMS Pinafore hang together – this is not about dotting i’s and crossing t’s after all. It is pure entertainment and about making sure everyone is alright in the end, no matter how far fetched.
And when we turn to the music, well again, Gilbert provides us with all the depth, colour, beautiful melodies and drama that we could wish for, while still providing the perfect accompaniment to Sullivan’s witty libretto.
G&S were producing Operettas – works that were lighter and shorter than operas and usually less serious. They could also usually be expected to include satirical content. As a result, those in the ‘upper eschelons’ of cultural society tended to scorn G&S’s work as being inferior and they lumped in with this the quality of Gilbert’s compositions without looking at them that closely. However, his work does in fact hold up robustly against any other composer you may care to name – the music is intricate, sometimes complex, imaginative, always appropriate and never dull.
It is this enduring combination of gentle humour, together with excellent quality music which has caused the work of G&S to remain popular ever since it was first produced over 127 years ago. There are a small number of professional societies in the UK, but very many more amature groups who take great pleasure in putting on regular performances.
We were in the good hands of the former today and we had a lovely time, thanks to the Scottish Concert Orchestra, the Gilbert & Sullivan Chorus, the esteemed and talented soloists and of course, the great men, Gilbert and Sullivan themselves.
*Opening words from HMS Pinafore – Sir Arthur Sullivan