Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, City of London, Greater London, England
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. His works include 24 operas, 11 major orchestral works, ten choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous church pieces, songs, and piano and chamber pieces. His hymns and songs include "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "The Lost Chord".
Caryl Brahms, author of "Gilbert and Sullivan: Lost Chords and Discords" (1975), says that Sullivan had a relationship with Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Gay Book of Days (Carol Publishing Corporation, 1985) and The Alyson Almanac (Alyson Publications, 1990) both list Sullivan as a gay composer.
The son of a military bandmaster, Sullivan composed his first anthem at the age of eight and was later a soloist in the boys' choir of the Chapel Royal. In 1856, at 14, he was awarded the first Mendelssohn Scholarship by the Royal Academy of Music, which allowed him to study at the academy and then at the Leipzig Conservatoire in Germany. His graduation piece, incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest (1861), was received with acclaim on its first performance in London. Among his early major works were a ballet, L'Île Enchantée (1864), a symphony, a cello concerto (both 1866) and his Overture di Ballo (1870). To supplement the income from his concert works he wrote hymns, parlour ballads and other light pieces, and worked as a church organist and music teacher.
In 1866 Sullivan composed a one-act comic opera, Cox and Box, which is still widely performed. He wrote his first opera with W. S. Gilbert, Thespis, in 1871. Four years later, the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte engaged Gilbert and Sullivan to create a one-act piece, Trial by Jury (1875). Its box-office success led to a series of twelve full-length comic operas by the collaborators. After the extraordinary success of H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) and The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Carte used his profits from the partnership to build the Savoy Theatre in 1881, and their joint works became known as the Savoy operas. Among the best known of the later operas are The Mikado (1885) and The Gondoliers (1889). Gilbert broke from Sullivan and Carte in 1890, after a quarrel over expenses at the Savoy. They reunited in the 1890s for two more operas, but these did not achieve the popularity of their earlier works.
Sullivan's infrequent serious pieces during the 1880s included two cantatas, The Martyr of Antioch (1880) and The Golden Legend (1886), his most popular choral work. He also wrote incidental music for West End productions of several Shakespeare plays and held conducting and academic appointments. Sullivan's only grand opera, Ivanhoe, though initially successful in 1891, has rarely been revived. In his last decade Sullivan continued to compose comic operas with various librettists and wrote other major and minor works. He died at the age of 58, regarded as Britain's foremost composer. His comic opera style served as a model for generations of musical theatre composers that followed, and his music is still frequently performed, recorded and pastiched.
Sullivan never married, but he had serious love affairs with several women. The first was with Rachel Scott Russell (1845–1882), the daughter of the engineer John Scott Russell. Sullivan was a frequent visitor at the Scott Russell home in the mid-1860s, and by 1865 the affair was in full bloom. Rachel's parents did not approve of a possible union with a young composer of uncertain financial prospects, but the two continued to see each other covertly. At some point in 1868 Sullivan started a simultaneous (and secret) affair with Rachel's sister Louise (1841–1878). Both relationships ended by early 1869.[n 25]
Sullivan's longest love affair was with the American socialite Fanny Ronalds, a woman three years his senior, who had two children. He met her in Paris around 1867, and the affair began in earnest soon after she moved to London in 1871. According to a contemporary description of Ronalds, "Her face was perfectly divine in its loveliness, her features small and exquisitely regular. Her hair was a dark shade of brown – châtain foncé [deep chestnut] – and very abundant ... a lovely woman, with the most generous smile one could possibly imagine, and the most beautiful teeth." Sullivan called her "the best amateur singer in London". She often performed Sullivan's songs at her famous Sunday soirées. She became particularly associated with "The Lost Chord", singing it both in private and in public, often with Sullivan accompanying her. When Sullivan died, he left her the autograph manuscript of that song, along with other bequests.
Ronalds was separated from her American husband, but they never divorced. Social conventions of the time compelled Sullivan and Ronalds to keep their relationship private.[n 26] She apparently became pregnant at least twice and procured abortions in 1882 and 1884. Sullivan had a roving eye, and his diary records the occasional quarrels when Ronalds discovered his other liaisons, but he always returned to her.[n 27] Around 1889 or 1890 the sexual relationship evidently ended – he started to refer to her in his diary as "Auntie" – but she remained a constant companion for the rest of his life.
In 1896 the 54-year-old Sullivan proposed marriage to the 22-year-old Violet Beddington (1874–1962), but she refused him.[n 28]
Sullivan loved to spend time in France (both in Paris and on the Riviera), where his acquaintances included European royalty and where the casinos enabled him to indulge his passion for gambling. He enjoyed hosting private dinners and entertainments at his home, often featuring famous singers and well-known actors. In 1865 he was initiated into Freemasonry and was Grand Organist of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1887 during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Sullivan's talent and native charm gained him the friendship of many not only in the musical establishment, such as Grove, Chorley and Herman Klein, but also in society circles, such as Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Sullivan enjoyed playing tennis; according to George Grossmith, "I have seen some bad lawn-tennis players in my time, but I never saw anyone so bad as Arthur Sullivan".
Sullivan was devoted to his parents, particularly his mother. He corresponded regularly with her when away from London, until her death in 1882. Henry Lytton wrote, "I believe there was never a more affectionate tie than that which existed between [Sullivan] and his mother, a very witty old lady, and one who took an exceptional pride in her son's accomplishments." Sullivan was also very fond of his brother Fred, whose acting career he assisted whenever possible,[n 29] and of Fred's children. After Fred died at the age of 39, leaving his pregnant wife, Charlotte, with seven children under the age of 14, Sullivan visited the family often and became guardian to the children.
In 1883 Charlotte and six of her children emigrated to Los Angeles, California, leaving the oldest boy, "Bertie", in Sullivan's sole care. Despite his reservations about the move to America, Sullivan paid all the costs and gave substantial financial support to the family. A year later, Charlotte died, leaving the children to be raised mostly by her brother.[n 30] From June to August 1885, after The Mikado opened, Sullivan visited the family in Los Angeles and took them on a sightseeing trip of the American west. Throughout the rest of his life, and in his will, he contributed financially to Fred's children, continuing to correspond with them and to be concerned with their education, marriages and financial affairs. Bertie remained with his Uncle Arthur for the rest of the composer's life.
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