Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A Performance of Cox & Box in Japan, 1870

The second part of the performance [1] consisted of the ‘Truimviretta, Cox and Box,’ with Mr. Arthur Sullivan's music. This was produced in London in 1867 [2] at a house well known in musical circles, where the writer was fortunate enough to hear the first representation of it. The farce, of course, everyone knows. But very few know the charming music to which Arthur Sullivan's genius has married it. This music belongs entirely to the English school, but is full of the traces of German influence; not as alienating the writer from the paths in which he so gracefully walks, but in making them broader, and enriching them with ornaments hardly known to his predecessors, and utterly beyond the reach of the wretched crowd of song writers whose inane impositions pass with the bulk of the English nation as music. Of these people, it is impossible to write with the semblance of patience, and until we can root them out, and sow some good musical seed in the English mind, we shall be liable to the terrible infliction of their maudlin and irritating impertinencies. Nothing is better calculated to do this than Sullivan's music. He is always graceful and easy, full of fine and delicate feeling, his transitions are unexpected but never startling, his modulations are ingenious without being laboured. His pathos, as well as his humour, is real. The first does not depend on a meaningless minor note, thrown in for want of any real means of touching the heart; and the latter as little depends upon an allegro, which, if the time were changed, would make a feeble vapid adagio. His music reflects the sensibilities of a man of deep and keen feeling. He has acquired the resources of Germans by conscientious study, and he uses them with the most tasteful discretion, without ostentation or pedantry. His simplicity never becomes weakness; and when he rises, he does so without effort, or danger of becoming laboured and obscure.
It appears to us that in the performance of this piece, more of the dialogue should have been omitted, and only just so much of it retained, as would serve for a thread on which to string the charming shells of Sullivan's music, and we strongly recommend this when it is again brought forward.
The piece is opened by an overture, very sensibly unambitious, but very vigorous and effective, commencing in the key of G minor, and passing by an easy transition into that of G major. The first song, Rataplan, is allotted to Bouncer, [3] metamorphosed in this version from the traditional female lodging-house keeper of the original farce into an old Army Sergeant, who extends the same offices to the rival printer and hatter. Bouncer's song is an ‘allegretto marziale’ in the key of F minor, in which he recalls his brilliant days in Her Majesty's horse, and it was sung with capital effect by Mr. Fredericks. It is full of spirit and clever writing, and terminates in the major key with admirable effect. This is succeeded, after a short interval of dialogue, by a duet— ‘Stay Bouncer, Stay,’ in which Box upbraids his landlord with the mysterious disappearance of his coals and other things as dear to him, which become small by degrees and beautifully less. It is charmingly written, and terminates with an ‘allegro militario,’ in which Bouncer asserts his rough military honesty to a constant refrain of ‘Rataplan,’ while Cox throws some doubts upon it, which are justified by the state of his cupboard and coalscuttle. This is followed in due order by Box's song of ‘Lullaby,’ addressed to his rasher, which he leaves on the coals while he takes a nap preliminary to his main sleep. This little song is as tender and graceful, as if it had been addressed as a serenade by a lover to his mistress under her casement. It was beautifully sung by Mr. Roderick, but produced less applause than he was justly entitled to for his excellent reading of it. It would occupy too much of our space and our readers patience to analyse the whole piece, and we must pass over much that well deserves analysis and would certainly extort praise. There is a spirited trio between the three characters, in which one of the themes of the overture is introduced very effectively; it was very accurately sung, as well as delivered with great spirit and effect. This is succeeded by a ‘duet serenade’ in the key of B flat major, a mock heroic, in which Box takes his gridiron into service as a guitar, and Cox presses the bellows into use as a Concertina. The effect is really comic, and the music so pretty and graceful, that one almost wishes it were more available for drawing-room purposes, than from the nature of the requisite accessory acting it can possibly be. We come in due time to the ‘gambling duet,’ where Cox and Box throw dice, and toss their respective reliable coins for the hand of Penelope Ann. This is an extremely clever piece of writing and was well delivered by the two disputants, whose quarrel brings Bouncer on the stage with his charmingly ludicrous ‘Rataplan,’ in which hatter and printer chime in, so as to form a spirited trio with which the quarrel terminates. Then comes the ‘finale.’ Box opens it, and is immediately joined by Bouncer, whose martial soul is fired by an allusion to ‘arms,’ though the pacific Box only uses the word in reference to the embrace of the kindly sergeant, who sees a bright vista of successful business before him in his capacity of landlord, and enrols his two lodgers in a bond of perpetual amity, sealed with their promise to remain his tenants. Bouncer's part breathes the old military measure of his early song, and the refrain of au enthusiastic ‘rataplan’ winds up the whole.
The parts were acted with great spirit, though the dialogue dragged; but .the music was admirably performed and the piece proved an entire success. The acting of Bouncer was very good; Box's ‘lullaby’ was sung so sweetly that we cannot help referring to it again; and Cox, who also sang very effectively throughout, exhibited such capacities as an actor and singer as lead us to hope we shall often see him again.
The accompaniments were extremely well and judiciously played by Mr. Wharton, of H. M. 1st 10th Regiment, but we wish he had had an instrument more worthy of his powers. A namesake of the composer conducted the music, and to him is largely due the spirit infused into the singing, and the excellent ensemble of the concerted pieces.
The Japan Weekly Mail October 1 1870 [With minor edits]

[1] A ‘Dramatic Performance in Aid of the Garrison Church in Yokohama Organ Fund. The first part of the evening included a performance of the farce The Irish Compradore
[2] Cox and Box received its first performance in private on 16 May 1866. This took place at Moray Lodge in Kensington, the home of Arthur Lewis, and the regular venue for the 'Moray Minstrels', a group of musicians, actors and artists. Burnand later claimed that the first performance actually took place at his house three days earlier, but this may have been no more than a rehearsal. [Gilbert & Sullivan Archive]
[3] Cox: Mr Roderick; Box: Mr Colles and Sergeant Bouncer: Mr Fredericks

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