Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sir Arthur Sullivan conducts his own music in Monte Carlo: March 5 1893

My recent post about the concert of English music conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan in Monte Carlo raised a number of questions. Firstly, it would be interesting to know the details of the composer’s regular visits to the Riviera. Secondly, nothing seems to be noted about the orchestra or the audience. For example, was this band a ‘scratch’ outfit or was it the The Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra or musicians associated with the ballet or opera?  One wonders if the audience were French people or whether it reflected the British community in that city.
There are some details of Sullivan’s activities in Monte Carlo in the various biographies and histories. However, the most obvious source is probably the hardest to engage with. Sullivan left a considerable number of diaries which are now located in Yale University Sterling Memorial Library. Fortunately, a microfilm edition of these is available in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile I have discovered the programme of the concert of Sullivan’s music alluded to in the previous post. This performance was heard on March 5 1893. (Musical Standard March 18 1893)
Apparently the concert was a great success. The music included the Macbeth Overture, the ‘Masquerade’ from The Merchant of Venice, two movements from the ‘Irish Symphony’ (En Irlande!), some of the incidental music to Henry VIII and the ubiquitous Overtura di Ballo. Unfortunately I have found no further details of this concert, the venue or subsequent reviews.
I note the popularity at that time of the incidental music to Shakespeare’s plays. The Symphony has to a certain extent held its own over the past 150 years, with some four recordings available. (EMI, CPO, Chandos and Naxos). However the only work that is still regularly performed is the Overtura di Ballo. For most listeners, Sullivan’s music is simply an annexe (a superlative one, no doubt) to W.S. Gilbert’s enchanting libretii. 

I include a link to an old recording of the Macbeth Overture (1888). Surely this is music that demands to remain in the orchestral repertoire?

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