Archive | July 2016

Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord”

Fred_Sullivan by Unknown (from Wikipedia)

Fred Sullivan

Arthur Sullivan wrote a lot of popular “parlor music” – songs that were intended to be played and sung in middle-class homes by amateur performers in the days before radio, television and so on.

One of his most famous works is called “The Lost Chord.” The text is a poem by Adelaide Proctor, which was published in The English Woman’s Journal in 1860. Sullivan is said to have struggled for years to set the poem to music, but finally found his way to expressing himself musically in 1877, as he sat by the bedside of his dying brother Frederick.

Fred Sullivan had trained as an architect, but soon switched to the stage. Arthur and Fred were very close, and Fred sang and acted in a number of his brother’s works, including Cox and Box, Thespis, and The Contrabandista. Fred also created the role of The Learned Judge in the original performance of Trial by Jury. Unfortunately, he fell ill in 1876 and died in 1877 at the age of 39.


Arthur Sullivan

The song is usually understood to be sentimental and religious in nature, but an interesting analysis of its meaning presented at Songs of the Victorians  suggests that it’s actually a feminist poem – describing the sentiments of Victorian women who suffered a “discordant life” because of gender inequality, and expressing the feeling that harmony would only be achieved in the afterlife.

The text of the poem, along with a video of a performance from 2011, can be found below. Which reading do you prefer?


The Lost Chord

Seated one day at the organ, I was weary and ill at ease,

And my fingers wander’d idly over the noisy keys;

I knew not what I was playing, or what I was dreaming then,

But I struck one chord of music like the sound of a great Amen.


It flooded the crimson twilight like the close of an Angel’s Psalm,

And it lay on my fever’d spirit with a touch of infinite calm.

It quieted pain and sorrow like love overcoming strife,

It seem’d the harmonious echo from our discordant life.


It link’d all perplexed meanings into one perfect peace

And trembled away into silence as if it were loth to cease;

I have sought, but I seek it vainly, that one lost chord divine,

Which came from the soul of the organ and enter’d into mine.


It may be that Death’s bright Angel will speak in that chord again;

It may be that only in Heav’n I shall hear that grand Amen!




W.S. Gilbert on “The Reward of Merit”

It is said that William S. Gilbert was often annoyed that the Victorian public seemed to worship men with money or aristocratic birth, and totally ignored men of talent and genius. So the notion that one had to be rich or titled to get respect was probably on his mind when he composed the following poem, “The Reward of Merit.”

Originally, these were the words to a song that was to have been sung in the second act of “Iolanthe,” but it was cut on the grounds that it slowed down the story. So instead, Gilbert included it in the 1897 edition of Bab Ballads.

Some of the references in the poem would have been familiar to Victorian audiences might be a bit confusing to current day readers, so check the notes following the poem.

Also, don’t miss the excellent audio rendition of the poem by Andrew Crowther, which you can listen to on Soundcloud.


The Reward Of Merit

bab-smart-young-manDe BELVILLE was regarded as the CRICHTON of his age:
His tragedies were reckoned much too thoughtful for the stage;
His poems held a noble rank, although it’s very true
That, being very proper, they were read by very few.
He was a famous Painter, too, and shone upon the “line,”
And even MR. RUSKIN came and worshipped at his shrine;
But, alas, the school he followed was heroically high –
The kind of Art men rave about, but very seldom buy;
And everybody said
“How can he be repaid –
This very great – this very good – this very gifted man?”
But nobody could hit upon a practicable plan!

He was a great Inventor, and discovered, all alone,
A plan for making everybody’s fortune but his own;
For, in business, an Inventor’s little better than a fool,
And my highly-gifted friend was no exception to the rule.
His poems – people read them in the Quarterly Reviews –
His pictures – they engraved them in the ILLUSTRATED NEWS –
His inventions – they, perhaps, might have enriched him by degrees,
But all his little income went in Patent Office fees;
And everybody said
“How can he be repaid –
This very great – this very good – this very gifted man?”
But nobody could hit upon a practicable plan!

At last the point was given up in absolute despair,
When a distant cousin died, and he became a millionaire,
With a county seat in Parliament, a moor or two of grouse,
And a taste for making inconvenient speeches in the House!
THEN it flashed upon Britannia that the fittest of rewards
Was, to take him from the Commons and to put him in the Lords!
And who so fit to sit in it, deny it if you can,
As this very great – this very good – this very gifted man?
(Though I’m more than half afraid
That it sometimes may be said
That we never should have reveled in that source of proper pride,
However great his merits – if his cousin hadn’t died!)



DeBellville is a fictional character made up just for the purposes of this poem.

Crichton refers to Sir John Crichton of Scotland,  considered one of the most gifted individuals of the 16th century, noted for his extraordinary accomplishments in languages, the arts, and sciences before he was killed at the age of 21. Crichton’s fame is based on a wildly exaggerated biography of him written in 1652 by Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611–1660).

Mr. Ruskin refers to John Ruskin,  the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, teacher, essayist and philanthropist.

The “Line” refers to the Royal Academy of Art’s annual Exhibition of the Work of Living Artists. Each year, the best paintings were arranged at eye-level, which was called being “on the line.”



An Unexpected G&S Performance

I was going to do a serious post today, but then I remembered this little gem and had to share it. When I was a mere child of ten, I discovered the very first “Doctor Who” — featuring the first Doctor, portrayed by William Hartnell. Even though I missed some of the finer details of the plot during that first season because the episodes were broadcast in Spanish on Mexican television (I grew up in Mexico City), the Daleks still were capable of scaring the bejeezus out of me and my nine-year-old brother.

And so, without further ado, here’s a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan that’s really out of this world. (If the embedded video doesn’t come through, you can click on the highlighted text and enjoy the Daleks singing Gilbert and Sullivan on YouTube).



Hope you enjoy~


Test your Gilbert and Sullivan Knowledge

gilbert-drawingDid you know that there is a site dedicated to an online Gilbert and Sullivan quiz? There is! Created by Alexander Scutt, it’s the Gilbert and Sullivan Quiz .

So now that you’ve learned all about the fourteen Gilbert and Sullivan operas from last week’s blog post, you can test your knowledge! There are 20 quizzes in all, so if you’re brave (and have memorized all the lyrics and fun jokes), go for it!

Once you’re at the site, use the link at the top right of the page to go to the First Quiz , or check out the Quiz Topics! It’s a fun way to learn all sorts of trivia related to the operas — and a way to enjoy Gilbert’s clever lines all over again!

Note: While perusing the site, I was interested to learn that the following joke really was attributed to Gilbert:
“Call me a cab sir”
“Certainly sir, you’re a four-wheeler”
“How dare you, sir!”
“Well, you asked me to call you a cab and I certainly couldn’t call you hansom.”

I thought for sure this was a made-up one, because although Gilbert was really very quick with his wordplay, I had a hard time believing anybody could mistake his tall, imposing figure as a hotel doorman. Live and learn!