The year 1882 had brought financial reverses and difficulties to Arthur Sullivan. His physical health was declining, but he started the new year knowing he would have to work hard to regain his financial security. What would 1883 bring to him?
In February, he signed a five-year contract with D’Oyly Carte and William S. Gilbert, which would provide him with one-third of the Savoy Theater’s net profits “after deducting all expenses and charges of producing the said operas.”
By the spring of that year, Sullivan was involved with the preparations for the formal opening of the Royal College of Music. This school was to be a conservatory where top-notch musicians could be trained. Sullivan’s friend George Grove would be the first director.
As Michael Ainger reports in Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography:
Sullivan noted in his diary on 29 April that the Prince of Wales had said on shaking hands, “I congratulate you on the great honor we have in store for you.” – I suppose he means he is going to place me on the Council of the R.C. of Music! What an honor!” thought Sullivan. The following week, on Monday 3 May, Sullivan received a letter from the prime minister offering him a knighthood, “in recognition,” wrote Gladstone, “of your distinguished talents as a composer and of the services which you have rendered to the promotion of the art of music generally in this country.” Sullivan humbly accepted.
What a thrill for Sullivan! An even greater honor than he had imagined. The Prince of Wales announced Sullivan’s knighthood at the Royal College of Music’s opening ceremony the next week, on May 7, 1883.
On 22 May, Sullivan went down “by special train” to Windsor Castle to be knighted along with George Grove, then aged 63, and George Macfarren, age 70. He recorded the event in his diary in formal terms, leaving aside the emotion of the occasion. “I bowed low – then knelt down – the Queen took the Equerry’s sword & laid it first on right then on left shoulder – said softly “Sir Arthur” & gave me her hand to kiss – then I rose – bowed low again & backed out.”
Just six months earlier, his friend and investment manager E.A. Hall had informed Sullivan that he’d lost his entire life’s savings. Now, Sullivan’s latest collaboration with Gilbert was a huge financial success, he was firmly part of the highest social circles in England, and he had been made a Knight of the Realm at the young age of 41.
What a difference six months can make! Good thing Sullivan didn’t give up when the going got tough, or he would have missed all the good stuff that was coming his way.
Photo of Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice by Mary Steen – http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/egallery/object.asp?collector=12787&display=acquired&pagesize=60&object=2105974&row=894, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9477168