Little Bits of History

Gilbert and Sullivan

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 7, 2010

Poster for the show, The Grand Duke

March 7, 1896: The Savoy Theatre opens The Grand Duke, the fourteenth and final operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan. It ran for 123 performances and was not at all profitable. Although they lived several more years, the partnership had run its course and they never worked together again.

Librettist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan have left a legacy that is with us to this day. The two most recognizable of their fourteen works are H.M.S. Pinafore from 1878 and The Mikado from 1885. The former satirized government officials in general and the Royal Navy in particular as well as English snobbery based on social position. The latter satirized English bureaucracy but was set in Japan.

Copyright is limited by time and ran out for all Gilbert & Sullivan plays by 1961. Since then, there has been a nearly month long International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England each summer. Since there is no royalty fee, there are a number of venues open to producing the musicals.

Gilbert and Sullivan were each famous in his own right prior to any collaboration. They worked together on their first production which opened in 1871 and then waited another four years to produce another work together. As the years went along, they suffered the seemingly constant problem with creative forces – differences of opinion. They managed to work together for a quarter of a century, giving us a wealth of songs that have influenced musicals to the present time.

“The fact is popular art dates. It grows quaint. How many people feel strongly about Gilbert and Sullivan today compared to those who felt strongly in 1890?” – Stephen Sondheim

“If you look at Gilbert and Sullivan, they were played to be the English equivalents of Jacques Offenbach’s operettas. They’re full of gags, funny situations and parody, which was the typical humor of the time.” – Vince Liotta

“Gilbert and Sullivan didn’t like each other. It’s that clash that makes it so good.” – Simon Butteriss

“I am terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music will be put on records forever.” – Arthur Sullivan

Also on this day, in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his telephone.

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