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Gilbert & Sullivan Bio-Bibliography
Where to read more about the events in the film Topsy-Turvy
Gilbert and Sullivan / Their Lives and Times by Leslie Baily
Gilbert and Sullivan / Lost Chords and Discords by Caryl Brahms
Gilbert & Sullivan / The Creative Conflict by David Eden
Gilbert & Sullivan and Their Victorian World by Christopher Hibbert
Arthur Sullivan / A Victorian Musician by Arthur Jacobs
Gilbert & Sullivan / The Official D'Oyly Carte Picture History by Robin Wilson and Frederic Lloyd

The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan

HMS Pinafore
The Mikado

Gilbert and Sullivan / Their Lives and Times

by Leslie Baily
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1973; New York: Viking, 1974. 119 pages plus bibliography, chronology and index. 143 illustrations).

Book jacket:
It is properly Gilbertian that one product of the earnest and orderly Victorian age which continues vigorous and popular should be the topsy-turvy art known as Gilbert and Sullivan opera. In this lively and authoritative biography Leslie Baily sets its fascinatingly contrasted progenitors in the context of the world in which they worked and from which they drew their inspiration. W.S. Gilbert was in many ways a typical Victorian gentleman, yet his satirical absurdities often made his contemporaries uneasy; while Arthur Sullivan rose from a working-class background to become the foremost British composer of the day and the darling of smart society. With Richard D'Oyly Carte, whose business acumen allied to progressive taste catalyzed their talents, these two wrought a revolution in the theater, and Mr. Baily traces the story of their partnership from the inauspicious failure of Thespis through the dazzling succession of triumphs at home and abroad to the final series of disastrous quarrels. Text and illustrations combine to give a vivid picture of an age, and of the men who created a unique confection of mock-heroic satire, geniality, and authentic lyricism which, far from fading with the age that engendered it, still retains a special prize in the culture and affections of the English-speaking world.

A brief yet illuminating excursion through the careers of the operatic geniuses. Baily also wrote The Gilbert and Sullivan Book during the 1950's and was a well-known writer and producer for radio. He also wrote the script for a film on the topic.

1973 hardcover · 1974 hardcover · 1979 paperback

Gilbert and Sullivan / Lost Chords and Discords

by Caryl Brahms
(Boston, Toronto: Little Brown, 1975. 264 pages including index.)

Book jacket:
Less than a hundred years ago Gilbert and Sullivan were everywhere: the entire English-speaking world was whistling, humming, or singing 'G & S.' Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Oscar Wilde, Whistler, Sir Winston Churchill's parents – as well as the great statesman himself – were among the myriad of fervid admirers. In American Pinafore's opening was welcomed with 'an enthusiasm bordering on insanity,' as one observer writing in Scribner's Magazine exclaimed. References to 'The Mikado' were used to sell products as diverse as toothpaste, corsets, and kerosene stoves.

Now in this hundredth anniversary year of Trial by Jury, the first Gilbert and Sullivan collaborate, comes Caryl Brahms's lively account of the partnership between the legendary giants. She contrasts the lives and chraracters of the two gifted men – Gilbert themocker of social convention and Sullivan the 'serious' musician, resentful that this comic operas won more acclaim than his oratorios.

Gilbert, of whom it was said, 'He was a very kind-hearted man, but he did not want anyone to know it', was quarrelsome. With his legal training (bolstered by a natural enthusiasm for irate argument) he was in the habit of bringing suit against people whom he thought had maligned him. Yet he died while rescuing a young lady who had fallen into a pond.

By contrast Sullivan was patient and charming, the supreme Establishment figure of late Victorian England. The friend of nobility, he went racing with the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII; two prime ministers, Disraeli and Gladstone, were proud to know him.

But Sullivan needed Gilbert as Gilbert did Sullivan. Kept together by the wily management of D'Oyly Carte, they wrote fourteen comic operas in twenty-five years. As John Russell in the New York Times wrote, 'Gilbert and Sullivan provided the world with a universal currency: a bank of wit and feeling, high spirits and parodic observation.'

With numerous quotations from letters, newspapers, and documents and over a hundred illustrations, Caryl Brahms's biography surely will be among the collectors' items during this anniversary year of G & S.

Brahms, a theater critic and ballet specialist, has clearly read the Baily book and seems to paraphrase it frequently. However, this work goes much further as we are presented with more detail, longer quotations and many photos and illustrations. It is an opinionated work which is not amiss from a critic such as Brahms, but laced throughout there are sometimes juvenile, sometimes merely indulgent, interjections sure to delight some and quickly tire others. For example, a quote from Sullivan's diary will be provided: "Opera went very well. Call for Gilbert and self. We went on together but did not speak to each other." To the end of this, the author cannot help appending "('Oh, the pity of it, Iago, the pity of it.')".

1975 hardcover · 1975 paperback

Gilbert & Sullivan / The Creative Conflict

by David Eden
(Cranbury, NJ, London: Associated University Presses, 1986; 1989. 217 pages including footnotes plus bibliography, and index. Occasional illustrations).

Book jacket:
David Eden's challenging book introduces a completely new perspective to the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

After many years during which their popularity obstinately refused to diminish, the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were finally accorded the status of classics during the 1920s. Much has been written about the operas, but along with merited recognition has developed a rigid convention within which they are discussed. It is time for a fresh approach.

Beginning with a concise history of the partnership, the book demonstrates that Gilbert's libretti reveal a significant autobiographical content. The librettist is shown to have had neurotic tendencies which can be elucidated by reference to Freudian theories of infantile sadomasochism. A product of the Victorian era, Gilbert's personality lends itself particularly well to Freudian analysis.

In the second part of the book, Sullivan's musical personality is analyzed. An essentially romantic man, he contrasts sharply with his partner. Sullivan's neglected works are also considered here, and reviewed with more sympathy than they generally receive.

Arising from the earlier convincing and entertaining analysis, the discussion in Eden's final chapter points to the difficult working relationship between the two men. Their different personalities and separate but legitimate aspirations resulted in a tense struggle – a creative conflict.

The first fifty pages comprise a useful sketch biography of the two subjects. Freudian analysis being mostly out of fashion in biography these days, the rest chimes rather oddly. The chapters on Gilbert excerpt a fair amount of the blank verse from his plays which is not much seen elsewhere. Unless one is particularly fascinated by psychology, readers may prefer to simply skip to the last chapter, "The Creative Conflict", which does offer some interesting insights and even ways, in hindsight, that the pair of geniuses might have successfully overcome their differences. Author Eden (b. 1942) spent most of his career instructing the mentally handicapped and later with the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. He also has served as chairman of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society. One gets the impression that he must be a sort of modern "renaissance man" as few can write so intelligently on literature, drama, music and psychology, all at the same time. The treatment of these topics is not merely in relation to the subjects, but in fact so well-written that the reader will actually learn new things about music itself, about Freudian theory itself, etc.

1986 hardcover

Gilbert & Sullivan and Their Victorian World

by Christopher Hibbert
(New York: American Heritage, 1976. 279 pages plus bibliography and index. Profusely illustrated "coffee table book" with 280 illustrations including 24 color plates).

Book jacket:
Not one of the some seventy plays written by the most popular playwright of the English stage in Victoria's time is known to anyone but archivists today. That same fate befell the works of England's most honored composer of the period. His oratorios, odes, symphonic music, an opera – are all but silent now, save two incidental pieces (you have heard of them: "The Lost Chord" and "Onward Christian Soldiers"). But rarely have the serious works of contemporary geniuses more roundly flunked the test of time.

Fame is fleeting. Yet join these two forgotten names with an ampersand, and you get Gilbert & Sullivan. Now fame is forever – or for a century and more, at least, and surely that's forever on a comic-opera stage. Gilbert & Sullivan revolutionized the theatre world, and to this day that world is a happier place because of their innovations.

It was 1875 when Trial by Jury first dazzled London and (in a pirated version) New York audiences with the color and wit and bounced of a Gilbert & Sullivan show. So the start of Gilbert & Sullivan's second century provides a fine occasion to look again at the story behind these amazing comic operas. The lives of William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) were as dramatic, amusing, far-fetched, throat-catching – and scenic – as their stagecraft.

Beneath the two men's enormously popular collaborations were two hearts that beat as two. They simply did not get along. The trigger-tempered Gilbert, with his razor tongue and steady work habits, couldn't understand Sullivan's amiable procrastinations and easy social successes. Sullivan was convinced that his real genius was expressed by his prestigious music. Yet success after success forced the team to stay together for fifteen glorious years, under the aegis of the polished Richard D'Oyly Carte. Then the whole thing blew up in a tragicomic quarrel about a carpet.

If that plot resembles a Victorian roman &arave; clef, so be it. Fictional romances exhibit no more posh settings, beautiful women, and crackling argument. There's even a touch of royalty, and a few absurdities, as well as a tragic climax.

The author has written histories on many topics such as Dickens, London and George IV. This text of this book is much like other books on the topic, but the pictures are where it really shines. For example, here we see Gilbert at work on a script, not hunched over a desk as in the film Topsy-Turvy, but relaxing in an easy chair with his feet up. There are also photos from the Japan Exhibition in Knightsbridge and of the actors in the original Mikado staging.

1976 hardcover · 2000 audio cassette

Arthur Sullivan / A Victorian Musician

by Arthur Jacobs
(Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. 470 pages including notes, appendices bibliography and index. 16 illustrations).

Book jacket:
Arthur Seymour Sullivan is probably still the most widely known of all English composers. His fame was founded upon his theatrical partnership with William Schwenk Gilbert, but as the composer of many choral and orchestral works he was a leading figure in his own right in the musical life of Victorian England. His diaries and letters, only recently available for public scrutiny, throw a completely new light on the life of a Victorian composer and conductor who wsa born the son of a military bandmaster and came to dominate the London scene. Arthur Jacobs has seized on this newly available documentary evidence, to paint a vivid portrait of the man, his music, and the whole world of Victorian music – a world in which such figures as Gladstone, Tennyson, Irving, and Millais have their place, as well as Queen Victoria and other members of the British and German royal families. This is a book not only for the G. &. S. fan but for all interested in the social and artistic history of Victorian England.

The author is listed as Head of Music at Huddersfield Polytechnic as well as author of several other music books. This book presents perhaps the most detail on the making of The Mikado. Even included are many little fascinating tidbits such as photos of Sullivan's diary entries and Jessie Bond's manipulation of the wardrobe-mistress to see that the obi of her costume was twice as big as that of the other "little maids". Bond is quoted as saying
I made the most of my big, big bow, turning my back to the audience whenever I got a chance and waggling it. The gallery was delighted, but I nearly got the sack for that prank. However, I did get noticed, which was what I wanted.

This book also covers the subject of Sullivan's love affairs in far more detail.

1984 hardcover · 1984 paperback · 2003 hardcover · 2005 digital

Gilbert & Sullivan / The Official D'Oyly Carte Picture History

by Robin Wilson and Frederic Lloyd

(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984. 215 oversized pages including bibliography and index. 40 illustrations in full color and more than 450 black-and-white photographs).

Book jacket:
The ultimate (100 year!) souvenir program for everyone who loves Gilbert & Sullivan, for everyone who has seen – or acted in – the operas, been charmed by "I Am the Captain of the Pinafore" or "A Wandering Minstrel I" or any of the dozens and dozens of great songs the Gilbert & Sullivan operas abound in. Created under the auspices of the D'Oyly Carte Company – the great English production company, whose founder first brought Gilbert & Sullivan together and to the theater – this delightful book takes you onstage and backstage and shows you, up close ...

The Mikado
The Gondoliers
The Pirates of Penzance
H.M.S. Pinafore
Trial by Jury
The Yeomen of the Guard
The Sorcerer
Cox and Box
Princes Ida

... as they appeared in the wonderful D'Oyly Carte productions through the years.

Each opera comes vividly to life in dozens of color and black-and-white illustrations. Photographs, drawings, paintings, posters, clippings, cartoons, letters, memorabilia of every kind, reveal the casts, the stars, the sets, the costumes, the programs, the very mood and ambience of all those glorious productions through the century: from the originals – when Victoria was Queen – to those mounted during the Edwardian Era and the Jazz Age to the final D'Oyly Carte performances in 1982. And the captions provide anecdotes, insights, opinions, and information – a lively abundance of G & S lore.

We see, for example, various plump and pleasing contraltos who have charmed one generation after another by announcing, "I'm called Little Buttercup" ... we see the unforgettably nimble and elegant Martyn Green – and the other agile patter-song virtuosi who preceded him – as the heartbroken Koko of The Mikado and the series of hilariously pompous grandees he so brilliantly personified (among them, "The ruler of the Queen's Navy" in Pinafore, the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, the Duke of Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers) ... we see the elaborate scenery costumes – both in the original sketches and as they appeared on stage – that have always been among the joys of a G & S opera. We see, as well, memorable and intimate backstage moments ... Messrs. W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan themselves, in youth and old age ... reviews by theater, and music, critics ... and much, much more.

There has never been a G & S book like this: a pictorial history, a celebration, an album brimful of Gilbert & Sullivaniana to pore over and treasure.

This is another coffee table book, invaluable for its photos of the original costumes and principals. The authors have been involved with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and its productions.

1984 hardcover




Last modified: Wed Feb 1 19:29:36 UTC 2012