Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

Frederic Clay

1838 - 1889

Frederic Clay, from the Illustrated London News
Frederic Clay

The following is the entry on Clay in the original edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, by none other than Arthur Sullivan, as reprinted in the third edition with a rather sniffy footnote from the editor

CLAY, FREDERIC (b. Paris, Aug. 3, 1838; d. Great Marlow, Nov. 24, 1889), a dramatic composer, was the son of James Clay, M.P., a very famous whist-player, and author of a well-known treatise on the game. He held a post for a time in the Treasury. He was educated in music entirely by Molique, with the exception of a short period of instruction at Leipzig under Hauptmann. His compositions were almost wholly for the stage.

After two small pieces for amateurs, 'The Pirate's Isle '(1859) and 'Out of Sight' (1860), he made his public debut in 1862 at Covent Garden with 'Court and Cottage,' libretto by Tom Taylor. This was followed by 'Constance' (1865), 'Ages Ago' (1869), 'The Gentleman in Black' (1870), 'Happy Arcadia' (1872), 'Cattarina' (1874), 'Princess Toto' and 'Don Quixote' (both 1875). In addition to these Clay wrote part of the music for 'Babil and Bijou' and the 'Black Crook' (both 1872), and incidental music to 'Twelfth Night' and to Albery's 'Oriana.' 'The Merry Duchess' was produced at the Royalty Theatre, May 23, 1883, and' The Golden Ring' at the Alhambra, Dec. 3, 1883. He also composed two cantatas, 'The Knights of the Cross' (1866) and 'Lalla Rookh' (containing what is perhaps his best-known song, 'I'll sing thee songs of Araby'), produced with great success at the Brighton Festival, Feb. 1877; and not a few separate songs.

In all his works Clay showed a natural gift of graceful melody and a feeling for rich harmonic colouring. Although highly successful in the treatment of dramatic music, it is probable that his songs will give him the most lasting fame. 'She wandered down the mountain side,' 'Long ago' and 'The Sands of Dee,' among others, are poems of great tenderness and beauty, and not likely to be soon forgotten. He was struck with paralysis immediately after the production of 'The Golden Ring.'

A.S.S. [Arthur Sullivan]

Footnote added by H.C. Colles, editor of the Third Edition (1938), after the first sentence in the last paragraph: "This is retained as the opinion of Clay's greater contemporary, Arthur Sullivan. A modern musician would hardly apply the phrase to Clay's slender talent."

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