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THE MUSIC OF PATIENCE
ROBERT JONES: Does Patience display the beginnings of a more mature and sophisticated style from the collaborators, or is it as simple and lighthearted as its predecessors?
TOM SHEPARD: It is quite definitely more sophisticated than its predecessors, the music around "But who is this of godlike grace" being particularly a cut above much that has gone before.
BRUCE I. MILLER: Tom's suggestion that the music of Patience was, in general, an improvement upon previous G & S efforts runs counter to the general wisdom at least, as expounded previously on SavoyNet.
The example Tom quoted [in a previous letter] was, as Sullivan later revealed, at least partly a dig the composer made at Rutland Barrington's expense. The "wandering troubadour" line (if I've got the location correct in the score) was made purposefully chromatic to give a challenge to Barrington, whose ear for pitch was notoriously faulty (at the time). Perhaps the effort Barrington was forced to expend in learning it helped him in the long run.
TOM SHEPARD: I refer to the wistful oboe solo and underlying harmonies which precede "But who is this with godlike grace" and then return as an intro to "I Hear the Soft Note". Barrington's chromatics are something else again and have nothing to do with my point.
BRUCE I. MILLER: But the score of Patience seems, to me at least, one in which the composer wrote purposefully in a less sophisticated vein than in any opera he was later to write, and arguably less so than in Sorcerer or Pirates. It has more in common with the basic simplicity of Pinafore than his other operas. The music seems more foursquare and less adventurous in style and to an extent, less brilliantly conceived.
Having said this, Patience succeeds better than the more complex Utopia or Grand Duke scores, primarily due to a fresher melodic inspiration. But it is still not what one might call a superb musical vintage in the G & S canon, although is great fun in much of the music.
TOM SHEPARD: Of course you are entitled to your opinion, but I don't see how you can support it by weight of examples. What, before Patience, is more sophisticated than the intro and opening chorus, the stuff I cited earlier, the syncopated clarinet in "If Saphir..." the variety of patter songs, the musical delineation of character, the exotic music that precedes "Let the Merry Cymbals Sound" etc. etc. You of course are perfectly well entitled to your opinion, but I am surprised by it. Superb musical vintage began, IMHO, with Iolanthe.
BRUCE I. MILLER: In this I agree with you completely. My point was not that Patience is devoid of inspiration, but that it is generally on a less sophisticated level. The pastoral music you cite is certainly attractive and makes its points admirably, but IMHO it is outclassed by that in Iolanthe. The reason I missed your point about the music preceding Barrington's chromatic music is because I never thought of it as a particularly exalted example of Sullivan at his best but I'm certainly not criticizing you for your opinion. (I do agree with you about the patter songs, while again suggesting that his achievements in this area are better and more fully developed elsewhere.)
In my opinion, Pinafore is hardly Sullivan's most sophisticated effort, either, but that's not to say it's without substantial merits either.
ED GLAZIER: I find the music to be quite delightful and I'm not sure that I understand those who find it to be musically inferior to any number of others.
NICK SALES: Regarding the musical sophistication (or otherwise) of this charming opera, I would draw the panel's attention to a passage of music which (for me) is unsurpassed by all Sullivan's other music in its sheer dramatic intensity; viz:
The final section of the Act I finale, from Grosvenor's entrance, through all the "they love him/me! Horror!" and into the glorious free for all that is "Oh list/My jealousy" etc.
A passage which never, ever fails to move me to the depths of my mortal soul.
Yes, the climax of Princess Ida's Act II finale is a glorious, inspired piece of musical writing, undoubtedly stirring stuff. Yes, there are parts of Pirates' Act I finale that I find very moving, and quite intense. Yes, there are undoubtedly other places in the canon where A.S.S. tickles the nerves up and down my spine, but nowhere else do I get the same anticipation (as in the lead into this section). You can guarantee that from the end of "I hear the soft note", there's a steady build up of static electricity within me that explodes just prior to the first sung notes, and doesn't subside until the curtain has fallen. It's the calm before Sullivan's biggest thunderstorm, and it gets me every time.
I can think of only one way to ruin it, and that's to take it too slow. The one recording I have that contains this error is the 1989 BBC one, where some moron clearly decided it would be much nicer played at about half normal speed. Dreadful.
Any comments? (apart from "well, you didn't express yourself very clearly").
MARC SHEPHERD: I do love Grosvenor's entrance, especially the way the girls gradually notice who he is and divert their attentions to him. However, I am not especially fond of the final movement, "O list while we a love confess". There are about six sets of words here, which are guaranteed to be understood by nobody. (Yes, there are other places in G&S where this occurs, and I'm not especially fond of them either.)
ROBERT JONES: I've never thought the words particularly important here (O! forgive me, WSG!). The sense conveyed is one of universal consternation and pandemonium, and this comes across beautifully. Even the sequence of "They love him, horror!" is hard to catch unless you're quick, but if you catch it, it's comically very rewarding. It also gives an interesting insight into Patience's thoughts: she may have decided that she can't have her dear Archibald, but she's selfish enough not to want anyone else to have him.
MORGAN O'DAY: I have never cared for that aspect of the Act One finale of Patience four different sets of lyrics sung at the exact same meter and thus none of them distinguishable. It sounds such a mess. Am I alone, if not unobserved?
KENTON L. CHAMBERS: Patience was the first G&S opera I performed in, and as Maj. Murgatroyd I was singing the line: "My jealousy I can't express.... His shell like ears he does not close..." in the vocal melee of this Finale. At the time I simply assumed that this was "typical Gilbert & Sullivan" technique for a Grande Finale, all the parts singing their own peculiar "take" of the scene on stage (and that probably the audience wasn't expected to understand it all). I've since learned that G&S's audiences had the printed lyrics in their hands, so they knew what the words actually were. I thought at the time, "They'll never understand 'shell like ears' the line will sound like 'he shall like ears' (think of Handel's 'we like sheep')".
MARC SHEPHERD: I entirely agree. I can't think of anywhere else in the Canon where so many different, metrically identical lyrics are left unintelligible in an important dramatic scene. I don't think Sullivan's setting is particularly inspired, either. Nor are these lyrics among Gilbert's best, which is perhaps why Sullivan made no effort to make them understandable.
It is true, as Ken Chambers observed, that audiences of the time would have been following the libretto, but Gilbert and Sullivan usually went to great lengths to make the words aurally distinguishable anyway.
LARRY T. GARVIN: I somewhat diffidently dissent. I agree that the words are largely unintelligible, but perhaps that was intentional. It seems rather like an early Verdi or middle to late Donizetti slam bang finale, with everyone yelling away madly and making a delightful racket. Perhaps part of the problem is trying to make each vocal line distinguishable by relaxing the tempo. If, instead, one moves quite briskly and relies upon staging and music to present the emotions, it can be effective. FWIW, I prefer a very brisk tempo here something like 180 until the fermata and 192 after. This may seem a little rushed (though it needn't be if the singers are precise), but it conveys the vexation and tension of the various types of horror nicely.
DAN KAPLAN: I have to agree with Larry here. IMHO Sullivan is precise with his tempi suggestions in Patience and allows the listeners to hear the words when he so desires.
"When I first put this uniform on" = 108 (Allegro marziale);
"The Soldiers of our Queen" = 116 (Allegro marziale);
etc., until... the rapid finale of the finale in (admittedly) cacophonic stereo... "List Reginald while I confess" / "Oh list while we a love confess" = 160 (Allegretto agitato)
So it seems the "unintelligible vocal melee" is intended and parallels the onstage menageavingt, as Grosvenor is mauled and shuffled stage left and right. With proper staging, it would seem the audience has to be fixated on the spectacle unfolding on stage.
BRUCE I. MILLER: My take is that Sullivan's music for this finale is deliberately overblown and borderline banal. It does make a gorgeous noise when sung accurately, with powerfully operatic voices, and with the orchestral support as Sullivan wrote it. This effect would certainly be beyond the resources of most nonprofessional groups, which is perhaps why many of us don't care for it. And hearing on a record is not the same thing by any means as experiencing it live, in the theater. The visceral impact simply isn't there unless you have a state of the art sound reproducing system, and even then it's not the same.
I suspect the words are supposed to help the individual principals as well as choral groups emote in a sufficiently grand operatic mode; and that each different reaction should be made very large, so that the visual picture is as intense and overwrought as the music.
TOM SHEPARD: I think that Patience was the prototype for Iolanthe, and that the Act One finale of Iolanthe is a more fully realized extension of the form which began with Patience. Doesn't it seem that sometimes the earlier operettas are related in their sequence? For example, Trial & Sorcerer are largely about mismatched love, Pinafore & Pirates are extraordinarily parallelled, and are both nautical.
Patience & Iolanthe are named for women, both of whom are somewhat exemplary. Both operas have people agendas more than crazy turns of fate, and there is much to compare in structure (starting with a women's chorus really, there isn't the space or time here to do a number on this, but comparing the two works yields some remarkable parallels).
This thread may not yield anything further that is worth much, but I do sense a brotherhood and sisterhood in the three pairs listed above.
MARC SHEPHERD: I confess I do not see this at all and would love to see the analogy explained.
I agree with Bruce Miller that Patience is, overall, on a lower plane of musical sophistication than any G&S opera that preceded it except for Pinafore.
NICK SALES: This implies a 'dip' in Sir Arthur's form between Pirates and Iolanthe, which I don't see. As I've said before (orphan), I'm not a classically trained musician or scholar, but as a semibarbarian, I really don't see the drop in form implied. More on this shortly.
MARC SHEPHERD: This does not mean that there aren't MOMENTS in Patience that are more sophisticated; but, overall, the opera does not come close to the musical inspiration of Pirates.
NICK SALES: I would argue that some of those moments are in fact MORE sophisticated than in Pirates for instance my all time favourite passage in the Act I finale; the instrumental accompaniment to "If Saphir I choose to marry" (highlighted by Tom Shepard); the weaving of voices and the rich harmonies produced in "I hear the soft note"; and so on. At the risk of sounding a little like David Craven, I would argue that Pirates is perhaps a little "over hyped" musically, and whilst the sum of it is arguably a better opera musically than Patience (and I would not argue with that assessment), I feel ASS touches genius of a higher plane (and does so more often) in parts of Patience than in Pirates.
MARC SHEPHERD: In the first act, it seems like almost every number is "Twenty lovesick maidens we" or some close derivative of it, making much of the opera feel melodically tedious.
NICK SALES: Granted but only until the third (or possibly fourth?) hearing. Say the first half of the first act it's a little tedious.
GORDON PASCOE: This is almost enough to make me feel very disagreeable indeed. Poppycock, rubbish, and tommyrot are terms that spring to mind. Gilbert sets a scene and Sullivan, in brilliant form, comes up with his "dirge" that elevates the satire. An actors' song. This is Gilbert and Sullivan at their best as dramatic writers for a living stage. The dramatic impact of this musical and scenic combination may not be obvious on recordings, but in a well acted live performance it should be wonderful. It makes me wonder about the quality of some of the directing (and casting?) that Patience has obviously been subjected to. (Very disagreeable, indeed!)
Perhaps we could "spice up" Verdi's Requiem, put some bounce into Beethoven's Funeral March, and give Mimi an upbeat, up tempo, dance like number to end her misery with? Poppycock, rubbish, and tommyrot, indeed!! (But that's just my disagreeable opinion, of course. One man's PRT is another's Truth & Enlightenment! Sigh!)
MARY FINN: I have been in the women's chorus of Patience. My private version of "Twenty Lovesick Maidens" went something like this:
In spite of this, I enjoy performing in Patience a great deal.
THEODORE C. RICE: It would seem to me that the "Twenty lovesick maidens" chorus is deliberately soporific and dreary, and ingeniously so, to demonstrate the attitude of the people of the Victorians toward aestheticism. I think this shows the skill, both dramatic and musical, of The Duo, and rather than detracting from the opera, adds immeasurably to its breadth.
NICK SALES: [In Act I] you've got Patience's song (and incidentally, I think the Mary Sansom recording of this is exactly how and what angels sing), and the rousing march that heralds the entrance of the men, the regrettably short men's chorus "The Soldiers of our queen", and Gilbert at his most gymnastic: "A heavy dragoon". So, although "Twenty lovesick maidens" does hang over all this like a pea souper fog, there are flashes of sunlight there, and once the fog lifts you are left with a charming Act and a fantastic finale.
That finale is for me, anyway, superior to that in Pirates, Pinafore, and possibly Sorcerer (though that's a close one) for its length, changes of speed, mood and music, contains an absolutely sumptuous sextet and chorus, that blistering, breakneck conclusion, and, almost lost in there, a small portion of what the earthy may misconstrue as a beautiful tenor aria (more on underwritten tenor roles later!)
J. DERRICK McCLURE: Isn't "True love must single hearted be" the most exquisite example in the G&S canon of a simple but enrapturingly beautiful melody designed to convey the artless purity of the character?
ARTHUR ROBINSON: The melody is certainly beautiful, but the lyric, at least, is ironic. Note Patience's logic in "It follows then..."; she is informing Bunthorne that loving him would be unselfish, because he's no prize (with which the chorus agrees, "Exactly so!").
BRUCE I. MILLER: My suggestion earlier was that musically, Patience is less sophisticated than the best G & S operas. I would go further and suggest that people who put Patience at the top or near top of their list are "word" people, usually; musicians tend not to rave over this work.
Before the flames start shooting, let me waffle a bit by suggesting that there is much attractive music in Patience, and it is certainly one of the operas in which Sullivan works in great sympathy with Gilbert (a fact the composer stated in a letter to Gilbert years afterward, when they were in the midst of a disagreement over plot). But I also sense that Sullivan was playing it safe when he wrote this score; very infrequently does he write music which rises above the words, as he later yearned to do. Gilbert was probably much pleased by this, but the result was a restrained and less inventive, if often delightful, Sullivan score.
DAVID CRAVEN: I suspect that the relative appeal may have to do with the core audience. If you are trying to appeal to the general public (the great unwashed if you will), it may well be that they simply do not have the intellect, interest or the background to appreciate a traditional approach.
BRUCE I. MILLER: You seem to have missed either the original post or the point I was trying to make. The issue has nothing to do with a traditional or nontraditional approach, but Sullivan's treatment of the score. I wasn't suggesting that Patience lacked in appeal to the contrary, actually; simply that Sullivan was less adventurous in a musical way than he was to be in his later operas. The result was a work which is often delightful, and one in which he is seen to be in complete sympathy with his collaborator but, because of his conservative approach, doesn't reach the heights he would attain in the future. I.e., no guts, no glory.
This, for me, explains why Patience seems to have more appeal to word oriented G & S aficionados than music oriented ones. (Gilbert is at the top of his form in Patience.) Obviously this is a generalization to which there will be exceptions; and those of us who take a more holistic approach in which the words and music assume about equal importance tend to place Patience about in the middle, I would think.
SAM L. CLAPP: Grant you one there, for certain! I hope my ominous silence has been noisy enough. I cannot put my feelings for Patience to a simple email message. Why? Because you people will bat it down! I'll not do that! However, I agree that Patience is more of a word opera than a music one. I categorize it with Ida, Mikado and Yeomen as "song" operas rather than "scene" operas (as my defunct home page used to explain it), because they have short songs and lots of dialogue, rather than long musical scenes, except for the Act Endings, of course.
BRUCE I. MILLER: As to the so called "great unwashed", it is probably and sadly true that most of them don't care very much about any Gilbert and Sullivan. The comment I've heard is that "it doesn't have a beat" i.e., there's no rock pulse going on through each number. Yes, David, the culture has really changed...
DAVID CRAVEN: Actually I was charging off on a different tack. My point is that a production which will appeal to the most word oriented folk, a purely traditional approach, might not work well with the general public. And that may well be because the general public tend, particularly in today's culture, to be more sound bite/music oriented.
As for the music in Patience... I understand your point. I even agree with you from a technical view, but I also find that the simplistic beauty of the music makes it one of my favourites. Toward that end, and as it blends so well with what Gilbert wrote, I hold it pretty high on the music side as well. Sometimes it takes guts to stick to something simple and basic and not strive for the overly complex. Yes, no guts no glory (no guts no air medal.. whatever) but sometimes glory is unnecessary. A more ornate score would not have served the drama. (And I still think that "I hear the soft note" is perhaps the single most chilling moment in the entire canon... outside of Utopia Ltd.)
BRUCE I. MILLER: Sophistication does not necessarily imply ornate, and Sullivan even at his most inventive and/or adventurous can very rarely be accused of overwriting (in which category one might place ornate).
Actually, the score of Patience is about ornate as Sullivan gets. It's extremely suave at times, florid in Patience's aria, and so forth.
As to whether a more sophisticated score i.e. one which takes more musical risks would serve Gilbert's libretto more or less well, that's hard to say. My point is that Sullivan was deliberately keeping the music down for whatever reasons, and it shows.
NICK SALES: It's not particularly illuminating, but Patience contains the highest notes in any of the operas for male and female voices:
(optional) 'd' in "I cannot tell" for Patience, (optional) c# in Act I finale for Duke of Dunstable.
True, Mabel occasionally includes an e flat in the "Poor Wandering One" cadenza, but this isn't scored.
Or does anyone know better?
P.S. Nearly forgot the "squealing duet" from Thespis with its repeated top F's!
LOUIS WERNICK: I was giving thought to Bruce's message that Patience, because of its complex word book and its relatively unsophisticated musical score, is liked more by "word" people and less by "music people". I would answer that when the collected works of collaborators such as Gilbert and Sullivan are enjoyed by a variety of people from all walks of life, everyone who becomes a fan has his or her own reasons and enjoys the operettas on a rather personal level.
Certainly, those whose avocation or vocational interest is in scholarly, technical musical analysis might very well view the score of Patience as having less musical sophistication than other works in the canon, hence make a subjective decision that they would rather look over the scores of other G&S operettas. However, this does not suggest that it is primarily the "word" people who make Patience a favorite
"The flowers that bloom in the spring have nothing to do with the case".
While the total financial history of Patience productions may show that it is not a "big seller" among audiences who don't normally go to comic theatricals et al, this operetta certainly has its fascination at this time for people who generally like G&S.
J. DERRICK McCLURE: I'm interested in the suggestion that word oriented people like Patience better than do music oriented people, but I don't think the reason is that Sullivan's music is not as good as in other operas (it is) it's just that there's not enough of it. Sullivan was shortchanged by Gilbert in this opera. Everything Gilbert gave him to do, he did tremendously musical characterization of the aesthetic maidens and the soldiers, individual songs which match or excel any in the canon, superb dramatic developments in the Act I finale but he just didn't get enough opportunities especially, next to no chorus work in Act II. (Was it Sullivan or the Savoy chorus who protested at this, ensuring that the chorus had its full part in the next opera?)
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