Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


The Music

3.1 The Score

Bruce Miller wrote: Among the many reasons Pinafore was such a hit must be the succession of musical numbers which were melodically inspired, dramatically apt and fit the nature of the production so well. Many of its songs must be among the most memorable musical numbers in G & S. Aside from Mikado, there is probably no other opera in the canon which maintains such a consistent level of melodic creativity. However, G & S still lacked the sure touch displayed in later operas. At first there was no overture, but an extended orchestral introduction. At some point after the premiere but before they opened their famous New York production, an overture was added. It is possible that at the same time the Introduction in #1 was somewhat cut back.

3.1.1 Opening chorus

Bruce Miller wrote: The opening chorus, "We sail the ocean blue" is not comfortably written for the higher male voices. Sullivan usually judged these matters better, and perhaps became more sensitive after experience with the Pinafore male chorus. Chris Webster noted: At least the chorus "We sail the ocean blue" has moving top notes, apart from the usual 'big finish'. I always found 'With Catlike Tread' and 'If You Want To Know Who We Are' much more uncomfortable to sing as they have sustained higher notes. To which Bruce Miller replied: I meant that the higher voices had too low a tessitura at times, not that the high notes were too high. The tenor lines in the other two choruses you mention are not too high for a section which has real, trained tenor voices.

3.1.2 Act Two Recitative

Bruce Miller observed: The Glee did not, at first, have the big coda at the end, with the chorus and Ralph finishing triumphantly; that seems to have been added for the 1887 revival. The opening solo of Act II, "Fair moon", was cut and reinstated more than once. The slow brass (and strings) march after the Octet was cut; when it was reinstated, and whether Sullivan had anything to do with this reinstatement, is not certain. The end of Act II was problematic. The recitative substituted for the closing dialogue, added at Jessie Bond's request, was dropped after only a short number of performances (it is not well known that the orchestration for this recitative does survive as well as the piano-vocal score of it, but not in Sullivan's autograph; it's found in the German full score published in the early 1880's, Amor am Bord). David Lyle replied: At the risk of uttering heresy, I think the recitative is omitted because it's pretty feeble-definitely a last-minute job! Sullivan's use of recitative as the canon progressed is interesting; generally speaking, he used it less and less, and the operettas - IMHO - benefited from it.

3.1.3 The "Savoy" Finish

Bruce Miller wrote: The very end of the Finale appears to have given the authors some difficulty. The four-part choral finish at the end of the "Englishman" chorus, as heard on later DOC recordings, appears to have no authentic source; neither does going an octave to a high F as heard on the first DOC LP. The original closing orchestral postlude, as heard on the New Sadlers Wells recording, seems to have been abandoned for the 1887 revival, which used a new finish incorporating "Rule Britannia". This new finish survives only in fragmentary form; only the melody, bass line and some violin decoration are found in A. The "Savoy" finish familiar from most recordings is probably not Sullivan's idea, although it's found sketched in very light pencil on the last page of A. Clive Woods replied: I presume by the "Savoy" finish you mean here the trumpet arpeggio ending? If memory serves correctly (no score to hand) the overture and both acts finish with the same passage, and to me this is a structural weakness although I could understand others feeling that this lends a sense of "one-ness" to the whole. The printed "alternative", actually printed as the original ending to Act 2 (the trumpet arpeggios are an ossia in act 2) is very weak and it seems not surprising that this was changed by someone, as it is not a suitable alternative, of course. Bruce Miller responded: I wish I had the vocal score to which you refer, in which you suggest the "Alternative ending" was the original closing orchestral passage. The only recording I know of the original ending is the New Sadler's Wells recording from the late 1980's; it's a fortissimo statement of the "Monarch of the sea" motive in augmentation, with some extended pounding closing chords. It looks weaker on paper than it actually sounds; it has an impressive breadth and seems to have been written to accompany a regrouping of the cast into a closing tableau. If there is a weakness to this conception, it's due less to this orchestral coda than the final choral ending, which simply has everyone singing the final melisma on "Englishman" in unison (and, BTW, Sullivan has a slur over all of this; no separations with h's as is often heard performed). There is no going up the octave at the end for sopranos and tenors, nor is there a four part finish on the final beats. The fact that others have seen a need to juice up this ending is evidence that more than one company director and/or MD has felt this choral finish to be weak. Clive Woods replied: It's the modern VS widely available in the UK, published by Cramer (NB not by Chappell like all the rest except Sorcerer). It also has the preceding Recitative (but in the old moveable-type format, whereas the rest of the score is modern engraving).

3.1.4 Alternative endings

Bruce Miller noted: There are three endings in Sullivan's autograph full score, only one of which is in his hand, and that's the "original ending" described above. The "Rule Britannia" ending is in the hand of a copyist, but from various reports we know it was used in the 1887 revival, for at least some performances. The trumpet arpeggio ending is pencilled in on the last page of the autograph; exactly when this was done is not known (it's not in the composer's hand), and it may well have occurred after Sullivan's death. My own opinion is that the trumpet arpeggio conclusion gives the opera an exhilarating conclusion, if the cast does the three cheers at the end with it. As to the trumpet arpeggio's appearance at the end of the Overture; this appears to be at Sullivan's specific direction. The final section of the overture is not found in A at all; at that point in the manuscript, pencilled directions instruct the copyist where to find the appropriate music in the first act Finale, from which the music is lifted bodily without alteration; even without the vocal parts, the orchestration sounds completely satisfying. The first measures and the final bars (corresponding to the closing section of the Finale) are shown as sketches, with only the most basic material shown as clarification for the copyist. Robert Jones added: I find the arpeggio ending rather dull; fine for the overture and Act I finale, but a little lacklustre for the end of an opera. The "good" ending is musically far more interesting. It may justifiably be criticised as slow and drawn-out, but I grew up with it, so I'm biased. Susan Poliniak wrote: First off, Bruce Montgomery uses the recitative alternative before the finale ultimo in his Pinafore productions. It's cute, although I remember our Buttercup being miffed at not getting to say "Oh, rapture! Oh, bliss!" Also, the notes in the Ralph/Josephine "Oh, bliss! Oh, rapture!" bit towards the beginning are just plain strange. Second off, has anyone else been in a production that hasn't used the trumpet arpeggio ending? Again, Monty uses the other, less familiar one (no, not "Rule B."). I won't say which one I prefer. To which Philip Sternenberg replied: I was in a high school production when I was 33 that used the ending in Schirmer. This was for no better reason than it was done with piano only, and I imagine most productions that use nothing but Schirmer vocal scores would have the same accompaniment and ending. And Ralph J McPhail: When Bridgewater College did HMS Pinafore in '62 (and hooked me in a big way), the MD. used the Oliver Diston score, which contains the "Oh bliss! Oh Rapture" recitative.

3.1.5 Different Scores

David Lyle wrote: As you may know, the English, Cramer, vocal score published the original, longer finale, with the trumpet arpeggio given as an "ossia", or alternative. David Russell Hulme implies, in his notes accompanying the 1987, New Sadler's Wells, recording, that the trumpet finale is the work of DOC, who, as we know, chopped and changed things in a seemingly cavalier, as-it-suited-them, manner. He also notes the existence of a third ending, provided by Sullivan for the 1887 revival, which coincided with Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, and which incorporates a reference to "Rule, Britannia!" The length of the original suggests that it may have been written thus to cover some stage business, which may, in practice, have proved redundant or unworkable. The chords used are those of the first few bars of the accompaniment to the First Lord's entry, though in considerable augmentation. Although though we will never know, I cannot see any other reason - beyond pure utility - why Sullivan would have chosen this chordal sequence.

In addition, I have never come across any evidence that either composer or librettist subsequently expressed a wish to alter the finale in any other way; consequently, we are left, as is so often the case, with a difficulty in arriving at a "definitive" reading and must make choices - with any luck, intelligent and informed ones. It may be, therefore, that either musical, artistic, stage mechanics or some pragmatism (" one by one or all at once"!) suggested, or even dictated, the substitution at some time after the first performances, resulting in both versions appearing in the Cramer score. (I do not have access to the dates of the various score editions, and I therefore apologise if these comments at are odds with those dates - whatever they are.)) I have used both finales (orchestrating the original myself, as I did not have access to an original) but have to say that I prefer the trumpet call; in a finale which is already a "reprise" finale, it effectively and concisely brings things to a suitably rousing conclusion. Bruce Miller replied: Although I haven't seen this particular score, it has been researched; those printings which have the "Alternative ending" and "ossia" endings date from after Sullivan's death, and cannot be considered authoritative as to the composer's intentions without additional evidence (which has not been forthcoming). This is a recurring problem with the Cramer and Chappell editions which were revised to conform with 20th century D'Oyly Carte performance tradition. The older Cramer scores are no longer in print by the original publisher; but the Cramer Sorcerer, in a state dating to Sullivan's lifetime, is available in the USA disguised as a Kalmus edition vocal score. It appears to preserve readings which were later altered (without, it seems, any authority) in the version currently offered for sale by Cramer.

3.2 Favourite pieces

Gordon Pascoe wrote: I nominate "Pretty Daughter Of Mine" as the prettiest throw-away melody of all time! Bruce Miller replied: One of the relatively few musically sophisticated treatments found in Pinafore is Sullivan's use the "Pretty daughter of mine" melody as counterpoint to the Josephine/Ralph duet "I/He humble, poor and lowly born" passage. There it takes on a distinctive naval jauntiness - the two lovers throwing back at him the Captain's line of argument, his sentiments transformed by their disdain for them.

Louis Wernick wrote: I note that when we get to the finale, "Oh Joy, Oh Rapture Unforeseen", following Dick Deadeye's musical line for a while (past The orb of love even) shows that Sullivan was in synch with Gilbert by giving Deadeye about the must beautiful musical line in the part writing of all the characters.

Bill Schneider wrote: Pinafore has my favorite bass chorus lead, the Carpenter's Mate. The "British Tar" trio is, IMO, one of the most enjoyable numbers to listen to and sing along with, and a great piece of writing by Sullivan too, especially when put next to the simple musical setting used for most of the show. I also tend to think that the Carpenter's line in "British Tar" is one of the most interesting bass lines in the canon, because of the imitative texture and the way the whole 'round' section just fits together.

Page created 22 October 1997