Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



TOM SHEPARD: Ruddigore is one of my personal favorites, and it is unique in the G&S canon in that its satire is neither politically nor class derived. It is a grand spoof of Victorian Melodrama and has very little Gilbertian axe to grind. As a result, there is little or no sub rosa anger or any plea for a change in the moral and social inequities that WSG found in his society.

It is also a plot in which the characters themselves have very strong personal agendas: Robin is desperately fleeing a curse; Despard is living one to the hilt; Margaret is intensely love-lonely; Rose is petty and eager; Richard is ruled by his heart - which takes him into some pretty dodgy situations; Hannah has her own eternal vow to fulfill; Adam has family fidelity to uphold; the Ghosts, however, are more or less on "automatic pilot" in that they are obliged to do what they do, whether they like it or not.

Sullivan had so much opportunity for interesting music that he really plunged into it so heavily (and sometimes chromatically) that he overdid quite a bit of it. The subsequent cuts of much of the ghosts' march as well as other musical moments of melodrama which were snipped later have shown us that Ruddigore in its present incarnation plays a lot better than the original Ruddygore (although it's great fun to listen to the original).

These motivated dramatic characters gave Sullivan the chance to write music of terrific personality. He really wrote musical portraits of greed, loneliness, danger, happiness, innocence, gaiety, other-worldness - and it is easy to trace the profiles of the characters when we hear: "Sir Rupert Murgatroyd . . ." "If Somebody . . ." "I know a youth . . ." "I shipped, d'ye see . . ." "To a Garden full of Posies" ; "In Sailing . . ." "Oh why am I moody . . ." - and this precision of character and plot delineation is one of the strongest points in Sullivan's creative genius. It's not that he didn't do it in the other operas; it's just that it is so palpably apparent throughout Ruddigore, and becomes exquisitely realized in the second act.

Another point which may have absolutely no esthetic validity but which fascinates me personally, is the directions and motifs that Sullivan employs with surprising consistency or coincidence in Ruddigore.

Two points particularly:

1. The direction a melody takes: any melody starts with a note which is either repeated or which then moves up or down. If we look at Mikado, for example, the Overture beings with a rising 5th, the opening chorus ascends on a pentatonic scale, Nanki-Poo's recit. and song each begin with a rising fourth, Our Great Mikado begins with a rising 6th - in other words, a tremendous lot of musical material in The Mikado begins with a melody that rises initially. Ruddigore, on the other hand, is full of melodies that fall, that descend after the first note: Fair is Rose . . . If somebody . . . I know a Youth . . . I shipped . . . My boy . . . To a Garden, and then there is a fair amount of variety, but this is a lot of downward motion concentrated at the top of Act One, and it may mean absolutely nothing, but I can't help but notice it.

2. And certainly more important to me, is the use of the pentatonic scale and the motivic (from the word musical "motif") device of 3 2 1 and its variant 1 2 3: for example(s): Opening chorus orchestral intro: the 4th 5th and 6th notes are 1 2 3. Fair is Rose, the first three notes are 3 2 1. (and pentatonic) Intro to "If Somebody . . ." 3 2 1, as well as the words "chanced to be." I Know a Youth: it begins 3 2 1 Intro to "My Boy", 5 repeated notes, and then 3 2 1, 3 2 1, 3 2 1. (the purists will tell me it's really 5 4 3, but the point still holds: three descending notes as a motivic pattern of this opera.) The Battle's Roar: pentatonic for quite a while Orch intro to "If well . . ." notes 4 5 and 6 are in the pattern of 1 2 3. Hail the Bridegroom: 3 2 1 (and remember that Hail the Bridegroom is the same melody as Fair is Rose as bright May day.)

Cheerily Carols the lark, OVER THE COT - 3 2 3 1 To a Garden: 3 2 1 Oh why am I moody: 1 2 1 3 You Understand: overwhelmingly pentatonic, and full of 3 2 1, 1 3 1, 1 2 3 Hail the bride of SEVENTEEN SUMmers: 1 2 1 3 1 In fair phrases: 3 2 1 When the buds: both the intro and the madrical begin with 3 2 1 Within this Breast: 1 2 1 3 . . . And sipping tranquilly quite HAPPY IS HE: 3 2 1

I Once WAS AS MEEK: 1 2 3 ( and like so many other 1 2 3's in Ruddigore, it then goes up to the fifth) In Bygone Days: 3 2 1

Now we get into ghosts, and it's a new musical ballgame: Painted Emblems and much subsequent material deals with intervals of minor seconds, descending chromatics, and a lot of spookier stuff, but even When The Night Wind Howls, begins 1 3 1 5.

After we leave the ghosts' realm, we can look also at " . . . MAKING THE MOST(of evil chances) " and see that it's 1 2 3 5 My Eyes are Fully Open: . . . awful situ ATION I . . . again, it is 3 2 1, and the trio as a whole is largely pentatonic.

The intro to There Grew a Little Flower, contains many groups of three which are descending, but they are not precisely the same 3 2 1, even though they are somewhat reminiscent of it.

Having been a Wicket Baronet: again its pentatonic, and it goes into Happy the Lily with its very powerful 3 2 1 on "happy is she."

So what am I saying, and is it important? Well, I may only be pointing up coincidences, but I don't think so. Sullivan often was remarkably organic in each individual opera, and this is very evident in Yeomen, for example, but Ruddigore is subtler in its employment or deployment of the pentatonic and the variants of 3 2 1: (312. 231. 213. 123. 132), and then Sullivan's relinquishing much of this when he is dealing with the ancestors. He creates a pentatonic rustic diatonic feeling for the living folk, but a much more chromatic musical landscape for his ghosts.

This leads me into other paths about Sullivan's great, almost instinctual gifts that came to light mostly when he worked with Gilbert, but this is quite enough for one day.

JOHN S. SHEA: I think that Tom Shepard's motivic analysis of Ruddigore is terrific. I am trying to decide whether those patterns he points out are responsible for the sense I have had that the music of Ruddigore stands apart from that of the other operas in a way I have had trouble defining. I think I would put it this way: except for "Night Wind Howls" the music does not soar; it lacks fire and gaiety; it has instead a sort of restrained feeling, and is most charming when gently pastoral ("I know a youth," the madrigal). (OK, "Abandoned Person" is strange as well as charming). Am I correct in remembering that the score contains an unusually high proportion of E-flat major? Was Sullivan somewhat drained, uninspired - somewhat like Rodgers in South Pacific, in which the music also seems to repeat itself a lot?

I guess I am suggesting that what Tom hears as deliberate art, I hear as a lack of variety. But I am grateful for his posting.

BRUCE I. MILLER: Without putting words in Tom's mouth, I think he would agree that Sullivan treated each of his opera scores in a similar manner, although he did argue that Sullivan reached a peak in Ruddigore in certain aspects. A similar analysis can (and has) been done for all of them; one in particular I recall from the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society magazine did a splendid motivic analysis of Yeomen along similar lines, and it goes much deeper and more comprehensively than the obvious "Tower" motive.

Needless to say, I concur fully with Tom's basic analysis, although for sheer virtuosity I would have to say he went farther in Yeomen than any other Savoy opera.

Page created 4 October 1997