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The Music


3.1 General Observations
3.1.1 Simply Brilliant
3.1.2 Sullivan's Finest
3.1.3 A Striking Resemblance
3.2 The Numbers
3.2.1 Sexist assignations
3.2.2 Gilbert Parodies Cavatina
3.2.3 Lady Sangazure's Lost Ballad
3.3 The Runt of the Litter
3.3.1 Worst tenor songs in the canon
3.3.2 The Runtiest of All

3.1 General Observations

3.1.1 Simply Brilliant

David Craven wrote: A superficial review of the show will often result in the (misplaced) view that the show is a series of love duets and trios, when in fact, many of the songs, while of strong emotion, are not of love. For example, "Thou Hast the Power" by Alexis in the second act "sounds" like a love song, when in fact, it is a very strong denouncement. Finally, the music, like the drama is beautiful yet fragile. To pull the music off requires a clearer, less elaborate style than much of the later Sullivan. Yet if done right, much of it is simply brilliant. In my opinion, Sorcerer has some of the most tuneful music in the canon. Yet, at the same time, it is also one of the most thoughtful, least raucous of all of the scores. With the exception of the start of Act II, the music is for the most part thoughtful and restrained. It is a show which demands brains, which means that it will be less popular.

Gerry Howe wrote: The music, now... "Time was, when love and I were well acquainted", always makes my toes curl - one of the most beautiful arias in the whole canon. There are lots of other gems, including Sir Marmaduke and Lady Sangazure's Act One duet, the patter song which is brilliant and the Incantation. Witty, inventive and orchestrated by a master hand. And there's some of the best pastiche Handel ASS ever wrote, at least until Princess Ida.

3.1.2 Sullivan's Finest

Bruce Miller wrote: This may surprise some people, but IMHO there are a number of musical elements in Sorcerer which are among Sullivan's finest numbers, as Tom Shepard has already mentioned. I agree that the Overture is a good one; probably about the best of the ones Sullivan farmed out. It's either by Alfred Cellier or Hamilton Clarke - I don't recall at the moment whether it was written during the first run or for the revival, which would determine which of the two it was - but whomever it was, he certainly came up with a charming, lively piece which more than adequately sets up the opera. "Oh, marvellous illusion" is stunning - a wonderful musical depiction of the communal drugging. The opening of Act II likewise succeeds on more than one level, and one wonders whether Sullivan's personal experience with morphine (and who knows what else) informed his depiction of a drug hangover in the instrumental prelude. Sullivan's use of dance music in the Finales of both acts is melodious and fresh. Some of the ensembles are gems - the Gavotte rivals the one in Gondoliers, and the Incantation is inspired. Both of the Vicar's solos are beautifully conceived, both for the gentle satire and for the characterization generally. My name is JWW is among the finest patter songs. There is much to like in Sorcerer, and it certainly points the way to the future - if neither G nor S is yet quite in peak form.

Ted Rice added: I also see a great deal of virtue in Sorcerer's music. Besides Dr Daly's songs, as Bruce mentioned, there is one of the most lyrical of the soprano arias---"Oh, Happy Young Heart"---in the canon. And, priggish or not, as a character exposition, as well as a dramatic aria, " It Is Not Love," is right up there with the other tenor parts.

3.1.3 A Striking Resemblance

Gwyn Aubrey wrote: Having heard "Time was When Love and I were well acquainted", I was somewhat struck by the opening accompaniment bearing a rather strong resemblance to "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain". Can anyone comment, or am I hallucinating? Tom Shepard replied: You are right on the money.

3.2 The Numbers

3.2.1 Sexist assignations

Paul McShane wrote: I notice in the libretti that, while Constance and Aline have "Arias", Alexis and Dr. Daly are given "Ballads". This apparently sexist treatment is confounded in the Pinafore libretto, where Josephine has a "Ballad", and thereafter the soloists seem to either have a "Song", "Solo" or "Recitative." while ballads and arias seem to be in disfavour in the rest of the canon (although Rose has a ballad, and there may be other exceptions). Can anyone shed any light on what exactly constitutes a ballad or aria, compared with just a song? Although my Sorcerer score has vanished, I seem to recall that at least one of Alexis' ballads was listed as being sung by "Voice" rather than by "Alexis". Does anyone have a score or libretto with this strange attribute? And is there a story behind this? "The air is charged with amatory numbers"

3.2.2 Gilbert Parodies Cavatina

Louis Wernick replied: I believe that in the old bel canto Italian tradition of Bellini and Donizetti, the principals' solos had an AB melodic form called cavatina and then a more florid form, often decorated to taste for the production, called cabaletta in the second verse. I believe that the Gilbertian ballad may be a parody on the actual cavatina form in the bel canto (though, of course, Mabel's decorations in Pirates are a sort of cabaletta cadenza, are they not?) An aria was a more free form, with more invention to it - and usually shorter.

To which Richard Slade replied: Ornaments and cadenzas are not limited to cabalettas. The binary aria form that developed in the early 19th century consisted of:

  1. Recitativo Accompagnato, declamation with orchestral accompaniment

  2. Cavatina (or aria), a melodic period in a slow or medium tempo, usually in ABA form. There could be ornaments on the repeat of the A section, and a cadenza is almost mandatory.

  3. A transition section, sometimes called tempo di mezzo, in a form pretty much at the liberty of the composer. Sometimes a recitative, sometimes something more ambitious. The Miserere in Il Trovatore is the most amazing example.

  4. Cabaletta (or stretta), a bracingly rhythmic section, usually two strophes, sometimes with dazzling fioriture. If the second strophe isn't cut, ornaments are required.

The origins of the terms cavatina and cabaletta are shrouded in mystery, but they both seem to be derived from the word for "horse": perhaps the cavatina is the horse that the singer figuratively rides out onto the stage, and the cabaletta's throbbing rhythm (often the rum titi tumtumtumtum polacca beat) might suggest a horse at full gallop.

As for Paul McShane's query about the substitution of "Voice" for "Alexis", This reflects the manner in which the music was published. Alexis's ballad was probably typeset to be sold as a single item (hence "Voice" rather than "Alexis"), and instead of resetting it for inclusion in the full score, they just used the same plates. This also may explain why certain numbers are designated as certain types of music. Ballads and Songs were meant to be sold to amateurs and sung at home. Arias were designed for singers with more ambition. But I must say, Josephine's "Ballad" is not for the vocally faint of heart!

Susan Poliniak replied: About the same time I was singing Josephine in college I was taking some classes on 18th & 19th century form and analysis. I remember reading the description of cav/cab form, and then weeks later smacking myself on the forehead and saying in my artless undergrad. way, "Oh - it's like 'The hours creep on apace.' "Looking at it all now, it isn't quite - but it's pretty close.

3.2.3 Lady Sangazure's Lost Ballad

Ronald Orenstein asked: Has anyone ever considered recording or even staging Sorcerer in its original form, insofar as this can be done (I believe the music for Lady Sangazure's ballad is lost)? Marc Shepherd replied: It's difficult for me to see why anyone would want to do this fully. The new Act II opening is clearly superior to the old one in every way. I have seen a Sorcerer in which the Wells/Ahrimanes scene (see Bradley) was interpolated, and I thought this worked quite well.

Then David Lyle wrote: The Edinburgh G & S Society will be performing Sorcerer in February, 1998, in the King's Theatre, and we intend to include the original Act II opening, "Happy are we" in Act ll (but not at, or in place of, the marvellous "awakening" scene) and, as an Entr'acte, the Henry VIII music, which Sullivan utilized as an overture on the first night. I am not aware of the existence, anywhere, of Sangazure's song, nor of Wells' Act II recit; if anyone knows differently, please let me know! Bruce Miller replied: The orchestral introduction to Lady Sangazure's recitative may contain the opening melodic passage in the succeeding aria, which was cut. This may be the music to which Marc referred; but it is my understanding that it's only a deduction, not an actual autograph which has been discovered.

To which Marc Shepherd replied: Several years ago, Ric Wilson said to me, "They found that song." His wording clearly suggested it was more than merely the inference to which Bruce refers. I asked him where it was found, and he said "England." Unfortunately, it was only in passing, and I wasn't able to get further details from him.

3.3 The Runt of the Litter

3.3.1 Worst tenor songs in the canon

Paul McShane wrote: In our survey of G&S favourites, I ranked Sorcerer last out of thirteen. This does not mean I don't like it, of course - as nearly all of us would say about whichever particular G&S opera we put last. I've been trying to think of why I ranked Sorcerer last, and decided that I rate Alexis' two solos as the worst tenor songs in the canon. The fact that they both come in the middle of fairly soppy patches of libretto means that the pace and enjoyment of the piece comes to a screeching halt until the scene ends. This plays merry hell with the continuity of the whole piece - particularly in Act I where, as others have noted, the pace of the opera is fairly leaden until JWW's entrance. This doesn't mean, of course, that I regard Act I as a turn-off until Wells appears - I particularly love Dr. Daly's minuet recitative, Sullivan's first double chorus and the ensuing sequence of music finishing with the contract being signed. But it is all so genteel in pace, and falls into a heap with the unlovely Alexis' first solo.

Nick Sales replied: "For Love Alone"; I have nothing really to offer in its defence, and would not argue with the epithet suggested for it. That said, however, I still would suggest that there are many, perhaps hundreds and hundreds of Victorian parlour songs that are of lesser worth, and that I would certainly choose to send to the recycle bin of music before I would jettison "For Love Alone".

However, "It is not love" I do hold very dear to my heart. Tom Shepard summed it up very nicely, the tempo changes, the sweeping phrases and the words combine to make it a very emotional number for me, whether to sing or hear. I find that it perhaps works better in context than out, as I always find Alexis's blustering "Enough, Aline! I shall know how to interpret this refusal!", followed by the opening sweeping string phrase most stirring, and to achieve the maximum desired effect, the song must (IMO) be sung with the same demeanour suggested by the last line of dialogue (reproduced above). If we're being perfectly frank, it's a great show off number if sung with sufficient feeling and sensitivity for the words and how Sullivan's tempo changes perfectly match Gilbert's words. For instance, there are of course two clear moods in the song, the main bodies of each verse are brimming with anger, rejection, perhaps just a whatsong of scorn and I suppose disappointment that she (Aline) has fallen so far short of the standard Alexis had hoped for. At the change of tempo to 3/4 I always feel that there is a moment of reflection, of analysis on the part of Alexis before coming back to the issue at hand, and each verse ends on a similar basis, the rejection of Aline's love as less than perfection.

As I say, if sung with the correct amount of feeling with close attention to words & music, I still set this down as a winner, certainly in context, if not perhaps so outside the show. And that long held top A towards the end? What can one say except to silently thank Sullivan, take a deep breath and LET 'EM HAVE IT!!!!!!

3.3.2 The Runtiest of All

Tom Shepard also replied: Have you ever lavished a little extra care upon the runt of the litter? This is the way I feel about Alexis's arias. "I Love that love" is so astonishingly trite that I sometimes wonder in my artless way if it wasn't intended to show what a hopeless twit Alexis was. However, "Thou hast the Power" although almost equally soppy, is a terrific example of a Victorian Parlour Song, its arching phrases, its contrasts between 4/4 part one and three/four part two---it is so totally drawing-room fusty that I find myself quite taken with it. It is a marvellous bit of artifice, it speaks of its time and of the nature of the listening audience. I really like it. And when, as a kid, I first heard the Oldham recording, it was like being taken into another (old and heavily-draped) world. So I will always pull towards Sorcerer, Utopia and Grand Duke. They are "the runts of the litter" and perhaps Alexis's ballads are the runtiest of all. A little extra care and feeding to the underdog!

Andrew Crowther replied to this: And I'm almost positive that's how it was intended. I can't believe that Gilbert would have written that lyric - which uses "love" and related words over and over and over again, ad nauseam - in complete seriousness. I see the song as an outrageous parody of the sentimental drawing-room ballad, which also shows us the shallow, sentimental inside of Alexis's mind. (Someone, Chesterton I think, said sentimentality meant taking up an idea without being prepared to accept its consequences: Alexis fits this definition very well, as we see in Act 2 when his father gets engaged to Mrs Partlet.)

And Bruce Miller also replied: Sullivan seems to have shared your view that the "Thou Hast the Power" needed special care and feeding, for he rewrote the second half from duple to triple meter. It does lend the song some grace and the contrast is an improvement. But I don't classify Sorcerer as a "runt" by any means - it's got more merit than that; at least it's not decadent. However, if you want to talk about a real "runt", my nomination is "A King of autocratic power We" from Utopia - nothing in Sorcerer is quite as bad as that. [Bruce's last remark gave rise to a new thread - see the section on recordings.]


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