The Foresters

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According to Arthur Jacobs, the 82 year old Alfred Tennyson wrote his verse play The Foresters, or, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, at the request of the America theatre manager Augustin Daly. Daly had met Sullivan in California, presumably on the occasion of the latter's visit in 1885, and asked Sullivan to provide the music. Sullivan duly composed the nine short numbers which comprise the score, in return for royalties of "Five guineas per performance in England and a separate arrangement in America."

The Text of the Play.
Augustin Daly
Augustin Daly

Tennyson could be an obdurate collaborator, as Sullivan had discovered when working with Tennyson on the song cycle The Window twenty years earlier. But this did not prevent Sullivan trying to persuade Tennyson to make changes. For example, Sullivan thought the title, The Foresters, colourless but was unsuccessful in persuading Tennyson to change it to Maid Marian. However, Sullivan was able to persuade Tennyson to make changes to the fairy scene. Tennyson's original text was published in 1892 without any amendments and can be found on the University of Rochester Robin Hood Project site.

But the text of the play presented by Augustin Daly at his theatre in New York on 17 March 1892 differed significantly from Tennyson's. Daly did a thorough "scissors and paste" job on Tennyson's text, cutting extraneous dialogue, moving events from one act to another, and even reassigning songs and dialogue to different characters. A prompt book, marked ‘not for publication' was printed. Whether Tennyson was made aware of Daly's "improvements", or what he thought of them, is not recorded. The text of the play given here follows Daly's prompt book except where it differs from the Stanford University score.

The changes Daly made to Tennyson's text explain why the songs occur in a different order in the play from that in the vocal score. The most significant changes are:

  1. In Tennyson's original, Robin Hood falls asleep at the end of Act II and dreams of Titania and the fairies. In Daly's version, it is Marian who dreams and the scene is transferred to the end of Act III.

  2. In Tennyson's original, Marian sings "The bee buzz'd up in the heat" at the start of Act IV. Daly transferred this song to Kate who sings it towards the end of  ActIII.

The Stanford Score

The manuscript score of the Incidental Music to The Foresters was loaned by Stanford University Libraries, A Memorial Library of Music for an exhibition held at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York in 1975. In the catalogue of that exhibition, Reginald Allen described it thus:

Manuscript, signed, partially in Sullivan's hand, partially in a copyist's hand. (Note on page 1: "Copy No. 3 complete without voice parts.").

He goes on to comment: "This manuscript of The Foresters, as noted on its first page, is 'Copy No. 3 complete without voice parts'; in other words, it contains only the incidental music, cued to the libretto. Not surprisingly, much of the autograph is not Sullivan's but probably that of Henry Widmer, Augustin Daly's musical assistant who must have worked closely with Sullivan. The score reveals the notation of each. In Act IV, scene 1 (pages 113-141 of the libretto published by MacMillan in book form) ... there is a tune by Sullivan to which the 'Abbot' and the 'Justiciary' are forced to dance."

There are a number of errors and inaccuracies in this description:

  1. The first twenty four pages of the score are taken up by the overture and are numbered. For most of those pages, there is only an indication of the melody to be played. The words 'Copy No. 3 complete without voice parts' does not indicate that this is the third of several copies, but is an indication of how the remaining blank staves should be completed. (The overture begins with an orchestral version of No. 3 in the vocal score.) Further, on page 15, we find the instruction 'Copy No. 7 from G to J' and on page 22, 'Copy No. 6.'

  2. The score includes the vocal music.

  3. The 'libretto' published by MacMillan was of Tennyson's original text. As we have seen, this was substantially altered by Daly for representation on the stage.

  4. The dance for the "Abbot" and "Justiciary" (No. 39 in the Web version of the play) does not appear to be in Sullivan's hand. I can find no pages in the score which I could confidently state were in Sullivan's hand, nor can I find Sullivan's signature anywhere on the score.

In the remainder of the score, two hands are apparent. One copyist has apparently prepared the pages which contain the songs and choruses, whilst the incidental music (dances, music to cover entrances and exits and underscore passages of dialogue) are in another hand. The accompaniments to the vocal music are arranged for piano with no indication of the orchestration, except for Marian's song "Love flew in at the window" where there is both a copy of the song with piano accompaniment and a score of the orchestral accompaniment to the song.

There are many alterations and annotations to the score, probably indicating that this is the score that was used, and revised, during rehearsals.

I conclude that, although the published vocal score states on its title page "The Incidental Music, Songs and Choruses composed by Arthur Sullivan", only the songs and choruses are his, the "incidental music" probably being the work of Widmer. I doubt that there was much, if any, collaboration between Widmer and Sullivan. Sullivan was a sick man during the latter part of 1891, and soon after Christmas 1891 left London for the continent in search of a cure. A close collaboration between Sullivan and Widmer therfore seems improbable.

Sullivan's Music

According to Percy Young, Sullivan probably undertook the work out of regard for Tennyson rather than any real enthusiasm for the play itself, which Young described as being "devoid of any kind of merit whatever." Certainly, the fairy scene contains some of the weakest lines Tennyson ever wrote:

Nip her not but let her snore.
We must flit for evermore.

First Fairy.
Tit, my Queen, must it be so?
Wherefore, wherefore should we go?

I, Titania, bid you flit,
And you dare to call me Tit!

First Fairy.
Tit for love and brevity
Not for love and levity.

Tit for love, thou naughty lob
Wouldst thou call my Oberon Ob?

In this scene, Tennyson called for ten fairies each to sing a solo couplet. Sullivan wrote to Daly: "These ethereal creatures are always difficult to deal with when embodied in flesh and blood at twenty shillings a week." And again, on l December 1891, Sullivan wrote to Tennyson saying, "You can never get ten chorus girls capable of singing a little solo each." The poet gave way to his composer and the verses were recast so they could be sung by the chorus as a whole.

Perhaps writing music for fairies caused Sullivan's thoughts to wander back to writing "Iolanthe" some ten years earlier, for he quotes a phrase from Lord Mountararat's song "When Britain really ruled the waves" in the final chorus.

Overall, Sullivan does not seem to have been very satisfied with his efforts. "I have done the best I could with the music to Lord Tennyson's play," he wrote to Daly, "but it is after all not very satisfactory to have to write music which, whilst it is merely incidental to the play, at the same time requires proper and adequate interpretation."

In 1927, Herbert Sullivan and Newman Flower wrote The Foresters was put away in the common grave of failures. But a few numbers from it, such as "O, Sleep," (sic) endure with the same vitality as Sullivan's most popular work.

Modern commentators have had little good to say about Sullivan's contribution. Young described the score as "one of Sullivan's lamest" whilst acknowledging that "...a near Dorian tune for the opening ballad, "The Warrior of Allandale" (sic.) ... is sufficiently virtuous to have pleased folk-song neophytes of twenty years later." Arthur Jacobs comments on the lack of "even one memorable number."

The Production
Ada Rehan
Ada Rehan

The play opened at Daly's Theatre, New York, on 17 March 1892, the part of Maid Marian being played by Daly's leading lady, Ada Rehan. The piece was well received at the time, and was elaborately presented. George Odell described the opening night in Annals of the New York Stage:

The eagerly awaited night arrived, March 17, 1892, and the audience sat in a dream world...This was a momentous production. The union of Tennyson, Arthur Sullivan, Daly, Ada Rehan, and John Drew seems like a gift from the Fairyland involved in The Foresters.

There was a single, private performance of the play at the Lyceum Theatre in London on the same day.

Tennyson died before the play could be presented in London where it opened on 3 October 1893 at Daly's new theatre in Leicester Square, with some of the American cast.

— Paul Howarth

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