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(The Musical Times — January 1, 1901)

St Peter's Cranley Gardens

In the many biographical notices of Arthur Sullivan that have recently appeared, comparatively little attention has been paid to the church-musician side of his genius. The mere fact that the gifted composer returned to his first love — church music — in the last completed composition he has left behind him is a sufficient justification for the following remarks.

The Chapel Royal, of which Sullivan was a chorister from 1854 to 1857, proved to be an excellent school for the young musician. English church music owes not a little to this traditional nursery. Have there not passed through it such distinguished Children as John Blow, Henry Purcell, William Croft, Thomas Attwood, John Goss and Edward John Hopkins? And Sullivan himself would have been one of the first to acknowledge his indebtedness to the pure vocal atmosphere of that regal sanctuary in St. James's Palace.

Sullivan's first-published composition, written when he was thirteen years of age, was a sacred song bearing the following title:—

O Israel. Sacred song composed and dedicated to Mrs. C.V. Bridgeman (Tavistock, Devon) by Arthur Sullivan, chorister of H. M. Chapels Royal.

London: Sacred Music Warehouse, J. Alfred Novello, Music Seller by appointment to Her Majesty, 69, Dean Street, Soho, and 35 Poultry; also in New York at 389, Broadway [November, 1855].

Here is the opening strain of the voice part of this Opus 1:—

O Israel

Arthur Sullivan in the uniform of a student at The Royal Academy of Music.
Sullivan

The young chorister had doubtless heard Jenny Lind sing 'Hear ye, Israel'! His next appearance in print is in 'The Accompanying harmonies to the Hymnal Noted' (1857), edited by his ever kind friend, the late Rev. Thomas Helmore, then Master of the Children. To young Sullivan, Mr. Helmore entrusted the harmonization of four stately plain-song melodies.

During his Royal Academy of Music and Leipzig pupilage there is no evidence that Sullivan cultivated his church music muse in the matter of production. But upon his return from Leipzig, he, like many other young musicians, had to face the world with plenty of brains but not overmuch money. He accordingly took an organ appointment and became 'chief musician' of St. Michael's Church, Chester Square, Pimlico. The exact date of his appointment cannot be ascertained, but it was of course subsequent to 1860. Through the kindness of Mr. Edward Mills, Professor of Music at St. John's College, Battersea, we are enabled to give an interesting side light on Sullivan's St. Michael's organistship. Mr. Mills, who was his deputy at that time, writes as follows:—

Dear Mr. Editor. — I willingly respond to your request for a few particulars of Sullivan's organist period. In 1867 he invited me to assist him in his post at St. Michael's, Chester Square, where the services were then of a very plain type. The three manual organ occupied three sides of a small west gallery, the choir was located in the front and central space. The boys were selected from the National School. The adult members were mostly drawn from the neighbouring police station, and attended in plain clothes when there was no 'constabulary duty to be done.' It was a long stretch to play on the swell of the St. Michael's organ, and Sullivan, who was certainly not a Longshanks, once lost his balance and brought his forearms down on to the Great manual with electrical effect! His style of playing was eminently legato and quiet, and scrupulously in keeping with the general feeling of the words; but when occasion required, the louder portions of the instrument would gradually be drawn upon for a well conceived climax, such as is found in Haydn's tune 'Austria'. He rightly considered his thoughtful accompaniment of the service to be his strongest point as an organist, and which, by the way, caused him to be better remunerated than many a man of much greater powers of execution.

At this time (1867) a new church was being built by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Charles Freake in an open space off the Fulham Road, now occupied by Cranley Gardens and neighbourhood. Sullivan accepted the additional post of organist here, and the church was consecrated on St. Peter's day (June 29, 1867), the Chapel Royal boys helping in the anthem 'Praise the Lord' by Goss, the music and its composer (his old master) being most dear to Sullivan. The organ here was placed in a chancel chamber. The choir was eventually surpliced and installed in the chancel, and the services gradually approached the Cathedral type, which has always been the rule for great festivals, on which occasions some of his anthems were sung for the first time from MS., such as 'Sing, O Heavens,' and 'I will mention.' His simple Kyrie of the Service in D was written at the organ of St. Peter's, and the whole service was frequently sung.

On one occasion Sir John Goss attended the evening service, and upon his coming up to the organ at the close, the choir sang his fine setting of the hymn, 'Praise my soul, the King of Heaven.' Sullivan, in a little speech to the choir on that occasion, described this as the first hymn tune in existence. The choir then sang Sullivan's setting of 'The strain upraise.' This was followed by a few appropriate words from Goss, who kindly retaliated on his pupil!

On another occasion Sir Frederick Ouseley visited the church and extemporised a fugue on the opening of the tune 'Hanover.' For two years Sullivan held the two appointments and I was his deputy. In 1869 he resigned that of St. Michael's, where he was succeeded by Mr. Franklin Taylor, but retained his post at St. Peter's until February, 1872, when he finally relinquished organist duties.

His voluntaries, which were mostly drawn from vocal or instrumental works — Mendelssohn perhaps being the favourite — were as orchestral in colour as the small organ would admit, a soft 16 feet reed on the swell being the chief solo stop. Sullivan edited 'Church Hymns,' the first hymnal, as so far as I am aware, that was furnished with expression marks.

The reference of Mr. Mills to the policemen tenors and basses at St. Michael's is interesting. At that time the late Sir Richard Mayne, then Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, was a worshipper at the church, and this, doubtless, accounted fort the presence of the constables in the choir. Mr. Joseph Bennett, in some happily expressed reminiscences of his late friend, Arthur Sullivan, thus furnishes another side light on those organist days in the sixties. Mr. Bennett says:—

For some time during the early years of our acquaintance, Sullivan was organist ar St. Michael's, Chester Square; his choir, as regards the adults in it, being made up of policemen. I sometimes accompanied him to rehearsal, and never ceased to admire the way in which he kept the constables at the boiling point of enthusiasm, as well as on the brink of laughter. The organist's good spirits were infectious, and though, as he himself sang in after years,

I would be bound that the 'able-bodied' of St. Michael's were, during rehearsal, as cheerful as all the birds in the air. They could not help it, neither could their musical chief help it either, so ebullient was his good-nature, and so captivating his charm.

Whatever may have been the musical qualifications of the gentlemen forming this constabulary choir, it may be naturally assumed that those enthusiastic policemen were experts in the matter of the beat.

The first vicar of St. Peter's, Cranley Gardens, where Sullivan held his second and last organ appointment, was the Rev. and Honble. Francis C. Byng, now Earl of Strafford, who from 1865 to 1889 also held the office of Chaplain to the Speaker and subsequently became Chaplain to the Queen. The Earl of Strafford, in response to our request, has very kindly furnished his recollections of his former organist and attached friend, Arthur Sullivan, in the following words:—

Arthur Sullivan was all affection, sympathy, and kindness. I enclose you one of his comparatively recent letters to me. It may amuse you — his opinion of my intoning incapacity. I was present, by his invitation, at a dinner party he gave at his house — when Tennyson and Millais were present. Tennyson read 'The Window, or Songs of the Wrens,' Millais gave his notions of the illustrations which would be suitable, Sullivan suggesting the music. A unique an pleasurable privilege. I suggested to A. S. that I represented 'Ignorance' of all three — Poetry, Music, and Art!

Here is the 'intoning' letter to which the Earl of Strafford refers. It will be observed that it was written by Sullivan twenty-seven years after he had held his organistship at St. Peter's:—

  Ashbridgewood, Wokingham,
Berks, 27 Sept., 1899.

 
My dear Strafford,

Rumour is not quite right in stating that I am writing a chapter myself for Lawrence's book. ['Sir Arthur Sullivan.' By Arthur Lawrence, London: James Bowden, 1899.] But I have let the author have a 'talk' with me a short time ago, and its matter will be embodied in a supplementary chapter. Your name, of course, had already been introduced in an early part of the book, but not as a great musician. There is, however, still time I think to rectify that.

I might graphically describe how, in endeavouring to intone, you led the choir, congregation, and organist an exciting chase over a gamut of about two octaves, we vainly doing our utmost to follow you.

You were heroic — we never could run you to earth; that is, pin you down to the same note for two consecutive prayers or collects. I hope you are all well and flourishing. I long to see you all again. I shall be here three weeks longer. It is a small place I took for a couple of months to work in — hard and quietly.
 

  Ever yours sincerely,
  Arthur Sullivan.

The Tennyson-Millais dinner referred to by the Earl furnished an amusing anecdote which is thus recorded by Mr. Arthur Lawrence in his 'Life' of the composer, and told by Sir Arthur Sullivan in his own words:—

The first time Tennyson came to dine at my house, the door was opened by the parlourmaid who had been with us many years, and was like one of the family. She was fairly staggered by the appearance of the visitor, who, as will be remembered, always wore a deep, broad-brimmed black felt hat, and a black cape or short cloak which made him look exactly like a conspirator in an Italian or Spanish play. Our little part consisted of Tennyson, Millais, Francis Byng (now Earl of Strafford), myself, my mother, and another lady. We met to discuss the proposed work in collaboration, which afterwards was published without Millais' illustrations as 'The Window; or, the Loves of the Wrens.'

When the guests had departed, Kate, the maid, said to me, 'Was that really the great poet, Master Arthur? [I was nearly thirty!] Well! he do wear clothes!' 'Of course,' I replied with subtle irony, 'all poets do. Besides,' I added, 'you forget that he is Poet-Laureate.'

She hadn't forgotten it, for she had never known it. Then after a slight pause, she said thoughtfully: 'What a queer uniform!'

But to return to matters more ecclesiastical. The following is an attempt at a complete list of Sullivan's sacred music, with some particulars in regard to the dedication of the anthems which may be of interest:—

SERVICE.
Te Deum, Jubilate, and Kyrie in D.
ANTHEMS.

O love the Lord. Dedicated to 'his esteemed master and friend,' Sir John Goss.
We have heard with our ears. Founded on the 8th Gregorian tone, 2nd ending.

  Dedicated to the Rev. T. Helmore
O taste and see. Dedicated to the Rev. H. R. Haweis.
Rejoice in the Lord. Specially composed for the wedding of the Rev. R. Brown-
  Borthwick, in Westminster Abbey, April 3, 1867. Dedicated to the Rev. R. Brown-Borthwick.
Sing, O heavens. Dedicated to the Rev. and Honble. Francis Byng (now Earl Strafford).
O God, Thou art worthy to be praised. Specially composed for the wedding of Mr.
  Adrian Hope and Lady Ida Duff, at St. Andrew's Church, Wells Street, June 3, 1867. (This composition has two footnotes: 'This Anthem is suitable for the Marriage Service,' and 'N.B. — A harp part can be had for the last chorus.)
I will worship towards Thy holy temple. Composed expressly for the 12th
  Commemoration of St. Michael's College, Tenbury. Dedicated to the Rev. Sir F. A. Gore Ouseley, Bart.

I will mention the loving-kindnesses of the Lord. Dedicated to Sir John Stainer.
I will sing of Thy power.
Hearken unto Me, My people.
Turn Thy face from my sins.
Who is like unto Thee. Dedicated to Sir Walter Parratt.
Wreaths for our graves. Composed by command of the Queen, and first sung at the

  Royal Mausoleum, Frogmore, December 14, 1897.
SACRED PART-SONGS, &C.
O Israel (Song).
Six Sacred Part-songs. Dedicated to Franklin Taylor.
  I sing the birth was born to-night.
Lead, kindly Light.
Through sorrow's path.
Say, watchman, what of the night?
The way is long and dreary.
It came upon the midnight clear.
All this night bright angels sing.
Upon the snow-clad earth.
Hark! what mean those holy voices!
Carols.
The strain upraise of joy and praise.
ARRANGEMENTS, &C.
Turn Thee again, O Lord.
Mercy and truth are met together.
Completion of 'There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun.' Anthem by Sir John Goss.
The Son of God goes forth to war (St. Anne's tune arranged).

We think we can point to the first rendering of this well-known arrangement of 'St. Anne's.' It formed the anthem at the opening of the organ in Quebec Chapel (now the Church of the Annunciation), Bryanston Street, London, on Sunday, July 5, 1868 when Sir (then Dr.) John Stainer presided at the new instrument at each of the three services on that day. 'The Son of God' was sung at the second and third services from proof copies. The Rev. R. Brown-Borthwick, the editor of the 'Supplemental Hymn and Tune Book,' in which Sullivan's arrangement first appeared, was then curate of the Quebec Chapel.

Sullivan wrote about fifty hymn-tunes. These he contributed to various collections, including 'The Hymnary' (twelve tunes) and 'Church Hymns with Tunes.' He was the editor of the latter work, published in 1874.

There is no need to dwell on the wide popularity which his martial setting of 'Onward Christian Soldiers' has attained — not only in this country, but in Greater Britain and America. (By the way, it first appeared in THE MUSICAL TIMES!) Its martial, and easily 'picked up' melody, no less than the grit of its diatonic harmonies, has caused it to become a well-beloved church-song of the people. Such simple harmonic structure, however, has evidently failed to satisfy a certain American musician, judging from the following version, or perversion, of Sullivan's familiar strains:—

Click to hear!

The name of this tinkering gentleman is Benjamin Blodgett!


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