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An Interview with Cerberus.

(From the "New York Herald," December 4th.)

"Damme, it’s too bad!"

In a cosy corner of the Brunswick Café a representative of the Herald yesterday found Messrs Arthur Sullivan, D’Oyly Carte, and Alfred Cellier at lunch, and it being an apt opportunity, he sought an interview with the three gentlemen while they were enjoying their cigarettes and café noir.  It appears that Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore has not been launched by them in this country without trouble.  While they have received every possible favour from the public and the most satisfactory cooperation on the part of the principal artists and the chorus of their company, the moment the orchestra ascertained that money might be made by blackmailing — no other words than "blackmailing’ describes their actions so well — certain persons connected with the Musical Mutual Protective Union in that orchestra insisted that the written contract should be ignored and another demand enforced.  Colonel Mapleson had the same trouble, and for the moment was compelled to yield, because the malcontents, as in the present instance, caught him on the edge of an important performance.  This seems to be their game.  Happily, however, for the public good, a movement is on foot that will enable our best musicians to find employment and protection outside of any "Union."

Mr D’Oyly Carte, the manager of Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan’s company, was the first gentleman to answer the inquiries of the interviewer concerning the difficulty, and he very modestly and succinctly recited the following history of the trouble:

"Applications were made to Mr Sullivan and myself by different gentlemen who desired to be engaged in the orchestra.  Asking their terms, the reply was, "About 20 dollars a week."  Subsequently the figures were reduced to between 17 and 18 a week.  These propositions came from accredited members of the Musical Union, and notably from one gentleman, who, we are informed, occupies a high position in that organisation.  We referred them to Mr John T Ford, part of whose contract it was to supply the orchestra.  Twenty-seven gentlemen were engaged; the contracts were duly signed, and the rehearsals took place.  My impression is that after the contract was signed Mr Ford was induced to make some further concession on account of the matinées.  Everything went on swimmingly until about three o’clock on the afternoon of Monday — mark you, this was just before the initial performance — the entire band ‘struck’ and insisted on receiving 25 dollars a week, or, as their spokesman said, ‘they would not go into the orchestra.’  We were in a dilemma, and Colonel McCall, representative of Mr Ford, having no other resource, and unwilling to disappoint the public, gracefully yielded to their demand.  On Tuesday a consultation was held with Mr Sullivan, when, as he will tell you, he, in a not very pleasant mood, announced his determination to dispense with the services of the orchestra if they persisted in their intention, and to conduct the opera with his own piano accompaniment, assisted by Mr Alfred Cellier, his old Covent Garden conductor, on the harmonium.  Meanwhile he proposes to cable his London orchestra, and in fifteen days be independent of all these annoyances."

"Do you regard the demand of the orchestra as unjust?"

"Yes, because the members of orchestras elsewhere in the city are receiving much less.  There are few theatres where they get more than 18 or 20 dollars a week, and there are a number where they receive less.  The excuse they give is that because Mr Sullivan conducts in person the event is invested with unusual importance, and they are therefore entitled to larger pay."

Mr Cellier, who is well known in foreign musical circles, here interposed the remark: —

"It ought to be said in this connection, as a matter of justice to the majority of our orchestra, that the action taken is traceable to but few parties, and that the rest ought to be held comparatively blameless."  "I agree with you perfectly," observed Mr Sullivan, "but what is justifiable in their action?  They have disregarded their written contract, and that is an experience quite new to me among gentlemen who belong to our profession."

"And you have known nothing of this kind in England?"

"Nev—; I can scarcely recall a similar incident.  To put it plain, in England we should call such treatment swindling, and probably in our courts the parties would be indictable for a conspiracy to obtain money by coercion."

"Then such an organisation is unknown abroad?"

"Yes, so far as its control of management is concerned.  We have our music benevolent societies and similar institutions, but nothing interferes with the bread and butter of a musician."  "My theory," said Mr Cellier, "is that managers should combine and employ no man who belongs to a union that attempts to control their business."  "You remember," observed Mr Carte, "that an agreement was made in England some years ago by the provincial managers not to give a certain percentage of the gross receipts to travelling combinations.  A meeting of the leading managers of London was promptly called, and we bound ourselves to send out no companies at all unless the resolution was rescinded.  The result was that in less than a fortnight, figuratively speaking, the malcontents were on their knees."  "Yes," remarked Mr Sullivan, "and if the managers of New York and other cities would pursue the same course, all this evil of which we are now the subject, and of which I understand, Mr Mapleson has had a taste, would be averted."

"There certainly," said Mr Cellier, "ought to be free trade in art, if in nothing else."

"What I most regard in a professional point of view," observed Mr Sullivan, "is the fact that the cultivated musicians, the men who have spent their lives in hard study, who have come from conservatories and are earning their daily bread by teaching or in other musical pursuits, are forced into competition with other musicians of a lower grade, who spend their time during the day on other pursuits, and consider an hour or two in the orchestra with much the same practical interest that they contemplate the repairing of an old shoe.  I mean to say that here is a difference between your trained professionals and your mere machines."  "I am of the belief," said Mr Carte, "that it is these machines — the mere mechanics and speculators in music — who are making our trouble."

"If the matter remains unsettled, what will you do, Mr Sullivan?"

"Promptly telegraph to London for my own people to come.  In twelve days I can put before yonder curtain one of the best Pinafore orchestras in the world.  Meanwhile, as Mr Carte has mentioned, I will, if necessary, conduct the performance on a grand piano assisted by my conductor, Mr Cellier, on a harmonium — and I am not sure that Pinafore will not even then be presented in a manner that the New York public will thoroughly enjoy."

"I infer from some of your remarks that you have nothing to do with the business department?"

"Nothing whatever beyond the ratification of contracts.  The night before I left England I signed engagements for eighty-five nights at Covent Garden."

"Changing the subject, what is your opinion of our orchestras — that is, presuming you have heard some of them?"

"Your question is one that I prefer not to answer in full, because I have not attended the Philharmonic concerts and probably not heard the best of your musical work.  At the opera, however, and in the instrumentation elsewhere, it has occurred to me that the tone is much thinner than it is with us in England."  "Yes," added Mr Cellier, "and the pitch is higher — I should say a good quarter of a tone — than that of our Covent Garden orchestra.  The pianos are also of a very high pitch."  "And again," continued Mr Sullivan, "I think that, as a class, your instruments are inferior.  In England the players take pride in securing the best that are obtainable, and they make many sacrifices in saving money to purchase them.  The result is shown in a much stronger effect than I have yet heard produced in America.  We have at home, at Covent Garden concerts, sixteen first violins, sixteen seconds, ten violas, ten ’cellos, and ten double basses, and I fancy that they give a larger quality of tone than you hear from any similar organization in America."

"Do you find that our musicians favourably compare with your own?"

"Undoubtedly," replied Mr Sullivan.  "I have found among them some of the best, but the wonder to me is that some of the worst are permitted to exert a controlling influence in your Musical Union, and push the really deserving ones to the wall."  "In fact," said Mr Carte, "if a number of supers were to combine with the utility people in a theatre and insist that they should receive the same pay as the leading gentleman or the star, it would be not less presumptuous than the action of the cheap musicians who are running this Musical Union."

"What is the chief difference between your orchestration of ‘Pinafore’ and that which you have heard in New York, Mr Sullivan?"

"Frankly speaking, and without desiring to be offensive, what American interpretations of Pinafore I have heard are merely bold productions of the piano score arranged for a number of instruments instead of one.  Consequently there is no delicacy, poetry, or colour in the accompaniment.  My first object in instrumentation is to give a thorough support to the voices, and, at the same time, never allow my vanity to run into the danger of overwhelming them.  There is always a temptation to the composer to fill up the blank spaces on his score, and this I have tried to avoid."

"But if you play on the Piano as you suggested?"

"Then," replied the composer, dropping his binocular from his right eye and twinkling merrily with his left —

"Then, I presume it will be H. M. S. Pianoforte."

"Damme, it’s too good!" — exclaimed the interviewer, convulsed with laughter, hurriedly taking precipitous leave, to the "amazement and surprise" of the newly interviewed.


"An Interview with Cerberus."  The Musical World 57.51 (Dec. 20, 1879) 811-812.  (Apparently reprinted from the New York Herald, Dec. 4, 1879)


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