Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
The Prodigal Son
It is a remarkable fact that the Parable of the Prodigal Son should never before have been chosen as the text of a sacred musical composition. The story is so natural and pathetic, and forms so complete a whole; its lesson is so thoroughly Christian; the characters, though few, are so perfectly contrasted, and the opportunity for the employment of "local colour" is so obvious, that it is indeed astonishing to find the subject so long overlooked.
The only drawback is the shortness of the narrative, and the consequent necessity for filling it out with material drawn from elsewhere.
In the present case this has been done as sparingly as possible, and entirely from the Scriptures. In so doing the Prodigal himself has been conceived, not as of a naturally brutish and depraved disposition - a view taken by many commentators with apparently little knowledge of human nature, and no recollection of their own youthful impulses; but rather as a buoyant, restless youth, tired of the monotony of home, and anxious to see what lay beyond the narrow confines of his father's farm, going forth in the confidence of his own simplicity and ardour, and led gradually away into follies and sins which, at the outset, would have been as distasteful as they were strange to him.
The episode with which the parable concludes has no dramatic connection with the former and principal portion, and has therefore not been treated.
ARTHUR S. SULLIVAN
Page updated 2 February 2002