On Shore and Sea

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Sullivan's On Shore and Sea, with words by Tom Taylor, was composed expressly for, and performed at, the opening of the London International Exhibition, 1 May, 1871. It is described on the title page as "A Dramatic Cantata". Four years later, the same description would be applied to Trial by Jury.

  • Argument.
  • Review of the performance at the opening of the 1871 International Exhibition from The Times
  • Libretto in Microsoft Word (15K zipped) and Adobe Acrobat PDF (117K) formats. Submitted to the G&S Archive by Ian Bond.
  • Marc Shepherd's On Shore and Sea discography.
  • MIDI files of the music.
  • Karaoke files of music may be downlaoded in a single ZIP file (51K).
  • Sources of Scores
    • A printable facsimile of the Vocal Score published by Boosey & Co may be downloaded as a PDF file (4.6MB).
    • Full orchestral/conducting score of On Shore and Sea and complete orchestral material is published by The Amber Ring.
    • Vocal scores and libretti of On Shore and Sea may also be rented from St. David's Players of Cullompton, Exeter, England. Send queries to Ian Bond.


The action takes place in the sixteenth century, at a port of the Riviera, near Genoa, and on board of a Genoese and a Morrish galley at sea.

The persons represented are:-

La Sposina (A Riviera Woman)
Il Marinajo (A Genoese Sailor)
Chorus of Riviera Women
Chorus of Genoese Sailors
Chorus of Moorish Sea-Rovers

As a subject not inappropriate to a celebration intended for the honour and advancement of the Arts of Peace, this Cantata has for its theme the sorrows and separations necessarily incidental to war. A dramatic form has been chosen, as lending itself best to musical expression. In order to keep clear of the national susceptibilities, and painful associations connected with recent warfare, the action has been thrown back to the time when constant conflict was urged between the Saracen settlements on the shores of Northern Africa and the Christian powers of the Mediterranean sea-board - particularly the Genoese. The action passes on shore at one of the many small sea-ports dependent on Genoa, such as Cogoletto or Camogli, Ruta, or Porto-Ferio - in which galleys were manned and fitted out for her service - and at sea, on board, first a Genoese, and afterwards of a Moorish galley. The Cantata opens with the fleet weighing anchor to the joyous song of the sailors as they heave at the windlass, and spread the sail, and the lament of the wives and mothers, sisters and sweethearts, left sorrowing on the shore

Then the scene changes to the sea. Aboard one of the galleys, in the midnight watch, the thoughts and prayers of the Marinajo go back to the loved ones left behind, and invoke for them the protection of our Lady, Star of the Sea. Months pass. The scene changes again to the shore. The fleet, so long and anxiously looked for, shows on the horizon, and the crowd flocks to the port to greet its triumphant entry, headed by the young wife or maiden whose fortunes the Cantata follows. But the price of triumph must be paid - the galley aboard which her sailor served is missing: it has been taken by the rovers. Her beloved is captive, or slain. She gives expression to her desolation, amid the sympathizing sorrow of her companions. Her lover, however, is not slain, but a slave, toiling at the oar, under the lash of his Moorish captors. He plans a rising on the rovers, and while they are celebrating their triumphs with song and feasting, possesses himself of the key of the chain to which, as it ran from stem to stern of these galleys, each prisoner was secured, and exhorts his fellow prisoners to strike for their liberty. The galley slaves, after encouraging each other to the enterprise while they toil at the oar, rise on their captors, master the galley, and steer homewards. Re-entering the port, they are welcomed by their beloved ones; the sorrow of separation is turned to rejoicing, and the Cantata ends with a chorus expressing the blessedness of Peace, and inviting all nations to this her Temple.

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Page created 27 January 2004