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Review of the First Performance from The Times
Tuesday, May 2, 1871
 
THE INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION

Immediately after the opening of the 1871 International Exhibition by the Prince of Wales amid much pageantry, there followed a vocal and instrumental concert, described in the programme as an “Exhibition of Musical Arts”. New pieces were written specially for the occasion by Ciro Pinsuiti, Charles Gounod, Ferdinand Hiller and Arthur Sullivan, all of whom conducted their own compositions.

Last, not least, England was represented, and, we may add, worthily represented, by Mr. Arthur Sullivan, who contributed a dramatic cantata, entitled On Shore and Sea, the plan and character of which may be best explained by the “argument” supplied for the programme by Mr. Tom Taylor, author of the words:–

“The action passes on shore at one of the many small seaports 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 of 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 wives and mothers, sisters and sweethearts, left sorrowing on 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 the 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; sorrow is turned to rejoicing, and the Cantata ends with a chorus expressing the blessedness of peace.”

The music of Mr. Sullivan is full of interest, but the work is of too great importance to be dismissed in the few lines which just now are all which we can possibly devote to it. It comprises no less than eight choruses, together with recitatives and airs for soprano and bass voices, and more than one orchestral interlude, as striking and characteristic as the rest. In certain parts of the cantata the young composer has employed the strange intervals which distinguish the Oriental, and especially the Turkish and Egyptian, styles of melody. He has done this, moreover, with eminent success, because he has done it in such a way that genuine music is never kept out of mind. From the brief orchestral introduction, which ushers in the opening chorus of sailors, to the end there is always something to invite attention; and, in fact, hardly one of the ten “numbers” into which the cantata is divided can be set aside as unworthy special notice. Mr. Sullivan himself conducted the performance, which was received with high favour, and, what is more, thoroughly deserved it. The solos were allotted to Madame Lemmens-Sherrington and Mr. Winn.


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