|Sullivan > Major Works > The Tempest > Times Review (1868)
As the concert on Saturday was the 12th and last of the first series for 1868-9 (of which, happily, yet fourteen more remain to be given), we subjoin the programme in extenso:–
Mr. Arthur S. Sullivan’s music to the Tempest of Shakespeare came back to us as fresh and attractive as when it was first heard. As piece followed piece, from the opening orchestral prelude to the end, it was pleasant to be able to feel that the praises lavished some years since on this first important production of the young composer had not been indiscriminate. To deny that in writing his Tempest Mr. Sullivan was considerably influenced by that of Mendelssohn to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, would serve no purpose. Such is unquestionably the truth, but deeply impressed as he must have been with that admirable model, he successfully avoided plagiarism. In short, he respected his model so much that he would not appropriate a bar of it. When, therefore, we add that he has produced a work which, notwithstanding the imitations by German composers, &c., during 20 years and more, is worthier to come after A Midsummer Night’s Dream than any other we could name, we are paying Mr. Sullivan a very high, though, we sincerely believe, a thoroughly well-merited compliment.
The orchestral preludes to Acts 1, 3, 4, and 5 have each a distinctive character and each a marked interest; all the incidental music, while the dialogue goes on, is delicately imagined and as delicately wrought out; the dances are piquant, tuneful, and full of vigorous life; and it is difficult to award a preference to either the “Banquet Dance,” so quaint and sparkling, or to the “Dance of Nymphs and Reapers” – though to the last, which for its salient ad captandum qualities is quite equal to the other, may, if only on account of its more varied and extended design, be justly given the palm.
It is held by some that where Mr. Sullivan has been least successful is in the setting of Ariel’s songs. This may be so, but we confess our inability to recognize it. According to our own impression, they are each and all, “Come unto these yellow sands,” “Full fathom five,” and “Where the bee sucks,” deeply felt and happily illustrated – and this not forgetting how our young composer had to fight against the reasonable prejudice in favour of those truly English songs for which we are indebted to Purcell, Arne, &c. That Mr. Sullivan has looked at his task from the Mendelssohnian, rather than from what would be regarded as the national, point of view is undoubted; but as the most Shakespearian music in existence is universally allowed to be the music composed by Mendelssohn for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as The Tempest appertains incontestably to the same order of play, we cannot see that Mr. Sullivan is to be blamed. Fine as are their melodies, what Purcell and Arne produced, compared as mere art-work with what Mendelssohn produced, is – it will hardly be denied, of small account. And these, the resources of the modern orchestra, which, in the musical illustration of such subjects can be employed to such rich purpose, were no more likely to be disregarded by an aspiring Englishman than by the most imaginative of Germans.
Apart from all these considerations, however, the music to the Tempest is genuine from one end to the other, and every one must have been delighted to listen to it again. The performance on the whole was good, though in some instances it might have been better. The orchestra was very nearly perfect, the chorus far more efficient than some recent achievements had justified us in expecting, and the solo singers, Misses Banks and Fanny Armytage, did their very best. The audience, unanimously pleased, were liberal with their applause, which, at the conclusion of the first part of the “Banquet Dance,” was so protracted that Mr. Manns was compelled to stop the orchestra and, in a few words, make known that after a few bar of slow interlude, the “Dance” would come over again as a matter of course. Those previously familiar with the music (and they were not a few) were considerably diverted with this too precipitate demonstration of approval.
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