You are here: Archive Home > Arthur Sullivan > Major Works > The Merchant of Venice
  • Introduction
  • Review of a performance at the Crystral Palace from The Times, 1871.
  • Review of a performance by the Stock Exchange Orchestral and Choral Society from The Times, 1908.
  • Marc Shepherd's The Merchant of Venice discography
  • MIDI file and lyrics of Nel ciel seren
  • Score of Nel ciel seren in PDF format (612 KB)


Charles Calvert, who had used some of Sullivan's Incidental Music to Shakespeare's The Tempest when he had produced that play in 1864, commissioned Sullivan to provide incidental music for his production of The Merchant of Venice which opened at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester on 19 September 1871.

Jessica by Sir Luke Fildes

All Sullivan's music is played during a single scene: the masque at the end of Act II during which Jessica and Lorenzo elope. The Manchester correspondent of The Orchestra found the music "very sparkling and attractive" and reported that Sullivan was "warmly received on his appearance in the orchestra."

The music is in seven movements:

    1. Introduction
    2. Barcarolle (Serenade - 'Nel ciel seren')
    3. Introduction and Bourrée
    4. Grotesque Dance
    5. A la Valse
    6. Melodrama
    7. Finale

The music was performed at the Crystal Palace on 28 October that year with Auguste Manns conducting and Mme. Conneau as vocal soloist. For this concert performance, George Grove provided the following programme note:

    At the commencement of the scene, when the music begins, the stage is empty and night is approaching. The distant cry of the gondoliers echoing along the canals, and the voices of the masquers as they approach nearer and nearer are all depicted in the music. A lover serenades his mistress, the masquers gradually throng the ground, and the revelry begins. The dances are first a bourée, the old-fashioned heavy measure, next a grotesque dance for Pierrots and Harlequins, and thirdly am general dance in modern waltz rhythm. Night has settled down on the scene when Jessica makes her escape; after this the fun waxes furious, and amidst the glare of torches, the glitter of coloured lanterns, and the shouts and songs of the revellers, the curtain descends.

The music, arranged for two pianos by Joseph Rummell, was published by Cramer and Co., in 1873 and in full score by Bosworth of Leipzig in 1898.

- Paul Howarth

Page updated 2 October 2010 Copyright © The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive 2004-10 All Rights Reserved