Incidental Music to The merry Wives of Windsor by Arthur Sullivan

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Sullivan composed his incidental music to Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor for a revival of the play which opened on 19 December 1874 at John Hollingshead's Gaiety Theatre, London - the same theatre where Gilbert and Sullivan's first collaboration, Thespis, had been the Christmas entertainment three years previously.

Sullivan's music is used in the Forest Scene in Act V and consists of:

  1. Prelude (Moonlight)
  2. Tripping entrance of fairies with Anne Page
  3. Song for Anne Page
  4. Scene for Anne and the children, solo and chorus.
  5. Dance round the tree
  6. Dance and Chorus 'Fie on sinful fantasie'.

No. 3, the song for Anne Page, was interpolated by Hollingsworth into the script and has lyrics by Algernon Charles Swinburne. Of his setting of Swinburne's lyric Sullivan said: "...I am doubtful whether it is tender and pretty, or whether it is not commonplace." Nevertheless, it was the only part of the score to be published in any form. As "Love Laid his Sleepless Head" [MIDI file and Lyrics] it was published by Boosey & Co., in 1874 and dedicated to the Hon. Eliot Yorke. Download this score [PDF, 108KB].

In a long letter to Joseph Bennett, who was a friend of Sullivan's and the music critic of The Daily Telegraph, dated 17 December, Sullivan wrote:

I was rather dismayed when I first got the commission to do 'The Merry Wives' for I could see no opportunity for music. However in the last act I have been able to do a little, and I hope it will be bright.
...All the music is new, but (and this is not necessarily for publication) if you remember a ballet called L'île enchantée which I wrote for the Italian Opera, Covent Garden, many years ago, you will recognize two themes, the first in the Prelude and the second in the scene between Anne Page and the children. I wouldn't write an overture because I didn't care about competing with the very pretty one of Nicolai. Your masterly judgement, my dear Joseph, will at once enable you to see that the fairies are not real fairies (if such exist) but only flesh and blood imitations. I have endeavoured to indicate this, and have not written music of the same character as I wrote for the Midsummer Night's Dream, or that Mendelssohn wrote for the 3rd Act of the Tempest. I have only had 3 weeks to do the whole thing in, but I don't think you will find it scamped...

The song was performed by Edward LLoyd at a Crystal Palace concert in 1875.

Sullivan's incidental music was used when the play was revived at the Haymarket Theatre in 1889.

- Paul Howarth

To Marc Shepherd's Merry Wives of Windsor discography.



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