Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

The Lost Music

2.1 Rocky Mountain

Ian Hollamby lifted Pandora's Box: It is my understanding that, when G & S were putting Pirates together in the U.S., Sullivan, having left behind the music he had already composed, could not remember what he had written for the opening female chorus. It was then suggested (by Gilbert?) that instead of composing a new chorus, the 'Climbing over rocky mountain' chorus from Thespis, be substituted - which it was (it seems).Now. Why should Sullivan be more able to utilise or remember the music from Thespis written in 1871, than the music which he had written for Pirates (and left behind) in 1879, only a few weeks/months before sailing for America? There is an EIGHT-YEAR difference!!Was the Thespis chorus music THAT impressive? (I don't think so.)Was the Pirates original SO bad? (Seems unlikely.)Was Sullivan's memory THAT selective?I can see only one explanation - Sullivan took the score of Thespis with him to the U.S.A. We know that G & S were having trouble with copyright in the U.S. at this time. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that they may have taken Thespis with them in the hope of producing it in the U.S. after Pirates thus establishing another copyright, but were not (eventually) able to use it because they had to incorporate "Climbing over rocky mountain" into the new work? If we can accept the foregoing flights of fancy, then there is a possibility that a score of Thespis may exist in Her Majesty's North American Colonies!!!!!!Bruce Miller ventured: Ian - what a can of worms you've just opened. We had a rather heated series of messages on this subject some time ago, and I'm sure it's archived.(Editor's Note: See the SavoyNet discussion on The Pirates of Penzance.)The subject is indeed controversial and many-faceted. A few basic points:The number "Climbing over rocky mountain" as it exists today in Sullivan's autograph full score begins with pages removed from a copyist's score of Thespis (not in Sullivan's hand, and with revisions to the part writing to convert it from soprano/alto/tenor/bass to Women's chorus - and with the word revisions necessary to change the locale). The concluding pages are contemporaneous with other ms pages in the score and are in Sullivan's hand. It is thus highly likely that Sullivan had this Thespis score with him in America while finishing the first act of Pirates.The questions raised include, of course, *why* he had the score with him.I haven't the time or energy right now to rehash all this, except to note that Sullivan wrote a letter to his mother explaining how he had left behind his Act I sketches in London and what a nuisance it was to have to recall everything he had written, especially as he couldn't remember all of it; and that Gilbert's memory of the what happened (written to a correspondent in about 1904) backs up Sullivan's version of what happened.Their American "season" which was to begin with their (the authentic original) version of Pinafore seems to have been an open-ended affair, with revivals of their earlier works contemplated among the options. These would have included Sorcerer, Trial by Jury and --- Thespis. However, Pinafore didn't do the business they hoped, and they seem to have made a hurried decision to rush along the composition of Pirates so it would open as soon as possible.If they brought with them their earlier works with the intention of possibly producing them, it might explain why they had the Thespis ms with them. Now, before others rush to jump in, let me also say there are other theories going around, and perhaps those who have them will further enlighten you. The basic argument with them is that G & S made the decision to transplant "Climbing over" into Pirates prior to leaving London; therefore both Gilbert and Sullivan were lying - one to a correspondent, the other to his mother. How's that for a pre-spin?Gilbert's letter, as mentioned by Marc Shepherd, does specifically mention that Sullivan had trouble recalling everything he had written, and that the use of Climbing over rocky mountain was a convenient expedient. We have no reason to believe that Gilbert knew the contents of Sullivan's letter to his mother, which had been sent almost 15 years previously. Thus we have some independent corroboration, by one of the principals, of a key element in the chain of events.Although no one said directly Sullivan was lying to his mother, the implication made by some was that deliberate deception by one or both of the authors had taken place. My response to that is, in light of this correspondence, any suggestion of that kind of chicanery is at best, speculative and probably unlikely.

From-bias-free-of-every-kindly yours,

Ian Bond postulated: The lyrics do appear in Gilbert's earliest sketch books for the opera. There is also correspondence from Sullivan to his secretary (Spring 1879) requesting him to obtain all the 'performing material' for Thespis from the Gaiety and The Sapphire Necklace from Metzler.

I have always suspected that a large amount of the Thespis music was used at Paignton as it would have been impossible for all the material to have been sent from America in time. I also suspect that Gilbert and Sullivan may have been involved in a cover-up. In other words they intended to use the Thespis piece from the outset.

2.2 Ballet Music

Sandy Rovner asked: Our local classical radio station recently played the "ballet music from Thespis". It was lovely---I thought the whole score was gone-- what titbits do remain? Seems like the ballet itself has music enough for four or five separate numbers at least in the hands of someone as knowledgeable about Thespis as Ron Orenstein?????? Marc Shepherd advised: A few years ago, Roderick Spencer and Selwyn Tillett were preparing a concert performance of Sullivan's 1897 ballet, Victoria and Merrie England.In reviewing the manuscript, they found several numbers written in a different hand, and on a different kind of paper, than the rest of the score. The logical inference was that the numbers had been "lifted" from some other work. What work could it be? Internal evidence suggested it was an opera, and since all of Sullivan's other operas are an open book, so-to-speak, Thespis seemed to be the only possibility.This supposition alone would not have been sufficient to prove the music came from Thespis. However, as has been mentioned recently, the first part of "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain" in the Pirates score is actually taken from a Thespis copyist score, with Thespis words crossed out and Pirates written in. Comparison with the Victoria and Merrie England material in question showed that the latter was in the same handwriting, on the same kind of paper, and had consistent pagination as the Pirates "Climbing Over" material. Examination of the autograph materials for Sullivan's other major ballet, L'Ile Enchantee revealed two or three additional numbers that were clearly from this same source.This, in brief, is how the Thespis ballet music came to be rediscovered. Exactly where it fits in the opera is not 100% certain, but it probably came in Act I, after the Thespians arrive on Mt. Olympus.Philip Sternenberg chipped in: Marc Shepherd gave a good summary of this, but I'd like to do a little correction and elaboration. The ballet Spencer and Tillett were preparing was L'Ile Enchantee, produced in 1864, 33 years before Victoria and Merrie England, Sullivan's only other ballet. Nevertheless, similar work had already begun on Victoria, as reported in the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society Magazine No. 30, which gives the full details of the Thespis discovery. Since a lot of L'Ile was recycled into Victoria, to a certain extent the research on both ballets may be considered a single task, hence Marc is partially right in his first sentence above. The ballet, as recorded and "accepted," consists of five parts. The manuscript fragments (actually part of the L'Ile papers in the Pierpont Morgan collection) comprise Parts 1, 3, and 5. Part 1 is the May Day scene from Victoria and not found in L'Ile. Part 3 is a waltz unknown in any Sullivan composition besides Thespis. Part 5 is a galop found in L'Ile but not Victoria. The numbering of these parts was determined from the headings and pagination of the manuscript, including gaps. The remaining two parts were determined from the length of the missing manuscript pages and a contemporary illustration of a Thespis rehearsal that includes a harp and an actor in a dragon head. Part 2 is the Pas de Chales, with harp, from L'Ile that was recycled into Macbeth and Victoria. Part 4 is a Victoria dragon scene that had been recycled from L'Ile. I'm willing to accept Parts 1, 3, and 5 as being from Thespis, but Parts 2 and 4 are Spencer's and Tillett's pure speculation with no more basis than I've already given aside from the general structure of comic opera ballets of the time and the belief that if Sullivan was recycling other ballet music, why not here as well. It makes for a complete recording, it's as good a guess as any, and it's by Sullivan, but that's all. In case anyone hopes that the ballet discovery reveals how some lyrics were set, I'm afraid it doesn't. The St. Pat's Thespis did a good job in fitting lyrics to some of the ballet's melodies, but there's no obvious match anywhere. I believe the ballet belongs in Act 2, not Act 1. The manuscript of the waltz says "Act 2. Ballet No 3," and the Thespis libretto, however inaccurate it might be, indicates a ballet in the Act 2 Finale.Arthur Robinson concurred: Others have answered this better than I can, but a brief recap: Until recently it was believed that all the Thespis music was lost except for "Climbing over rock mountain" (which originally referred to Mt. Olympus before the mountain came to Penzance) and "Little maid of Arcadee," published separately. But in 1990 (I believe) two members of the Sullivan Society, in studying Sullivan's scores for his 1864 L'Ile Enchantee and Victoria and Merrie England, especially some music Sullivan had recycled from earlier works for the latter, deduced that parts were from Thespis, and confirmed this by comparing the music manuscripts with "Climbing over rocky mountain" (with the Thespis words altered to those for Pirates). Of the five parts of the Thespis ballet as reconstructed by the two, Parts 1, 3, and 5 are pretty definitely from Thespis (same copyist's hand, paper, etc. as the Thespis "Climbing over rocky mountain" manuscript); Parts 2 and 4, as I recall, are hypotheses--the arguments for attributing these parts to Thespis are, as I recall, ingenious but, like the supernumeraries, "not entirely convincing." On the other hand, they may be right.

2.3 Value of a Thespis score

David Craven posed the interesting hypothetical question: What would the value of a Thespis full Score be if it were ever found?While certainly, to those of us on the net it would be of unbelievable value, but in actual financial value, I would think that it would be small, less than Michael Jordan earns for one quarter of basketball... Of course I suspect that the full score of Thespis is actually sitting in the Private Collection of someone on the SavoyNet who is loving all of the speculation as to what is in the score that is in his or her very possession.... If it were to fall in my hands, I suspect it would cost me money, as I would want to take it from city to city to allow others to see the score and hear the music played and sung. Marc Shepherd was unimpressed: In a short time, copies would get out, and the score would no longer be needed for THAT purpose. (After Terence Rees discovered The Zoo autograph, the vocal score was published within a few years.)It is difficult to describe the mentality of a collector. The Thespis manuscript, unlike gold or silver, has no intrinsic value. Unlike a Rembrandt, you can't hang it out for display. It is irreplaceable, so there is no replacement value. It's just something that people own for the sake of owning it.By my calculations, Michael Jordan was paid about $100,000 per quarter last season, not counting money he makes off the court, and not counting playoffs. My guess is that there's someone who would pay more than $100,000 for the Thespis score, but not a whole lot more.There is some anecdotal evidence of collectors who deliberately conceal what they have. The Thespis and Utopia autographs, particularly the latter, could well be in such hands.David Craven (wryly): Sounds like a confession to me... Hand it over... or at least make a photocopy of it to share with the rest of us.... Or maybe it is living up in Boston... right Richard??Ernie Fosse (hope springs eternal): Is it known whether it was ever actually published or duplicated? Or was it truly the one and only, original manuscript that supposedly burned in Chappell's fire?If it was ever loaned, rented, whatever - especially after the advent of generally available photocopiers (circa 1964) - then one might hope that a "bootleg" copy exists in the personal library of some operetta lover, or in a steamer trunk along with other memorabilia of some lucky soul who performed it in high school or college. Perhaps several copies exist in the hands of people who are totally oblivious to the fact that others are frantically searching for even a hint, a clue, a hope that it might still survive.Well, "we live in hope", don't we?Marc Shepherd rejoined: It definitely never was published, aside from one number -- "Little maid of Arcadee," which was published as a detached number.It definitely *was* duplicated, because the section of "Climbing over rocky mountain" that appears in the Pirates autograph is a copyist score not in Sullivan's hand.The score that allegedly burned in the Chappell's fire was, according to some versions of that story, a piano reduction, which had been prepared for publication that never happened. However, it must be emphasized that this "legend" is not substantiated. Terrence Rees, who wrote a book on Thespis, told me he heard this directly from a former Chappell employee who claimed he had seen the manuscript.Rees found the man credible, but of course, at that point, the putative manuscript was no longer in existence.Besides borrowing from a copyist score when Pirates was written, Sullivan also borrowed from the same score in 1897, when his ballet Victoria and Merrie England was written. So, that score seems to have survived as late as three years preceding the composer's death. Many other seemingly less useful artifacts from far earlier in his career survive to this day, so why shouldn't that copyist score be around somewhere?Different interpretations have been placed on the fact that he borrowed from a copyist score, not the original. One interpretation is that the original was no longer in existence. Another is that he was saving that for a "rainy day."In his will, Sullivan specifically bequeathed most of his autograph scores; Thespis was not explicitly mentioned. So, if it survived at that point, it probably would have been in a stack of miscellaneous papers that Herbert Sullivan inherited.I think it is highly doubtful that someone who "knew what they had" loaned a photocopy, and yet the story has never gotten out. This is the sort of thing that, once you tell ONE person, no matter how trusted, word gets out. It is beyond all believability that it has ever been used for an actual "production" in this century.Either someone knows what they have and is keeping quiet about it, or the owner does NOT know what they have. Or, it is gone forever.

Ernie Fosse responded: Thanks, Marc. I really appreciate the extra background. Your closing sentence pretty much capsulizes all the options. Personally, I hope that if it's number two, they "find out"what they have before it becomes number three.Marc Shepherd added a travel note: This is a bit of a tangent, but I think y'all will find it amusing.While I was in England last month, I arranged to do some research in the G&S collection at the Theatre Museum in London. The collection came to the museum from Dame Bridget D'Oyly Carte andcontains scores, libretti, prompt books, costume & set designs, correspondence, and other memorabilia.While there, I saw a large box labeled "Thespis". The box was clearly more than large enough to contain a score. I thought to myself, "Why would Dame Bridget's collection have contained any Thespis material?.....Naw, couldn't be...."Anyway, I decided that I *had* to ask to see what was in the box (even though it's not what I had come for), because otherwise I would never be able to get any sleep. The curator opened the box, and all that was in there were a couple of printed libretti.Oh well, let no one say I didn't try.

Page created 30 Nov 1997