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Trial by Jury
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THE MUSIC OF TRIAL BY JURY
LOUIS WERNICK: Several netters have established a thread of identifying the catalogue of musical references in Trial. I might point out that the difficulty may lie, perhaps, not in the OBSCURITY of the reference, but in the fact that it appears for just a few bars before Sullivan goes on to something else.
For example, the opening MELODY of the sextet is in the style of Bellini, but as everyone who attempts to direct the singers to handle the sixpart harmony in the grand ensemble knows, the grand ensemble is in the style of Donizetti. For example, rather than being "unadorned" in the style of Bellini, where the various principals can sing their counterpoint madrigalstyle, the grand ensemble has music which is "adorned", in that a limpid soprano and a stalwart tenor "lead" the ensemble, and the other inner parts follow the rise and fall of what these two are doing. I have always found, for example, that this ensemble works if the Angelina sings her embellishments in what Donizetti experts call "slancio", while the tenor sings his line in the grand ensemble as the "pin" that holds it together.
It would be interesting to catalogue what is in Trial, because the libretto is of real quality, for example, the characters acting out of selfcenteredness with disregard to how those around them would react to what is good for the other person. However, it may be more important to research "snatches of phrases" than entire musical numbers.
CLIVE WOODS: I suspect that Sullivan was still "experimenting" and wrote complex textures at a time before he had learnt to do "more" with "less". E.g. the part crossing in the opening chorus, and the rhythm in "Dilemma", seem to be confusing to sing, and this sort of writing gradually disappeared in later works as Sullivan learnt how to avoid it yet still make his effects.
IAN BOND: If my memory serves me correctly, and bearing in mind that I am at work at the moment and can't therefore check a recording, surely the "Dilemma" chorus is a direct quote from Bellini's La Sonnambula.
DAVID LYLE: I don't believe it's a direct quote, but that it was intended to be a very tongue in cheek sendup of so many interminable Romantic, Italian opera ensembles, where all action grinds to a halt whilst the entire cast chews the cud for a few minutes and squeezes the last drop of mileage out of about three words. (I also think it's a highly successful sendup, too.)
CLIVE WOODS: Just before the Defendant's song, the libretto has a direction: "Defendant tunes his guitar". What follows in the score is quite clearly an imitation of tuning a violin (or mandolin). Why? Surely Sullivan knew the difference? Did he think his audience would not notice the difference?
ROBERT JONES: Well, Sullivan wrote the music and Gilbert the words, and "guitar" was no doubt close enough for Gilbert, whatever Sullivan's intentions. They were early days and fortunately Gilbert's staging and Sullivan's instrumentation developed into some sort of consistency, or we might see Lady Jane playing a saxophone.
CLIVE WOODS: In most of the performances I have seen, the "tuning" passage has been cut. How often has this been done?
BRUCE I. MILLER: The Defendant used the guitar as a prop in the original production of 1875, and the refrain "Tinkatank" refers to guitarlike sounds. But the actor portraying the Defendant only mimed playing the instrument, and since Sullivan had only traditional string instruments in his pit band, the tuning sounds were assigned to a violin. He certainly would have known that the tuning of a guitar differed from that on a violin, so we can safely assume this orchestration detail was not an error.
By the 1884 revival the prop guitar had vanished, although the Defendant played airguitar for the "Tinkatank" refrain; the tuning business seems to have been cut at the same time.
DAVID LYLE: Could it be a little joke, perhaps? And why cut it? And why do so many directors and conductors think they know better than author and composer? (To the best of my knowledge it's Gilbert's and Sullivan's versions (pace errors in scores and orchestral parts) which have lasted 120 years.)
BRUCE I. MILLER: The authors appear to have cut the tuning for the 1884 revival, when the prop guitar was suppressed. I do agree with you, however, that it's a fun bit of business, if you decide to stage it with the guitar.
MAUREEN ROULT: In the one production of Trial by Jury that I've been in, Edwin had an instrument that may have been a ukulele. At any rate, it was roughly guitarshaped, though smaller, and Edwin did pretend to tune it (very realistically) before his song, and strummed it at the appropriate places. (As I was seated behind him, I can't vouch for how it looked to the audience.)
Page updated 13 November 2004