Style in the Music of Arthur Sullivan: An Investigation

Strachan, Martyn Paul Lambert (2018). Style in the Music of Arthur Sullivan: An Investigation. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

This thesis examines Sullivan’s output of music in all genres and assesses the place of musical style within them. Of interest is the case of the comic operas where the composer uses parody and allusion to create a persuasive counterpart to the libretto. The thesis attempts to place Sullivan in the context of his time, the conditions under which he worked and to give due weight to the fact that economic necessity often required him to meet the demands of the market. The influence of his early training is examined as well as the impact of the early Romantic German school of composers such as Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann. In the second half of the thesis, selected features of Sullivan’s style are analysed in detail as is the influence of prominent European composers such as Berlioz and Liszt. The final section is a close examination of Sullivan’s most successful choral work, The Golden Legend.

One of the principal aims is to address the dearth of scholarship on the technical aspects of this composer’s music. Where a great deal of information is available about his biography, not least from the diary he kept from 1876 until his death, the sharply defined contrasts in Sullivan’s use of musical style seem to have deterred commentators from enquiring too closely into his compositional techniques and this has led to certain false assumptions and misunderstandings. A close examination of these techniques may encourage a greater recognition of Sullivan’s considerable achievements and foster a more open-minded attitude to his music and that of other nineteenth-century British composers.

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