Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan and to the works they jointly created. The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H. M. S, Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado are among the best known. Sullivan, six years Gilberts junior, composed the music, contributing memorable melodies that could convey both humour and pathos and their operas have enjoyed broad and enduring international success and are still performed frequently throughout the English-speaking world. Gilbert and Sullivan introduced innovations in content and form that influenced the development of musical theatre through the 20th century. The operas have influenced political discourse, literature, film. Producer Richard DOyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and nurtured their collaboration and he built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works and founded the DOyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted Gilbert and Sullivans works for over a century. Gilbert was born in London on 18 November 1836 and his father, William, was a naval surgeon who later wrote novels and short stories, some of which included illustrations by his son. Director and playwright Mike Leigh described the Gilbertian style as follows, With great fluidity and freedom, First, within the framework of the story, he makes bizarre things happen, and turns the world on its head. Thus the Learned Judge marries the Plaintiff, the soldiers metamorphose into aesthetes, and so on and his genius is to fuse opposites with an imperceptible sleight of hand, to blend the surreal with the real, and the caricature with the natural. In other words, to tell a perfectly outrageous story in a deadpan way. Gilbert developed his theories on the art of stage direction. At the time Gilbert began writing, theatre in Britain was in disrepute, Gilbert helped to reform and elevate the respectability of the theatre, especially beginning with his six short family-friendly comic operas, or entertainments, for Thomas German Reed. At a rehearsal for one of these entertainments, Ages Ago, the composer Frederic Clay introduced Gilbert to his friend, two years later, Gilbert and Sullivan would write their first work together. Those two intervening years continued to shape Gilberts theatrical style, Sullivan was born in London on 13 May 1842. His father was a bandmaster, and by the time Arthur had reached the age of eight. In school he began to compose anthems and songs, in 1856, he received the first Mendelssohn Scholarship and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and then at Leipzig, where he also took up conducting. His graduation piece, completed in 1861, was a suite of music to Shakespeares The Tempest. Revised and expanded, it was performed at the Crystal Palace in 1862 and was an immediate sensation and he began building a reputation as Englands most promising young composer, composing a symphony, a concerto, and several overtures, among them the Overture di Ballo, in 1870
Image: Gilbert GS Big
One of Gilbert's illustrations for his Bab Ballad "Gentle Alice Brown"
An early poster showing scenes from The Sorcerer, Pinafore, and Trial by Jury