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ClassicsOnline Home » SULLIVAN: Victoria and Merrie England
Victoria and Merrie England
Scene I -
An oak forest, night - Britannia asleep - Britain's Guardian Spirit - Sacred March of the Druids - Rites of the
Mistletoe - Britannia awakes.
Scenes II &
III - May Day in Queen Elizabeth's Time
Village green - young
heir comes of age. Procession of mummers and revellers - Historical Quadrille
of Britons, Romans, Saxons and Normans - Morris Dance - Mazurka, Knights of the
Sword and Rose Maidens - Flirtation, Robin Hood and Maid Marian - Friar Tuck
and the Dragon -Two Hobby Horses - General Dance- Pas seul, May Queen - Maypole
Scenes IV &
V - The Legend of Herne the Hunter
Windsor Forest, night - Storm
- Dance of Hunters - Waltz of Wood Nymphs. Procession of the Yule Log - Galop -
Fight of hunters and peasants - Dance of Hunters and Nymphs.
Scene VI -
Christmas Revels in the Time of Charles II
servants, players and guests - Lord and Lady of the Manor - Procession of the
Boar's Head and Roast Beef - Entrance of peasants and vassals - Comic Pas de Quatre
(Fugue) - Drunken Jester's Dance - Blind Man's Buff - Entrance of Father
Christmas - Kissing Dance under the Mistletoe.
Scene VII -
Coronation of Queen Victoria
Westminster Abbey, 28 June 1838 - Imperial March.
Scene VIII - 1897
- Britain's Glory
English, Irish and Scottish Troops - The Union
- Artists' Volunteers - Colonial Troops - Military Manoeuvres - Sailors'
Hornpipe - Pas Redouble - Entrance of Britannia -The Albert Memorial - God Save
As well as being
the popular composer of light operas for the Savoy Theatre, Arthur Sullivan
(1842 -1900) was regularly a kind of 'Composer Laureate', producing suitable
music on occasions of royal or national importance. For such opportunities he
had probably to thank his friendship with the Duke of Edinburgh and other
junior members' of the royal family. He wrote songs and marches to welcome
Princess Alexandra of Denmark as bride of the Prince of Wales in 1863,
and a huge Festival Te Deum in thanksgiving for her husband's recovery
from typhoid in 1872. He set the words of Tennyson's Ode tor the Opening of
the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886, and a further Ode to
which the queen laid the foundation stone of the Imperial Institute in 1887.
When the completed Institute was opened in 1893, he supplied also an Imperial
March to go with it. His last completed work was a further Te Deum, sung
at the service of thanksgiving for victory in the Boer War at St Paul's Cathedral in 1902.
Sullivan was thus
the natural choice of composer to set to music the Jubilee Hymn, written
by the bishop of Wakefield to celebrate the queen's Diamond Jubilee
in May 1897. Perhaps more surprisingly he had also been commissioned by Alfred
Maul, manager of the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square, to write a ballet with which that theatre would
celebrate sixty glorious years. It was to depict a combination of national and
royal strands in the life of Great
Britain through the
centuries, and to bring to life scenes which had existed, if not in historical
fact, at least in popular prints and the loyal imagination.
Merrie England, as the
ballet was to be called, was a spectacle which had many parallels with all the
stereotypes of Victorian historical illustration. The queen herself, as her
reign progressed, had become equated with Elizabeth las a kind of focus for romantic chivalry, and thus the
characteristics of the eight scenes of the ballet, odd as they appear to us,
were in fact highly appropriate in 1897.
The ballet opened
at the Alhambra Theatre on 25th May, 1897, in a setting which had housed much
of the development of British ballet in the past ten years. The theatre's
permanent choreographer, Carlo Coppi, had a dancing school on the premises and
provided normally two full-length self-contained ballets every evening. In the
long interval between these a music-hall programme ensured light relief and
The ballets seen
at the Alhambra, however, had little to do with the mainstream
of classical ballet as it is understood today. Neither Swan Lake nor Sylvia was seen in London
complete until the Dyagilev tour of 1911-12; The Sleeping Beauty had to
wait until 1921. Cut off from the classical source, Alhambra ballet had developed in a unique direction of its own.
Always in a single
act, the ballets were really mime-dramas, containing a large number of
individual scenes and 'speciality' dances, with several grand tableaux (fights,
shipwrecks and other visually startling dramatic effects). The rapid pace of
the action did not allow time for the expansion of more lyrical moments, so
that few ballets contained anything in the way of the romantic pas-de-deux or
Of the two nightly
productions, one was normally an expressly comic adventure, while the other had
less plot but a good deal of patriotic sentiment and music. It also provided a
good excuse for the girls of the corps de ballet to parade in the bare
essentials of military dress while revealing a substantial acreage of leg. In
writing Victoria and Merrie England Coppi and Sullivan conformed very closely
to this established type; the military manoeuvres of the last scene in
particular cannot have failed to live up to expectations.
Merrie England remained on
the Alhambra's programme for six months, during which
time the Prince of Wales and other members of the royal family visited the
theatre no less than nineteen times. Royal approval for the lighter side of
theatrical life, and for 'Variety' in particular, was suddenly and irrevocably
established. The first Royal Command Performance of 1912 was the natural
outcome of this process, which Coppi and Sullivan had unwittingly begun.
performances of Victoria itself seemed unlikely until very recently. The
autograph score and most of the orchestral material had simply disappeared.
secretary Wilfred Bendall arranged the whole ballet for publication as a piano
solo; Sullivan himself had arranged its first five scenes, heavily cut, into three
suites for concert use, and Bendall had transcribed these three suites
for piano duet - but only the first Suite still exists in its
orchestral form. The third Suite was partially recorded as long ago as
1907 in a further transcription for military band, from which some hints at the
original orchestration could be gathered. For the scene depicting the Queen's
coronation Sullivan had re-used his Imperial March of 1893, but this was
originally written for huge forces, compared with the smaller resources of a
theatre. The final scene ends with a transcription of the National Anthem
(although in a desperately uncomfortable key for singing) which is harmonically
close to the arrangement by Sir Michael Costa, universally used throughout the
later nineteenth century. Costa's own scoring survives.
exceptions it might have been thought impossible to reconstruct the whole
ballet. However in recent years three pieces of research have shed light on its
original orchestration. Correspondence between Sullivan and Bendall as their
arranging progressed revealed many details of scoring and counterpoint. Letters
also proved that for much of scenes 3, 4 and 5 Sullivan re-used material from
his earlier ballet L'Ile Enchantee (Covent Garden 1864). This led researchers from the Sir Arthur
Sullivan Society to re-discover that earlier piece and to produce new
orchestral parts which could be easily transferred into Victoria (L'Ile
Enchantee can be heard, on Marco Polo 8.223460). Finally a survey of
contemporary press reports of the first production of Victoria produced
many more details of the instrumentation of particular pieces.
Armed with all
this information a very substantial task of editing and reconstruction has been
carried out by Roderick Spencer on behalf of the Sullivan Society to produce
the present world premiere recording. Scenes 1, 2 and 4 are largely Sullivan's
own orchestration; scenes 3, 5 and 7 include Sullivan's own work and
incorporate hints from other sources; much of the scoring of scene 8 is suggested
in notes in the piano reduction, or can be assembled from elsewhere. Only the
instrumentation of scene 6 is completely editorial.
@ Selwyn Tillett
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SULLIVAN: Victoria and Merrie England