King Arthur Sullivan

Arthur Sullivan was an ambitious composer. He wanted to put pride into English music by promoting new English operas. The idea was straightforward - three English composers at a time would be commissioned to produce an opera each and these would be performed in the same theatre as a block. It might have succeeded if Sullivan had not been the only composer of the three to produce an opera. The other two left a gap that had to be filled somehow and the only solution was to use an existing European opera. Already the ideal had died. Sullivan's contribution - Ivanhoe - ran until everyone who wanted to hear/see it had done so. This was not a failure on Sullivan's part, but it was treated like one and - when the production closed - so did the dream.

Sullivan should be a cause for pride amongst the English. We had not seen his like for centuries before, and while we have had a few great English composers in the 100 years since, not many have been allowed in the concert hall.


This CD contains Sullivan's music for three plays. I always begin by listening to his work on King Arthur. His Macbeth is brooding and formidable, as it ought to be. The Merry Wives of Windsor is sweet. But King Arthur is perfection. All that was lovely in Iolanthe is here but tenfold. This recording is beautiful. The music of the funeral is the crowning glory.

Sullivan achieved his goal for English music in that he set a standard for others to match.

Unlike his namesake, Arthur Sullivan did not pull any sword out of a stone. But he did write English music, true to himself and to his nation, at a time when many were veering more and more to the avant-garde.