Potted History

"Take all the remarkable people in history, Rattle them off to a popular tune."


1860 - 1869

1860: Sullivan writes and conducts an Overture, The Feast of Roses in Leipzig. This is first performed on May 25th.

1860: Gilbert comes into a legacy of £300 and resigns from the Privy council. He begins life afresh as a barrister-in-law.

1860: Charles Kenningham, who created the roles of Captain Fitzbattleaxe and Ernest, is born in Hull on Novemebr 18th.

1861: Sullivan writes incidental music for Shakespeare's The Tempest. Six items are first performed at the Leipzig conservatoire end-of-year examination concert on April 6th. Sullivan returns to London.

1861: The unsuccessful barrister, Gilbert, posts a humorous article to the comic paper Fun. It is published.

1861: Gilbert starts, what is, an unending supply of witty "Bab Ballads" to Fun.

1862: Sullivan's music for The Tempest is performed complete for the first time in England at the Crystal Palace. This work shoots the 25 year old composer straight into Society.

The Tempest

1862: Gilbert earns £25 a week as a barrister.

1862: Sullivan goes to Paris and improvises duets with the 70 year old Rossini.

1862: Courtice Pounds, the original creator of the roles of Colonel Fairfax and Marco Palmieri, is born in Pimlico, London on May 30th, 1862. He becomes principal tenor in the American productions of Princess Ida, The Mikado, and Ruddigore. Courtice dies in 1927.

1862: Geraldine Ulmar, original creator of the roles of Elsie Maynard and Gianetta is born in Boston, Mass. on June 23rd.

1862: Sullivan writes the ballet L'lle Enchantée.

1863: Sullivan publishes various songs, including Orpheus with his Lute. He receives five guineas apiece for them.

1863: Princess Alexandra from Scandinavia comes to Britain. Sullivan writes Bride from the North. When the Princess marries the Prince of Wales he writes a Wedding March.

1863: Gilbert's father, William, publishes his first novel Shirley Hall Asylum. William, Jr, provides the illustrations.

1863: Gilbert's first professionally-performed play Uncle Baby is produced at the Royal Lyceum Theatre on Oct 31st.

1863: Sullivan visits Ireland and composes the Symphony in E flat.

1864: Sullivan performs his cantata Kenilworth on September 8th - a commission for the Birmingham Festival. The libretto is considered rubbish.

Sullivan in 1864

1864: Sullivan writes the Opera The Sapphire Necklace. It is never performed. The music is lost, except for the Overture and two songs.

1865: Henry Lytton is born, Henry Alfred Jones, in London on January 3rd. Henry tours with the D'Oyly Carte Company, playing the 'patter' roles, for various seasons from 1884 to 1934. Henry succesfully takes over George Grossmith's role in the first production of Ruddygore. Henry dies in London on August 15th 1936

1866: Sullivan performs the Irish Symphony before an audience of 3,000 at the Crystal Palace on March 10th.

1866: Sullivan collaborates with F.C. Burnand on Cox and Box based on F.C. Morton's farce Box and Cox. There is a private performance (with piano) on May 26th.

1866: Sullivan is offered the professorship of composition at the Royal Academy of Music.

1866: Sullivan's father dies on September 22nd. He writes the Overture In Memoriam. This is first performed on October 30th.

1866: Sullivan's Concerto for cello and orchestra in D receives its first performance at the Crystal Palace on November 24th. This is written for the Italian cellist, Alfredo Piatti.

Historic Note:
After Sullivan's death there were very few performances of the Cello Concerto. The work is never published and is thought lost in the Chappell's fire of 1964. However David Mackie discovered a manuscript copy of the solo cello part in New York. Charles Mackerras, who had conducted a performance in the 1950s, recreated the orchestral parts from memory.

1866: Gilbert writes his first piece for the stage - Dulcamara or The Little Duck and The Great Quack. This opens at the Theatre Royal, St James, on December 29th. For this play Gilbert receives only £30 and a wealth of experience for writing for the theatre.

Historic Note:
With all the hurry in writing and rehearsing, Gilbert forgot to consider carefully what he should be getting paid for doing the work. After the play opened he was asked what fee he was expecting. As Fun payed £1 per column Gilbert calculated the fee to be 30 guineas. Although the figure was reasonable he was knocked down to 30 pounds. Gilbert accepted, whereupon he was told never to take so little for a piece so good. He never did again.

1867: Walter Passmore, original creator of the roles of Tarara and Rudolph is born in London on May 10th

1867: Sullivan collaborates with Francais Burnand on two comic operas, Cox and Box and The Contrabandista. At the Royal Gallery of Illustration in Lower Regent St, Cox and Box opens on May 11th and runs for 300 performances.

Cox and Box

Historic Note:
When Gilbert and Sullivan finally met both men were well known in each of their professions. Gilbert had already expressed himself dissatisfied with Sullivan's music for Cox and Box. 'Mr Sullivan's music is, in many places, of too high a class for the grotersquely absurd plot to which it is wedded.'.

1867: Sullivan's Overture Marmion is first performed by the Philharmonic Society at St. James's Hall on June 3rd.

1867: Gilbert's second stage production, Vivandière or True to the Corps is produced at St James's Hall, Liverpool. In London it runs for 120 performances.

1867: The burlesque Robinson Crusoe; or, The Injun Bride and the Injured Wife [written with H.J. Byron, Thomas Hood, H.S. Leigh and Arthur Sketchley] opens at the Haymarket Theatre on the 6th of July.

1867: Sullivan is appointed organist at the new St. Peter's Church, Kensington.

1867: Gilbert marries Lucy Agnes Turner, aged 17, on August 6th. The wedding takes place at St Mary Abbot's Church, Kensington, and the couple honeymoon in Boulogne.

Gilbert & Lucy

1867: Sullivan journeys with George Grove to Vienna and discovers rare manuscripts by Schubert in a dusty cupboard.

1867: Sullivan writes a large number of ballads, hymns and anthems.

1867: Gilbert's One-Act farce Allow Me To Explain opens at the Prince of Wales's Theatre on the 4th of November.

1867: Gilbert's One-Act farce Highly Improbable opens at the Royalty on the 5th of December.

1867:The Contrabandista opens at St. George's Opera House on December 18th and runs for only 72 performances.


1867: Gilbert is commissioned to write a pantomime, Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren, for the Lyceum Theatre, London. He earns £60.

Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren

1868: Gilbert's Bab Ballads are first published.

Check out my favourite Bab Ballad.

1868: Gilbert's Extravaganza The Merry Zingara; or, The Tipsy Gipsy and the Pipsy Wipsy opens at the Royalty on the 21st of March.

1868: Scott Russell, who created the roles of Dramaleigh and Tannhauser, is born in Malvern on September 25th.

1868: Gilbert's burlesque Robert the Devil opens at the Gaiety Theatre on Dec 21st. Gilbert uses the music of Jacques Offenbach (among others) as the basis of his lyrics.

1869: Gilbert attempts a comic opera, No Cards with music by L. Elliot. This plays on the same bill as Cox and Box. This is produced at the Gallery of Illustration on March 29th. This is the first play of six he writes for this theatre.

1869: The Pretty Druidess, or, The Mother, the Maid, and the Mistletoe Bough Extravaganza opens June 19th at the Charing Cross Theatre.

1869: An Old Score is Gilbert's first full-length domestic comedy. This is produced at the Gaiety Theatre on July 19th.

1869: Sullivan's oratorio The Prodigal Son is performed at the Three Choirs Festival in the Cathedral of Worcester on September 8th.

1869: Sullivan is introduced to Gilbert, at the Royal Gallery of Illustration, by composer Frederic Clay.

1869: Gilbert's play Ages Ago is first performed at the Gallery of Illustration on November 22nd. This is a great success. The full score, composed by Frederic Clay is published during the initial run.

Ages Ago

LADY MAUD: You are very handsome - very, very handsome. I'm glad you're only a picture. If you were a real living man, I should be obliged to be rather particular, but as it is I may say what I like to you.

No 10: Song - Lady Maud & Sir Cecil Brount

Lady Maud:
So please you, Sir, to hear my story while I tell
The happiness awaiting you: a maiden loves you well.
She dares not to declare the love that makes her sigh,
And would you know that maiden, so please you, Sir, tis I.

She would a saint beguile, her hair is soft and bright,
A happy laugh, a pleasant smile, and eyes that dance with light,
A dimple here and there, a pretty, touching sigh,
And would you know that maiden, so please you, Sir, tis I.
Sir Cecil:
A sweeter fate I never heard, my gratitude you've earned.
Lady Maud:
(My goodness me, he's talking!)
Sir Cecil:
The compliment, upon my word, was very neatly turned.
Lady Maud:
(My goodness me, he's walking!)
Sir Cecil:
Her goodness she, I'm walking!
Lady Maud:
To laugh it off I can't contrive, with fright I'm nearly fainting,
I never thought you were alive, I thought you were a painting!
To laugh it off I/she can't contrive, with fright I'm/she's nearly fainting.
I never thought you were/I was alive, I thought you were/I was a painting.

(dialogue continues)
SIR C: I am indeed, so are you.
LADY M.: How do you know that?
SIR C.: How do I know it? Why, didn't you hang up there during the ten years I occupied this castle?
LADY M.: Did you occupy this castle for ten years?
SIR C.: I did indeed.
LADY M.: But how do you know I'm not the original of whom that picture is a portrait?
SIR C.: Because there's a limit to the beauties of Nature, there's no limit to the beauties of Art. In other words, you're a great deal too good to be true. Angels are not half as bright as they are painted, and the famous Leonardo da Vinci was a terrible flatterer.
LADY M.: Famous! Why he was a mere nobody who painted me for a few pounds.
SIR C.: Ah! but after your melancholy decease, pardon my alluding to that distressing topic, he grew in fame and fortune, and before he died, Europe rang with his fame. Now (looking at LADY M. critically), I should say you are worth at least £2,000.
LADY M.: Is it possible? And you?
SIR C.: I'm a Michael Angelo. A very fine example, painted by him five years before I came, quite unexpectedly, into possession of this castle, and six years before his death. I'm worth at least as much as you. Indeed, I'm a much finer picture.

To check out the complete 'Ages Ago' click here

On to the next Decade To the Operas