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Sunday, 12 July 2020

Kerry's Corner 4 by Kerry Barnes

Now, something a bit different this month!

I bring you writings of and about the Great British pairing of “GILBERT AND SULLIVAN” …..but by way of a film review, which is peppered with my own explanations of techno-musings as needed!

I must also point out that any borderline naughty words like “drawing room ladies and the over use of!” are my perception of the film and not something I’ve made up myself!

The Film: “TOPSY –“ TURVY – LAND!!”

Here we go ………..The British pairing of W.S. GILBERT and ARTHUR SULLIVAN as librettist and composer epitomised the land of topsy – turvidom in 19th century London.

Grumpy Gilbert (as he was known) hated the sound of his own libretto on performance nights, and used to sit in backstage dressing rooms until it was all over …..much to the annoyance of his long suffering wife Kitty. Sir Arthur Sullivan on the other hand, waved his baton frantically to keep up with all the “Tra-la-la-la-las”

Sullivan’s health was a little fragile, suffering from kidney disease, drinking too much alcohol and the overuse of ‘drawing room ladies’ (a sort of posh prostitute I shouldn’t wonder??) scantily clad of course!!  He always looked very dapper at the rostrum with his white gloves and well-groomed moustache, and quite a ladies man!

Gilbert and Sullivan of course were famous for their “Comic Operettas” which were performed at the Savoy Theatre in London, under the ‘assistance’ of music agent and impresario Doyle Carte. The wonderful successes of their most popular operettas like Trial by Jury, HMS. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance gradually started to wane as Sullivan started to have bigger ambitions for himself…….he wanted to compose Grand Opera!! (you know, like Puccini and Wagner!)

However Gilbert had no such ambition and was most put out!!!  His wife Kitty tried in vain to take his mind off things by seeking his affections, but alas, to no avail!! Poor Kitty!

Meanwhile, Arthur took himself off to the south of France to get better from his smoking, and to breathe in some warmer air……..and not forgetting to take in some ‘burlesque performances’ …….ooooh.

Meanwhile back in foggy London, Gilbert’s ‘formulaic and predictable’ scribblings were getting noticed by the resident cast, and so this must have been a tough time for him. He was also looking after his father (dementia). His mum who was nuts (like me) hardly saw Gilbert and was practically estranged from him and his dad.

Back from France, Arthur was in contemplative mood saying “my tunes and orchestrations are becoming repetitious in melody and I’ve wrung all the changes possible!!” ….. and he kept banging on about Grand Opera!! 

We now speak of ‘toothache’ of all things, as it was literally a pain for Gilbert, because sugar cubes had just been invented and the over indulgence of thus led to him having a neckerchief tied tightly under the chin!!......and his absolute terror of the dentist caused him to shout out “I’d rather spend an afternoon in a Turkish bath with my mother, than go to the dentist!!!!”

Anyhow, ……back to the music.

Drawing room soirees’ were all the rage, and very often a ‘Harmonium’ (member of the keyboard and organ family) would be played alongside a majestic grand piano and repertoire would have included “The Lost Chord” famous for its Plagal Cadence (an Amen ending, like in hymns) which delighted audiences greatly!! …….may I just interject here with a note about Cadences? They are usually 2 chords that finish a song or piece, and there are 4 different types. 1. Perfect 2. Plagal 3. Interrupted and 4. Imperfect. To make it nice and easy, a Perfect Cadence sounds like the end of Happy Birthday, a Plagal like the end of a lot of hymns, an Interrupted like it’s going into a surprising ‘minor key’ and lastly an Imperfect which sounds a bit weird and very unfinished!! ….so the “Lost Chord” is obviously missing one!!!!

 

These ‘Soirees’ would virtually always have female singers in them, so just a note about the sound – Vocal fashions in the Victorian age leaned towards having lots of words and notes to sing in just one phrase, and because of this, singing was placed at the front of the mouth in a rather ‘pinched’ sound to get it all in, and the speed of vibrato was quite fast (the opposite of Wagnerian singing which is made at the back of the throat, with a much slower vibrato and longer held notes)…… who can forget the monstrously slow vibrato of the great Australian opera singer Joan Sutherland……. well there endeth the singing lesson!! (I used to teach singing many, many years ago) ….. I’m lucky if I get to sing ‘dinner’s ready’ with my asthma.

Parting of the waves for G&S was still in discussion and made the performances of HMS Pinafore a bit strained you might say, and the concert poster said ‘Sullivan and Gilbert’ not ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’, maybe a little glimpse of how Arthur saw his status??

Another tradition at this time was for the cast chorus to sing backstage, this is because it got soooooooooooo hot in the non air conditioned theatre on stage, with all those bodies kippered together and frenetically fanning themselves!! 

Back to work, a libretto about a prostitute dying from consumption kept Gilbert busy for the time being, while Sullivan went off and did his own thing, and making sure that Mr Doyle Carte was front and centre. Kitty took it upon herself to motivate her Willy in accompanying her to a Japanese Exhibition in London at Humphrey’s Hall.

Reluctantly he went along, and was pleasantly surprised to see a musical theme on display, with lovely Japanese ladies playing their national instruments etc.. He bought a Japanese sword, and practised with it at home whilst gesturing with Japanese body movements and words! ….and slowly but surely, an Oriental flavoured libretto dawned on him, and so the “MIKADO” was born!!!! All thanks to Kitty eh’…..what a woman!

At this point ‘G’ was flooded with ideas and was writing deliriously!! Word got round to Arthur who then followed his nose. MIKADO was famous for some absolute musical corkers like “Three Little Maids, Lord High Executioner and The Sun & Moon and I” (my personal favourite, so beautifully lyrical and melodic). The costume designing department caused a ‘furore’ when traditional corsets were disallowed as Japanese ladies never wore them. Other members of the cast had to practise ‘fan flicking’, face whitening and tights wearing!! What a sight to behold!! 

 I sang as a teenager in 2 G&S Productions, “Trial by Jury” and “HMS Pinafore” and all I had to wear was a nightdress……boy was I lucky…..I do not have the legs for ‘tights’.

So, Arthur and Willy were best mates again and they all lived happily ever after.

Anyhow, I leave you with “Three Little Maids” from the Japanese town of “Titipu”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXWkIZUPmDY


Meanwhile back in foggy London, Gilbert’s ‘formulaic and predictable’ scribblings were getting noticed by the resident cast, and so this must have been a tough time for him. He was also looking after his father (dementia). His mum who was nuts (like me) hardly saw Gilbert and was practically estranged from him and his dad.

Back from France, Arthur was in contemplative mood saying “my tunes and orchestrations are becoming repetitious in melody and I’ve wrung all the changes possible!!” ….. and he kept banging on about Grand Opera!!

We now speak of ‘toothache’ of all things, as it was literally a pain for Gilbert, because sugar cubes had just been invented and the over indulgence of thus led to him having a neckerchief tied tightly under the chin!!......and his absolute terror of the dentist caused him to shout out “I’d rather spend an afternoon in a Turkish bath with my mother, than go to the dentist!!!!”

Anyhow, ……back to the music.

Drawing room soirees’ were all the rage, and very often a ‘Harmonium’ (member of the keyboard and organ family) would be played alongside a majestic grand piano and repertoire would have included “The Lost Chord” famous for its Plagal Cadence (an Amen ending, like in hymns) which delighted audiences greatly!! …….may I just interject here with a note about Cadences? They are usually 2 chords that finish a song or piece, and there are 4 different types. 1. Perfect 2. Plagal 3. Interrupted and 4. Imperfect. To make it nice and easy, a Perfect Cadence sounds like the end of Happy Birthday, a Plagal like the end of a lot of hymns, an Interrupted like it’s going into a surprising ‘minor key’ and lastly an Imperfect which sounds a bit weird and very unfinished!! ….so the “Lost Chord” is obviously missing one!!!!

These ‘Soirees’ would virtually always have female singers in them, so just a note about the sound – Vocal fashions in the Victorian age leaned towards having lots of words and notes to sing in just one phrase, and because of this, singing was placed at the front of the mouth in a rather ‘pinched’ sound to get it all in, and the speed of vibrato was quite fast (the opposite of Wagnerian singing which is made at the back of the throat, with a much slower vibrato and longer held notes)…… who can forget the monstrously slow vibrato of the great Australian opera singer Joan Sutherland……. well there endeth the singing lesson!! (I used to teach singing many, many years ago) ….. I’m lucky if I get to sing ‘dinner’s ready’ with my asthma.

    

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