Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Monday ~ Gilbert & Sullivan "With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse".

There can't be many in the UK and USA who haven't heard of Gilbert and Sullivan and their comic operas/operettas - maybe they've passed by some of the under thirty generation - I wouldn't know. Though well aware of the pair's works, I've never been a fan myself - it was all a bit...I don't know - twee (?) for my taste. I thought it'd be interesting to compare their natal charts.

In spite of a basic incompatibility they managed to write 14 comic operas together. Most have retained popularity among fans and countless societies on both sides of the Atlantic, established for the purpose of keeping the works of Gilbert and Sullivan fresh and alive.

Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842 - 1900) studied at the Royal Acadamy of Music and the Leipzig Conservatory. He had a serious repertoire of orchestral and religious compositions before his collaboration with Gilbert. William Schwenk Gilbert (1836 - 1911) was a well-known satirist before working with Sullivan. Their collaborations became wildly popular, each production achieving more acclaim than its predecessor. In 1889, after production of The Gondoliers the pair eventually split, and with a great deal of acrimony.

"Both men tended to ridicule the mannerisms and poses of their partner, and each was jealous of the other's acclaim, neither above criticising the other."

Sullivan's life disintegrated fairly rapidly after the split. He lost his money in the casinos of Monte Carlo, died alone in London after a bout of bronchitis. Gilbert survived for 11 more years after Sullivan died. He was knighted in 1907, died of heart failure in 1911 whilst trying to help a swimming pupil in trouble.

Gilbert and Sullivan famously "enjoyed" a strained working relationship:
"each saw himself as allowing his work to be subjugated to the other's, and partly caused by the opposing personalities of the two — Gilbert was often confrontational and notoriously thin-skinned (though prone to acts of extraordinary kindness), while Sullivan eschewed conflict. In addition, Gilbert imbued his libretti with "topsy-turvy" situations in which the social order was turned upside down. After a time, these subjects were often at odds with Sullivan's desire for realism and emotional content. Also, Gilbert's political satire often poked fun at the wealthy and powerful whom Sullivan sought out for friendship and patronage."

In 1922, Sir Henry Wood explained the enduring success of the collaboration as follows:

Sullivan has never had an equal for brightness and drollery, for humour without coarseness and without vulgarity, and for charm and grace. His orchestration is delightful: he wrote with full understanding of every orchestral voice. Above all, his music is perfectly appropriate to the words of which it is the setting.... He found the right, the only cadences to fit Gilbert's happy and original rhythms, and to match Gilbert's fun or to throw Gilbert's frequent irony, pointed although not savage, into relief. Sullivan's music is much more than the accompaniment of Gilbert's libretti, just as Gilbert's libretti are far more than words to Sullivan's music. We have two masters who are playing a concerto. Neither is subordinate to the other; each gives what is original, but the two, while neither predominates, are in perfect correspondence. This rare harmony of words and music is what makes these operas entirely unique. They are the work not of a musician and his librettist nor of a poet and one who sets his words to music, but of two geniuses.

Sources: Wikipedia and


William S. Gilbert born 18 November 1836 in London, UK. Time unknown - chart set for noon.

Arthur Sullivan born 13 May 1842, London, UK at, according to with a"B" rating, 4.47pm.

That their natal Suns at 26 Scorpio and 22 Taurus,   directly opposed one another was one basis for potential challenge in the relationship, especially as Mercury was also reasonably close to their natal Suns.  Yet Venus, planet of the arts shed harmony on the pair, Gilbert with Venus in Libra trining Sullivan's Venus in Gemini. Both men were of the generation with Neptune (creativity) in quirky Aquarius and Uranus in fantasy loving Pisces, so there was that in common too. Sullivan's Moon, if time of birth is near accurate was in Cancer, Gilbert's natal Moon position can't be established without a time of birth, but it would have been in either Pisces or Aries. As their compatibility wore thinner as time went on, I'd guess at Aries Moon for Gilbert, a Pisces Moon would have blended better, had more empathy with Sullivan's Cancer Moon.

I'm sure there are other astrological clues and pointers, but as I see it, from data available, those are likely to have been the main harmonies and discords.


Sonny G said...

I think one of their opera' was made into a Broadway show. The King and I.
I was lucky enough to see it while I still lived in NY when I was little.
The production was amazing and I memorized several of the songs and would sing them while I played in my room..
Two very talented men and as you said,, their differences worked well to create a lot of beautiful music.

mike said...

I imagine their collaborations were entertainingly shocking to the Victorian audiences. Risque innuendo and overtly pushed-boundaries were both admired and shunned by the citizens of that era. Like you, I'm not a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, but they were some of the pioneers that disrupted the stodgy social morals of their time with "entertainment value". Oscar Wilde is one of my favorites from that period.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ I think the Broadway musical "The King and I" was an adaptation by another famous musical pairing, Rodgers & Hammerstein, from the novel "Anna and the King of Siam". Maybe another of Gilbert & Sullivan's tales was further adapted for Broadway - it sounds possible enough, but I'm not well enough informed on their repertoire (or Broadway's) to know more.

"King and I" does have some great music though!

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes, agreed - we have to view their comic operas - or try to - from the perspective of the times during which G & S made their names. Very different times from our own - yet with a few of those same recognisable quirks eternally present among humans, then and now. :-)

Twilight said...

PS ...We have a covering of snow here from last evening/ night. Still below freezing at almost 11 am. Not yer usual November in Oklahoma I think!

mike (again) said...

It's VERY chilly for here in the deep south! We've been near freezing several days here and there the past couple of fronts. The sun just came out about an hour ago, which is the first sunshine we've had for about ten days. Very windy. We're supposed to be back to highs in the 70s toward the weekend. This has been an ominous start to winter. About every twenty years, we dip into the upper teens...the last was in the late 1980s.

Sonny G said...

ops, yes you're right Annie. it was R & H..

pouring rain and 42 degrees, the fog is thick as pea soup. which is what I'm having for lunch by the way:)

ya;ll dont have to follow my blog or anything but I do hope you'll pop in and see my holiday decor starting next week.. it'll be kinda ya'll are really paying me a visit.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ I'll pop in to see your holiday decor next week, for sure. I'm not feeling holiday-ish yet, maybe it'll give me a kick up the necessary! ;-)

anyjazz said...

How odd that the two were personally at odds but were highly productive and creative when they worked together.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Yes it was. Maybe their differences provided the kind of competitive spark that ignited a joint creativity.