Bab Ballads and Savoy Songs

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Echo Library, Feb 1, 2007 - Music - 116 pages
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Gilbert's cynical and satirical 'topsy-turvy' approach to life displayed in his Savoy opera lyrics and earlier verse

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About the author (2007)

Born in London, William S. Gilbert served a term as a government clerk and was called to the bar as a barrister before being diverted into the bohemian world of Victorian comic journalism. He first achieved popularity as the author of several volumes of "Bab Ballads" (Max Beerbohm praised them as "silly"). Moving on to theater, Gilbert contributed to the current rage for travesties of opera and for one-act musical "entertainments" until a blank-verse burlesque of Tennyson's Princess Princess led to commissions and full-length comedies, both mythological and "modern." Still highly regarded by critics, some of these---perhaps Sweethearts (1874) and Engaged (1877)---should be investigated by today's readers and producers. As it is, their best memorial is the early work of George Bernard Shaw, who, although he polemically rejected their cynicism, was clearly influenced by Gilbert's comedies and their inversion of social values. By the time of Engaged, however, a second dramatic career had overtaken Gilbert. Collaboration with the composer Arthur Sullivan, begun in 1871 (Thespis), achieved theatrical success with Trial by Jury in 1875. In the comic operas that followed, Sullivan's generally allusive music enriched the sometimes shrill pessimism of Gilbert's wit. An unlikely jostle of theatrical parody, contemporary satire, intricate meters, and logical fantasy, the librettos have often been compared with the comedies of Aristophanes and have influenced English playwrights from Oscar Wilde to Tom Stoppard. Uncomfortable, often acrimonious, the partnership nevertheless lasted through 25 years and 13 Savoy operas (so called because many were staged by Richard D'Oyly Carte at his Savoy Theatre). Gilbert, whose merely theatrical connections (as opposed to Sullivan's serious musical credentials) held him back from formal honors, was knighted in 1907, only a few years before his death.

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