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The Mikado Vocal Score
By W. S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Serenissima Music Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Mikado, arguably the greatest masterpiece among the remarkable series of comic operas that came about from the collaboration of playwright William S. Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur S. Sullivan along with the partnership of impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, had its genesis less than a year after the composer informed Carte of his intention to leave the partnership which had proved so successful in the nine years since the introduction of Trial By Jury.
After conducting the premiere of Princess Ida on January 5th, 1884, Sullivan collapsed backstage from a combination of exhaustion and a flare-up of his chronic kidney disease. In addition to being depressed by the sudden death of longtime friend Frederic Clay, the composer was dissatisfied with the state of his career following knighthood the year before. The English music establishment of the era simultaneously praised his talent and condemned his 'prostitution' of that talent by working in the field of 'light' or comic opera. Examples of this attitude are to be found in a review of Iolanthe which appeared in the London Globe: "Mr. Sullivan's music is undoubtedly the work of a masterly musician, content for awhile to partially sacrifice himself rather than hinder the clear enunciation of words ..." as well as an editorial in the Musical Review upon the award of knighthood: "Some things that Mr. Arthur Sullivan may do, Sir Arthur ought not to do. In other words, it will look rather more than odd to see announced in the papers that a new comic opera is in preparation, the book by Mr. W.S. Gilbert and the music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. A musical knight can hardly write shop ballads either; he must not dare to soil his hands with anything less than an anthem or madrigal; oratorio, in which he has so conspicuously shone, and symphony, now must be his line. Here is not only an opportunity, but a positive obligation for his return to the sphere from which he has too long descended." Reviews and editorials such as these exacerbated his bad feelings about not having lived up to his youthful promise—when he was hailed as England's salvation from German domination in the fields of symphonic music and grand opera.
Following a disappointingly short run for Princess Ida, Carte, as per their agreement, gave six months' written notification to both the author and composer of their ohligation to provide a new work for the Savoy Theatre's fall season. Sullivan, vacationing in Europe at the time, wrote Carte from Brussels: "... I ought therefore to tell you at once that it is impossible for me to do another piece of the character of those already written by Gilbert and myself." Gilbert wrote back to inform Sullivan that refusal to write a new work would place him in breach of their agreement. The composer wrote Gilbert to complain that "My tunes are in danger of becoming mere repetitions of my former pieces, my concerted movements are getting to possess a strong family likeness ..." and to express his frustration with "the words being of such importance that I have been continually keeping down the music." The partnership nearly came to an end shortly after Sullivan's return to London, when Gilbert gave him a 'new' libretto which turned out to be essentially the same as one he had rejected two years earlier in which Gilbert had resorted to using the 'Magic Lozenge Plot'—already made use of in The Sorcerer of 1877, which Carte had decided to revive along with Trial By Jury in desperation to have something for the fast-approaching fall season.
At about this time, an exhibition opened in London's Knightsbridge district which featured a reproduction of an entire Japanese village. With Japan's recent opening to western trade, a great interest was generated in the West for all things Japanese. By the spring of 1884, the Japanese fashion craze was beginning to reach its zenith in London. After weeks of being at an impasse with Sullivan over the plot for their next opera, Gilbert at last came up with the idea of using a Japanese setting as the gateway for a brilliant satire of English society. The story about the inspiration coming from a Japanese sword falling from the wall of Gilbert's study may be partly true: Gilbert mentioned the sword in an 1895 interview with a New York paper—though nothing is said about the sword falling off the wall. Gilbert's likely observation of the great interest generated by the Knightsbridge exhibit no doubt played a role as well. When Gilbert informed Sullivan of his new Japanese idea, the composer was greatly relieved and accepted the new plot sight unseen.
The new libretto was not given to Sullivan until some six months later (on November 20, 1884). At that time Gilbert presented the composer with the first act for consideration. By December 8th, Sullivan was at work on the music. The first number composed was Pish-Tush's solo in Act One, "Our Great Mikado, Virtuous Man." Sullivan worked at a furious pace on the opera through February and March of 1885. On March 3rd, his diary entry reported: "Worked all night at finale, 1st act. finished 5 a.m. 63 pages of score at one sitting!" Sullivan even incorporated a genuine Japanese soldiers' song in the work ("Mi-ya Sa-ma" Entrance of the Mikado, Act Two).
Though rehearsals were under way by early February, both he and Gilbert continued to revise and polish the work until a week before opening night. The overture was created in the space of 30 hours by Sullivan's associate Hamilton Clarke per the composer's instructions shortly before the premiere. The premiere, on March 14, 1885, was a tremendous success with audience and critics alike. The initial run at the Savoy Theatre was a record 672 performances. Although the two men's relationship was never more than one of cordial professionalism, the resolution of the conflict from the previous year gave their partnership new life. The operas Ruddigore (1887), The Yeoman of the Guard (1888), and The Gondoliers (1889) came about as a result of this restoration. The partnership finally collapsed in 1891 after Gilbert filed a lawsuit against Carte and Sullivan. After its resolution, Carte managed to persuade the composer to work with Gilbert again for the unsuccessful works Utopia Limited (1893) and The Grand Duke (1896). Sullivan died at his London apartment in November of 1900.
With its witty text, engaging music and brilliant orchestration, The Mikado has deservedly enjoyed enormous popularity in the 114 years since its creation. In addition to setting a record for consecutive performances not broken until 1922, it was the first of the operas to be recorded on disk (in 1907). It is nearly unique among the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in that it has achieved popularity even in countries where English is not widely spoken. The opera has been translated and performed in German, Italian, Russian, and Hungarian, to name a few. The vocal score was first published by Chappell in 1885. An authorized American vocal score ("arrangement for pianoforte by George Lowell Tracy"—a student of Sullivan's) was issued the same year by William A. Pond & Co. of New York. The full score first appeared in 1898, issued by the Leipzig office of Bosworth & Co.
For the present edition, the primary sources consulted include: The autograph full score, including Hamilton Clarke's Overture, as published in facsimile by Gregg in 1968; the Bosworth full score mentioned above—in an undated reprint by E.F. Kalmus; the Chappell and Pond vocal scores (Chappell in a ca. 1911 reprint, Pond in a very early—possibly first—printing); and two 1885 American libretti: the first issued by Pond (listing the cast of the August 19, 1885 "official" American premiere at the Fifth Street Theatre in New York); the second, issued by H. Grau, New York, claiming to be "Reprinted from the English libretto published and sold by CHAPPELL & CO. in London." (a pirate edition?). The presence of an autographer's castoff marks (in German) exactly matching the pagination of the Bosworth full score clearly point to Sullivan's manuscript as the primary source material used to produce the 1898 publication. In light of the speed at which it was written, the autograph score, not surprisingly, is loaded with abbreviations. Page after page of the score features a single vocal line, along with some shorthand indications in the adjacent empty staves to copy passages from previous sections of the music. Presumably, because of the cost involved, the Bosworth score was actually photo-offset from an autographer's pen-and-ink fair copy. Interestingly, the text that appears in this full score closely matches that in the autograph; a number of the revisions made by Gilbert just prior to the first performance—certainly before the issue of the vocal score—were not incorporated into the 1898 score. A few other items that were penciled in the autograph, such as the bassoon solo in mm. 42 and 79 of "Three Little Maids from School," are curiously absent from both the vocal scores and the Bosworth full score. Apart from the errors mentioned and a fair number of wrong notes and articulation/phrasing inaccuracies, the above scores represented, for their time, fairly accurate readings of the composer's manuscript. Perhaps their greatest shortcomings lie in their tight spacing of both music and libretto that is not always immediately readable and a layout and design that is often inconvenient to the performer.
While the present edition is intended as one for practical performance instead of a critical edition in the strict sense of the term, great effort has been taken to present a score that is accurate to the composer's intentions. Numerous wrong notes, articulation/phrasing and textual inconsistencies appearing in the early scores have been corrected without comment from the manuscript or from analogous passages elsewhere in the manuscript or first edition vocal score. The piano reduction is entirely new and incorporates additional musical elements not found in previous versions. Items inserted by the editors to facilitate performance, or that have come down to the present day from the long-standing performance tradition, have either been set in cue-sized notes, placed in brackets, or marked with an asterisk and footnoted. Special care has been taken to make the present score as practical and readable as possible from a performer's view in terms of its overall layout and design. The editors wish to express their gratitude to pianist Steven Lichtenstein for reading through the new reduction and his helpful suggestions. It is hoped that this new score to be of benefit to performers, students, music lovers and Gilbert & Sullivan fans everywhere in their enjoyment and appreciation of this most delightful and accessible work.
Ephraim Hammett Jones
Excerpted from The Mikado Vocal Score by W. S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan. Copyright © 2000 Serenissima Music Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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