The Society held its first ever virtual meeting, appropriately enough, on 22 November, the anniversary of Sullivan’s death. Dr. Anne Stanyon‘s talk was entitled Hiding in Plain Sight, or, Seeking the Lost Arthur Sullivan. She says:
Biographies are dangerous things, often falling between hagiography and damnation, inevitably driven by context and the prejudices or sympathies of authorship.
Arthur Sullivan seems to have been the victim of such extremes, from the adulation of the G&S aficionado to the vituperative dismissal of many twentieth century musicologists and critics. What is apparent, via research using the contemporary sources that will be the focus of this talk, is that by the early 1870s, before the inception of the G&S partnership, Sullivan had become the dominant figure of British music and was to remain so until his death in 1900.
While Sullivan’s status has been obscured, so too, has the range of his activities. Use of newspaper sources and correspondence makes it possible to reconstruct a career that had either been erased (the celebrated boy soprano who shared the concert platform with Jenny Lind, the song-writing proto-trade unionist); or denigrated (the conductor who really did rival Hans Richter, who overhauled performance standards at both the Promenade Concerts and the Philharmonic Society); and the scholarly director of the Leeds Triennial Musical Festival, who was far from the complacency described by Arthur Jacobs and Cyril Ehrlich. All and more are in need of reclamation if Arthur Sullivan is to be evaluated in his entirety and restored to his central position in nineteenth century British music.
It is hoped to make a recording of Anne’s lecture available to members in due course.