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The BBC Proms

Ah, the new BBC Proms schedule is out, and once again, Gilbert and Sullivan have lost out. Whereas Elgar will get no less than 7 appearances in the proms, each of which will be 15-30 minutes long, Holst four of similar length, and even Handel (who's rather out of favour nowadays) gets one 12-minute composition, Gilbert and Sullivan get one two minute song, which, coming as it does on the last night of proms, and being the little list song from the Mikado, will, if past years are anything to go by, have the lyrics rewritten and, in all likelihood, the performer won't have practiced enough to sing it at patter-song speed, so it'll be sung too slowly.


Is it, as Loweko speculates, because many G&S songs take horrible amounts of training and rehersal, whereas a little Elgar just requires an hour or three of tuning?

Or is it something more? After all, they included a Gilbert and Sullivan concert for decades before dropping it suddenly a few years ago.

Is Gilbert and Sullivan not upper-class enough for the BBC Proms? Has it been tainted by popularity, in the same way that an independant artist who starts making money loses all street cred? Does the spirit of snootiness haunt the BBC, forcing them to push everything that's popular into the Last Night of the proms, where they put all the things that aren't good enough for the rest of their lineup....

Somehow, I suspect so.

Comments (3)


Sad state of affairs, this. I remember in the 2000 Proms season they gave a semi-staged performance of "Iolanthe", which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I think that's more or less all the G&S they did that year and the two years immediately thereafter (I moved away from the UK during the summer of 2002, so I can't comment on the 2003 programme). For all I know, it may be the recent resurgence in popularity of the D'Oyly Carte's renditions that have forced G&S out of the Proms - perhaps the organisers reckoned that the full staged performances had more to offer than they could hope to offer (I've often heard it said that the Albert Hall is ill-suited to fully staged musical, opera, or ballet).

Still, there's no reason why they couldn't throw in, say, the Major-General's song from "Pirates of Penzance", or "I have a song to sing, O!" from "Yeomen of the Guard", or "A British Tar" from "HMS Pinafore", etc. A lot of G&S admittedly sounds a bit peculiar when taken out of context, so perhaps the excuse the Proms organisers are hiding behind is that they would either have to perform an entire operetta or forsake it altogether. (In fairness to them, the only G&S songs that are of the sort of length given over to works by Elgar, Holst, and the various other British composers are the Act I finale from "Iolanthe", the first musical number from "The Gondoliers", and a few other rather plot-heavy series of songs that, again, make no sense taken out of context.)

You'd think that when it was in fashion to be embarrassed by G&S unless you were in the G&S societies at Oxford or Cambridge (and I've been a member of both at various stages) they would have forsaken it at the Proms, rather than when it was starting to make its way back.

"A thorough-paced absurdity, explain it if you can!"

I miss living just outside London at times like this.

I'd accept that logic, except that I just got a CD of Sullivan's Irish symphony, Imperial March, Victoria and Merrie England Ballet Suit,e, and In Memorandium,. Admittedly, no Gilbert in that, but if you wanted to readd Gilbert, there's the two parlour ballads they wrote (Sweetheats and The Distant Shore, if I recall correctly), and The Martyr of Antioch (an oratorio which Gilbert arranged the libretto for). (There's also some extremely good pieces Gilbert wrote with other composers - say, When gentlemen are eaten up with jealousy and practcially every other song involving Bartolo and Nita in Act II of Mountebanks (Or, indeed, the entirety of Mountebanks); or When a gentleman supposes, or Quixotic is his enterprise from His Excellency, among others. As well, having shorter pieces should, in theory, make it easier for them to be added into concerts....

But I fear I rant! Again!

K A H:

Well, if the issue is the absence of anything involving either G or S, then a case could be made for their inclusion (I must admit to being rather partial to the di Ballo overture) - and if it's something short that doesn't lose something when taken out of context, how about "Little Maid of Arcady", the last remnant of "Thespis"?

In fact, why not just include some of the overtures from the Savoy operas, as they did with the fabulous overture to "Yeomen of the Guard" a year or two ago at Last Night? I remember hearing my local amateur orchestra perform the overture to "Pirates of Penzance" some ten or eleven years ago, and it was quite well-received. Again, it could be argued that this is S rather than G&S, though as I gather the overtures were written after the rest of the operettas one could argue that G had a hand in them since the tunes in the overture also had to fit his words.... perhaps the true crime here is the overlooking of Sullivan as a British composer simply because few people are aware that he and Gilbert had careers apart as well as together.

Anyway. There's always D'Oyly Carte. Or, where I am now, the U of M G&S Society. (Wonder what they're planning for this year? Or if they need a repetiteur?)


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