10 reasons why we love Gilbert & Sullivan

26 September 2018, 16:39

Pirates of Penzance

Though they are often unfairly dismissed as lightweight opera composers, the music and words of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan are just as great as any of their heavyweight contemporaries - and here's why.

1. Relentless tunes

Pure and simple. Have you ever tried to get "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General" out of your head after hearing it once? If you have, you'll know it's literally impossible. 

2. They were capable of unexpected poignancy

G&S were the masters of irreverent jollity, but they were also surprisingly adept at creating incredibly poignant moments. Try this sweet and sad number from the Pirates of Penzance.

3. They were essentially an odd couple

The duo were a perfect psychological study in two halves making a whole. One was prickly and gruff (Gilbert) while the other was cool and erudite (Sullivan), they both thought that their contributions were weakened by the other's, and they argued like nobody's business - but thy magically managed to create their incredible works despite their tempestuous relationship.

Gilbert Sullivan

4. Without them we wouldn't have the Savoy Theatre

Richard D'Oyly Carte was the duo's most enthusiastic patron, going to extreme lengths in 1881 when he built the duo their own theatre, specifically to house their performances. 

savoy theatre

5. They appealed to all ages

According to this cartoon from a 1921 edition of London Opinion, anyway:

gilbert and sullivan audience cartoon

6. They inspired this Family Guy skit:

7. Gilbert was king of the one-liner

"The first time I saw you on stage I realised what a wonderful voice you've got; I think you're so brave not to have had it trained." Zing!


8. Sullivan was a formidable composer in his own right

He might not have enjoyed quite the degree of success he would have liked for his more 'serious' works without Gilbert, but Arthur Sullivan's credentials are still pretty beefy. He won the Royal Academy of Music's first ever Mendelssohn Scholarship and composed symphonies, operas and parlour songs throughout his long career. 

Sir Arthur Sullivan

9. They were class warriors

Well, Gilbert was anyway. Sullivan was apparently a little nervous of the whole class issue. Many of Gilbert's libretti feature paupers being elevated to positions of power and kings and general being reduced to shells of their former importance which, given their own hoity-toity social standing, was quite brave. 

10. They ended their partnership because of some carpet

Perhaps it wasn't the most ignoble of exits, but it's still gone down in legend. An argument over who should pay for the installation of a new carpet at The Savoy Theatre during the budgeting process of The Gondoliers. What should have been a simple renegotiation turned into a thoroughly nasty legal argument between the two. They collaborated only twice more, but both productions were by no means successful.