Wednesday 28 March 2018

Perfect pastiche - more Gilbert and Sullivan

Following on from my comment to yesterday's piece on Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe - with its mention of a Handelian pastiche (a musical pastiche being a new composition in the style of/ using the musical language of some other composer) - here is another example from Princess Ida.

The trio 'I am a maiden' is for two tenors and a baritone (leading to very pleasing 'close harmony' in three parts) who are disguising themselves as girls to infiltrate a women's university and court some of the residents. The situation is a froth of nonsense and broad slapstick humour - but Gilbert's words are a model of wit and skill, and Sullivan provides music that is a gem of baroque-ish pastiche.

The main baroque element is the basso continuo-style accompaniment - which is wonderfully melodic and sprightly as well as carrying the implicit harmony; and the use of a descending sequence (same musical phase repeated lower - Vivaldi is full of these) in the third line of the verses.

As so often (when at his best), Sullivan gives us the first two verses as repeats - so we can enjoy the melody a second time; and then varies it in a lower range for the third verse when the baritone sings. The alternation of harmony with unison is apt as well as deft - and the ending is just right.

The first time I heard this (in an amateur performance, accompanied only by piano) I was absolutely bowled-over by the richness of the total conception - so much skill and attention expended on two and a half minutes.

Yet this joyous example of perfection-in-miniature is 'just' a lesser known song from one of Gilbert and Sullivan's least popular Savoy Operas!

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