Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
Overture: The Pirates of Penzanze
(arranged for wind quintet by Bill Holcombe)

In the 1870s, the impresario and theatre manager Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844-1901) set out to find a form of entertainment other than foreign operas and music hall, for the amusement of London theatre-goers. His solution was to bring together the librettist Sir William S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), thus initiating the now-famous collaboration which continued, sporadically, for over 20 years.

The operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan are a well-balanced and entertaining blend of popular, enchanting melody, possessing a certain air of familiarity, an intricate plot full of 'forbidden' (yet requited) love, exciting twists, characters with secret or switched identities, and topical (often patriotic or satirical) allusions. The resulting thirteen works define a new, widely popular and distinctly English genre - a landmark in the music of that country - and are still greatly in demand all over the world (not least by the flourishing D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, founded by the eponymous impresario).

The Pirates of Penzance (subtitled The Slave of Duty) tells the story of Frederic, who has been reared by his maid Ruth and apprenticed mistakenly to a band of pirates (his parents had wished for him to be a pilot). In a highly contrived plot, Frederic flees the pirate band and sets ashore on the coast of Cornwall, where he falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley. The pirates come ashore to seek him out, but Ruth points out that as a leap-day child he is really only five and a half and should never have been apprenticed to them at all. At the dénouement, the police (guided by Major-General Stanley) attempt to capture the pirates, but at the final moment Ruth steps in to reveal that they are all in fact noblemen and Major-General Stanley offers them in turn the hands of his daughters in marriage:

I pray you pardon me, ex-Pirate King;
Peers will be peers, and youth will have its fling.
Resume your ranks and legislative duties;
And take m'daughters, all of whom are beauties.

As ever, Sullivan's enchanting overture draws together many of the melodies from the operetta, including With cat-like tread; Poor Wandering One, and Pray Observe the Magnaminity. Tonight we present this overture in an effective arrangement for wind quintet by Bill Holcombe. JCC/CMW

© 2000 The Arethusa Ensemble