Gwyn Parry-Jones (arr.)
A Sullivan Suite

I - Three little maids from school are we (from The Mikado)
II - The sun whose rays are all ablaze (from The Mikado)
III - Never mind the why and wherefore (from HMS Pinafore)

In the 1870s, the impressario 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, and 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 impressario).

The first two songs in this suite come from The Mikado (1885), subtitled The Town of Titipu, written for the company at London's Savoy Theatre (built by Carte and opened in 1881) where it met with immense success, running for a total of 672 shows. 'Three little maids from school are we' is sung on the entrance of the female romantic lead, Yum-yum, and her two friends, and the playful mood of the music encompasses the child-like innocence of young girls at play. 'The sun whose rays are all ablaze' is a reflective, expressive soliloquy performed by Yum-yum, whilst standing in front of a mirror, on the eve of her wedding; this quintet arrangement presents the melody on oboe.

HMS Pinafore (1878), or The Lass that Loved a Sailor, from which the last song of the suite is taken, was written for the company at the Opéra Comique Theatre. Being one of their first operettas, HMS Pinafore greatly helped to establish the English institution of "Gilbert and Sullivan", both at home and in the USA where it enjoyed great popularity.

'Never mind the why and wherefore' is a lively number sung by three of the principal characters towards the end of the operetta. It is revealed that the identity of the Captain of the vessel has been confused with that of a humble sailor in his crew (who is the true Captain), and this enables them both to take the partners they truly love. CMW

© 1999 The Arethusa Ensemble