William S. Gilbert (1836 – 1911) & Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842– 1900)
Both natives of London, Sullivan studied at the Royal Academy of Music and the Leipzig Academy, and went on to compose numerous oratorios and other sacred and orchestral works. Gilbert, six years older, made his name both as a poet and playwright as well as a satirist and caricature artist (his humorous drawings often appeared in the fashionable magazine Punch). Both men strived for fame and acceptance as “serious” artists, Gilbert with his play Pygmalion and Galatea, and Sullivan with his grand opera Ivanhoe. However, it was their work together that would secure them a place in history.
Introduced by the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, their collaboration began in 1875 with the one-act Trial by Jury. They would go on to write many more operettas together (although, being serious men, they always referred to their works as “operas”), including H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885), Ruddigore (1887) and The Yeoman of the Guard (1888). Nearly all of these were first performed at D’Oyly Carte’s Savoy Theater, and have become known as the “Savoy Operas.”
Despite their differences in personal temperament—they were never good friends and often collaborated only by correspondence—they were as ideal a librettist-composer team as ever existed, with Gilbert’s poetic and satiric gifts finding a perfect match in Sullivan’s genius for delectable melody and musical parody. Although the Savoy “Operas” never achieved the same kind of fame abroad as in English-speaking countries, the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are still performed all over England and the U.S., delighting people over a hundred years later.