Lost Chords and Christian Soldiers: The sacred music
of Arthur Sullivan
SCM Press £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50 (Use code
A GERMAN music critic once remarked that Britain in the 19th
century was a "land without music". How wrong he was on most
Did he not know of the flourishing choral societies facilitated
by the advent of cheap music published principally by Novello &
Co.; or of the rise of the large choral festivals in Leeds,
Birmingham, and elsewhere? Did he not know of the efforts of Hullah
and the Oxford Movement to improve church music; or the government
initiative to make singing compulsory in all schools?
Did he not consider the concert halls (including the Royal
Albert Hall), the flourishing orchestras, and the emerging music
conservatories; and did he not know that the country was a magnet
to a host of visiting musicians who enjoyed great acclaim in these
This book is very good at providing the context in which 19th-
century musicians worked, and is a very good rebuff to the German
But - and it's a big but - it could be argued that Britain did
not produce the equivalent of a Mendelssohn, Schumann, or Brahms
during the Victorian era. I am sure Ian Bradley, however, would
want to place Sullivan in this company.
His book looks specifically (and for the first time) at
Sullivan's sacred music, but nods frequently at the other works,
including those that propelled Sullivan on to the musical map.
These begin in 1862 with The Tempest (somehow omitted from
the index), which was composed when he was only 20.
Of course, the "problem" with Sullivan was that he was soon
seduced into composing comic operas with W. S. Gilbert; and there
have always been those who thought he should have concentrated more
on his serious music. Sullivan himself was mortified when Ethel
Smyth said that she considered The Mikado to be his
Bradley has already produced a book on Victorian hymns, and is
steeped in music of this kind from the period. This present book
analyses Sullivan's sacred music in all its guises, not just the
hymns (which get a whole chapter to themselves), but also the
anthems, sacred ballads, and part-songs, the oratorios and cantatas
(The Golden Legend is included because of its religious
Bradley tries to persuade us that Sullivan was essentially a
religious man. I am not sure that signing letters "God bless"
really confirms that proposition; nor running off to conduct his
own oratorios while in the midst of writing for d'Oyly Carte. But
Bradley make a strong case; he even cites Sullivan's re-
orchestration of a Handel oratorio as evidence of religious
leanings inculcated in him when he was a chorister in the Chapel
I rather think Sullivan was simply doing a job of work for the
money. Sadly, it seems that it was money that motivated Sullivan,
hence his neglect of the sacred in favour of the glow of the
footlights. He also had a thirst for gambling, and mixing with the
Bradley is a Vice-President of the Sullivan Society, as am I; so
let me make it clear that I am an ardent advocate of Sullivan and
his music. I warmly welcome this book, and hail it as a fine
achievement. Sullivan is a great composer, but he continues to be
misunderstood, fundamentally because of the tension in his life and
work between the sacred and the secular.
The Revd Ronald Corp, an Assistant Priest at St Alban's,
Holborn, in London, is a composer and conductor.