Arthur Seymour Sullivan

Arthur Seymour Sullivan was born in London on 13 May 1842.

In 1854, at 12, Sullivan became a choirboy at the Chapel Royal. According to Leslie Ayre, Arthur Sullivan's older brother Frederic sometimes accompanied him to the Chapel Royal and "amuse[d] the boys with comic songs" (397).

At 14, Sullivan was the first person to win the Mendelssohn Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London, which enabled him to study in Liepzig.

In 1861, he became the organist at St. Michael's.

In 1862, his incidental music to a production of The Tempest was performed to acclaim at the Crystal Palace.

In 1871, while he was still younger than 30, he composed the setting for "Onward Christian Soldiers," a hymn still sung in Protestant Christian churches today.

Arthur Sullivan's brother Frederic, according to Leslie Ayre, "was the original Apollo in Thespis and, as a member of the Dolaro company, was in the cast of La Perichole at the Royalty Theatre when it was decided to add Trial by Jury to the bill. This gave Fred his great chance. He was a good musician as well as a lively actor and his creation of the role of the Judge was the big hit of the show. Indeed, Gilbert said afterwards that the success of the piece was due in no small measure to Fred Sullivan's 'admirable performance'. The role of John Wellington Wells in the next opera, The Sorcerer, was specifically written with Fred in mind but he did not live to play it" (397).

In 1878, Sullivan composed the music for the hugely popular song "The Lost Chord." Leslie Ayre describes the importance of this song in Sullivan's life:

Victoria knighted Sullivan in 1883, twenty-five years before Edward VII knighted Gilbert.

Sullivan's portrait, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London, was painted by Millais in 1888.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive has a 12K portrait of Sullivan ( It also has a portrait of a youngish Sullivan with Phillip Dillard (

Gilbert and Sullivan's Style of Composition


Sullivan conducted the Savoy operas even though he had other, seemingly more prestigious gigs, like conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra between 1885 and 1887, and he conducted at the Leeds Festivals 1880-1889. While Gilbert's libretti are traditionally considered fair game for updating or making topical, many productions treat Sullivan's music as if it were static, when in fact, Sullivan himself interpolated other music into particular performances as the spirit moved him. He introduced 7 bars of Bach's B-Minor Mass into a performance of The Mikado. He added "Rule, Britannia" to the Finale of H.M.S. Pinafore.

Sullivan died on 22 November 1900.

To Act I or Act II of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.

To the homepage of this Mikado website.

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Last update: 16 May 1998.