Summary (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
During their long and tempestuous relationship, Gilbert and Sullivan accomplished much, both together and separately. Sullivan’s musical accomplishments, though overshadowed by the operettas, resulted in a resurgence in serious British music, for his fame and fortune made music a more respectable profession. Sullivan and Burnand resurrected comic opera, establishing it as a financially successful theatrical form. Sullivan brought the art of writing musical scores to a new height, providing all of his collaborators with music that enhanced but never detracted from their words. His scores complemented the librettos, a relationship that led to both the establishment of the musical theater and the increasing use of music as theatrical accompaniment. Today’s theater orchestras and film scores owe much to Sullivan’s pioneering work in the Victorian theater.
Gilbert, too, made his individual contribution. His nonsense verse, The Bab Ballads, made a major contribution to the genre. His muse was more acerbic than that of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, and he reestablished satire as a major subject for popular poetry. This vein he pursued avidly in his librettos, in which he lampooned his own abortive careers of law, the military, and even poetry. He rolled back the restrictions that Victorian society had long placed on the theater, determinedly and often gleefully violating conventional propriety with such exuberance and with such a deft comic touch...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
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