The Light of the World (Sullivan)

"The Light of the World" is an oratorio composed in 1873 by Arthur Sullivan. Sullivan wrote the libretto with the assistance of George Grove, based on the New Testament. The story of the oratorio narrates the whole life of Christ, focusing on his deeds on Earth as preacher, healer and prophet. The oratorio was inspired by William Holman Hunt's popular 1853-54 painting, "The Light of the World".

The work was first performed at the Birmingham Festival on 27 August 1873 and was the composer's second oratorio, the first being "The Prodigal Son" (1869).


Historian Michael Ainger suggests that the idea for the libretto of "The Light of the World" came to Sullivan when he viewed a chapel near Norwich, England, in September 1872. Composing the oratorio occupied Sullivan during much of 1873. [Ainger, p. 102] Sullivan's introduction to the work says that, unlike Handel's "Messiah", which focuses on Christ's "spiritual idea", or J. S. Bach's "Passion Music", which focuses on Christ's suffering, the purpose of "The Light of the World" is to "set forth the human aspect of the life of our Lord on earth, exemplifying it by some of the actual incidents in his career, which bear specially upon His attributes of Preacher, Healer and Prophet."

Sullivan made several visits to Birmingham to rehearse the chorus. ["The Mercury", Birmingham, 3 August 1895.] During the rehearsal period, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (a son of Queen Victoria), announced his engagement to the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Tsar Alexander II. The Duke and Duchess married in 1874. [Ainger, p.103] Sullivan was a friend of the Duke's, and upon learning of the betrothal, he sought and received permission to dedicate the oratorio to Grand Duchess Marie. [ Introduction to "The Light of the World"] , "The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive", Retrieved on 1 July, 2008]

The Duke was present at the premiere at the Birmingham Festival on 27 August 1873. [ Shepherd, Marc. "The Light of the World" (2003) at "A Gilbert and Sullivan Discography] , accessed 11 June 2008] The soloists were Thérèse Tietjens, Zelia Trebelli-Bettini, John Sims Reeves and Charles Santley. [ [,M1 "The Light of the World",] "The Musical World", 30 August 1873, p. 584] As Sullivan appeared on the platform to conduct his new work, he was met with a "hearty and unanimous greeting.... The last outgrowth of his genius leaves far behind all that preceded it", reported "The Times"."The Times", 28 August 1873] The President of the Festival, the Earl of Shrewsbury, publicly congratulated the composer at the end of the performance, amidst the cheers of the audience. ["The Manchester Guardian", 23 November 1900]

Sullivan was presented with a "handsome silver cup and a considerable sum of money" after the premiere, and he derived income from the sale of scores. Nevertheless, his earnings from the oratorio amounted to a small sum compared with the fortune that he would later make from composing the Savoy operas with W. S. Gilbert. After its premiere in Birmingham, performances followed in other towns and cities. "The Light of the World" was widely performed throughout Great Britain and elsewhere during Sullivan's lifetime. Since then it has seldom been performed, and there is no professional recording of the oratorio.

Critical reaction

Sullivan took on a difficult task in retracing the ground covered by Handel's "Messiah". The press was, initially, enthusiastic. "The Observer" wrote: "The oratorio is one of imagination, of not only clever ideas, but of really devotional religious thought. The orchestra is handled throughout in a manner which only one who is fully acquainted with each instrument, its individual capabilities, and its effect in combination, is able to appreciate. The instrumentation is never obtrusive, but it is always delicate and expressive, while many orchestral passages are notable for the beauty of the scoring. The vocal parts, solo and choral... exhibit great talent in treatment, and, considering the nature of the subject, are written with considerable variety. In conclusion The Light of the World is a great production. ["The Observer", 31 August 1873]

Similarly, "The Standard" commented, "After due reflection the general opinion is that in his oratorio Mr. Arthur Sullivan has enriched the world's musical library with a fine work, distinctly representative of the modern school of composition, and calculated to exist in that sphere where it holds a prominent position as a specimen of the new type of oratorio, the dignity of which it upholds. Considering the difficulties of precedent with which Mr. Sullivan had to deal, in Handel's Messiah and Bach's Passion Music, not to mention Mendelssohn's unfinished Christus, he may be said to have entered the lists against an array of giants. To say that in the face of these he has held his own ground, if he has not encroached on theirs, is to bestow praise of the highest significance.... "The Light of the World"... even steers clear of that magnetic rock, Mendelssohn, upon which so many fair and well-freighted barks have been lured to their doom.

While Charles Gounod described the work as a masterpiece, by 1899, reviewers no longer put it in the same class as the greatest oratorios: "The Light of the World" may not take rank with the highest examples of oratorio art, but its undoubted merits entitle it to an honoured and intimate companionship with its more favoured brethren." [Findon, Benjamin W. "Sullivan as a Composer" in 'Lawrence, A. "Sir Arthur Sullivan, Life Story, Letters and Reminiscences" (1899) Bowden, London] Subsequent critical assessments have not been even this kind. "Only rarely in the course of this ponderous two and three-quarter hour progress does the vital composer of 'The Tempest' and the 'Irish' Symphony surface," observed Chrisopher Webber in reviewing a recording in 2000 [ [ Webber, Christopher. Review of 2000 recording for MusicWeb] ] Another reviewer found a middle ground: "The main weakness of "The Light of the World" [is] the lifeless music given to the baritone (Jesus) part.... Study of this score revealed... many fine choruses, brilliant solos, and beautiful pastoral passages. While not of a consistency or individuality of "The Martyr of Antioch" or "The Golden Legend", "The Light of the World" has more than enough virtues to justify a professional revival." [ [ Silverman, Richard. "The Light of the World: breaking the the critical silence" (2001)] , accessed 11 June 2008]

Musical numbers

*No. 1 Prologue (Chorus) – There shall come forth a rod

*No. 2 Introduction and Recitative – There were shepherds
*No. 3 Chorus of Angels – Glory to God
*No. 4 Chorus of Shepherds – Let us now go even unto Bethlehem
*No. 5 Solo (Bass) – Blessed art thou
*No. 6 Air (Soprano) – My soul doth magnify the Lord
*No. 7 Sullivan omitted this number
*No. 8 Chorus of Shepherds – The whole earth is at rest
*No. 9 Solo (Contralto) – Arise and take the young child
*No. 10 Solo (Soprano) & Chorus – In Rama was there a voice heard
*No. 11 Air (Tenor) – Refrain thy voice from weeping
*No. 12 Solo (Contralto) – Arise and take the young child
*No. 13 Chorus – I will pour my spirit

;Nazareth — In the Synagogue
*No. 14 Solo (Baritone) & Chorus – The spirit of the Lord
*No. 15 Quintet – Doubtless thou art our Father
*No. 16 Solo (Baritone) – Blessed are they that are persecuted
*No. 17 Chorus – He maketh the sun to rise

*No. 18 Duet (Tenor & Baritone) – Lord, behold he whom thou lovest
*No. 19 Solo (Contralto) & Chorus – Weep ye not for the dead
*No. 20 Scena (Soprano & Baritone) – Lord, if thou hadst been here
*No. 21 Chorus – Behold how He loved him
*No. 22 Solo (Baritone) – Said I not unto thee
*No. 23 Chorus – The grave cannot praise thee

;The Way to Jerusalem
*No. 24 Solos – Perceive ye how
*No. 25 Chorus of Children – Hosanna to the Son of David
*No. 26 Air (Soprano) – Tell ye the daughter of Zion
*No. 27 Chorus of Disciples – Blessed be the Kingdom
*No. 28 Trio & Chorus – Hosanna to the Son of David


*No. 29 Overture
*No. 30 Solo (Baritone) – When the Son of Man
*No. 31 Solos & Chorus – Is this not He whom they seek to kill
*No. 32 Chorus of Women – The hour is come
*No. 33 Solo (Baritone) – Daughters of Jerusalem
*No. 34 Quartet (Unaccompanied) – Yea, though I walk through the valley
*No. 35 Chorus – Men and brethren

;At the Sepulchre
*No. 36 Recitative (Soprano) – Where have they laid Him
*No. 37 Aria (Soprano) – Lord, why hidest thy face?
*No. 38 Recitative – Why weepest thou?
*No. 39 Aria (Contralto) – The Lord is risen
*No. 40 Chorus – The Lord is risen
*No. 41 Solo (Tenor) – If ye be risen
*No. 42 Chorus – Him hath God exalted



*cite book|last=Ainger|first=Michael|year=2002|title=Gilbert and Sullivan – A Dual Biography|location=Oxford|publisher=Oxford University Press|id=ISBN 0195147693
*cite book|last=Jacobs|first=Arthur|year=1984|title=Arthur Sullivan – A Victorian Musician|location=Oxford|publisher=Oxford University Press
* [ Lunn, Henry C. "The Birmingham and Hereford Musical Festivals" "The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular", Vol. 16, No. 368 (October 1, 1873), pp. 235–42 Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.] (online version requires subscription)

External links

* [ Midi files and text to "The Light of the World"]
* [ Shepherd, Marc. "The Light of the World" (2003) at "A Gilbert and Sullivan Discography ]
* [ Walker, Raymond J. "Sullivan: CDs & Scores" – Description of available recording and score]
* [ Webber, Christopher. Review of 2000 recording for MusicWeb]
* [ Ensell, Paul. Review of 2000 recording for "A Gilbert and Sullivan Discography", with postscript by Marc Shepherd]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Ed Sullivan Show — Infobox Television show name = Toast of the Town The Ed Sullivan Show caption = Ed Sullivan genre = Variety creator = developer = presenter = starring = Ed Sullivan voices = announcers = Bern nnett (1948 1949), Art Hannes (1949 1959 1961 1964)… …   Wikipedia

  • As the World Turns — The final ATWT title card used from June 22, 2009 to September 17, 2010 Genre Soap opera Created by …   Wikipedia

  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — Infobox Film name = Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow image size = caption = Theatrical poster director = Kerry Conran producer = Jon Avnet Sadie Frost Jude Law Marsha Oglesby writer = Kerry Conran starring = Gwyneth Paltrow Jude Law Giovanni …   Wikipedia

  • Oakdale (As the World Turns) — Oakdale is the setting of the television soap opera As the World Turns. Contents 1 Location 2 Size 2.1 Oakdale society 3 Places of interest …   Wikipedia

  • A Hole in the World — Infobox Television episode Title = A Hole in the World Series = Angel Caption = {Caption|} Season = 5 Episode = 15 Airdate = 25 February, 2004 Production = 5ADH15 Writer = Joss Whedon Director = Joss Whedon Guests = Sarah Thompson (Eve) Jonathan… …   Wikipedia

  • The Cantos — by Ezra Pound is a long, incomplete poem in 120 sections, each of which is a canto . Most of it was written between 1915 and 1962, although much of the early work was abandoned and the early cantos, as finally published, date from 1922 onwards.… …   Wikipedia

  • The Hobbit — ] the narrative voice contributes significantly to the success of the novel, and the story is, therefore, often read aloud. [cite web |url= Hobbit Critical Essays Major 171,pageNum 68.html… …   Wikipedia

  • The Beatles' influence on popular culture — The Beatles influence on rock music and popular culture was and remains immense. Their commercial success started an almost immediate wave of changes including a shift from US global dominance of rock and roll to UK acts, from soloists to groups …   Wikipedia

  • The Beatles bootleg recordings — are performances by The Beatles that have attained some level of public circulation without being available as a legal release. The term most often refers to audio recordings, but also includes video performances. From the earliest Beatles… …   Wikipedia

  • The King of Queens — From left to right: Stiller, James, and Remini Format Sitcom Created by …   Wikipedia

  • The Departed — Theatrical release poster Directed by Martin Scorsese Produced by …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.