The Prodigal Son (Sullivan)
The Prodigal Son is an
Oratorioby Arthur Sullivanwith text taken from the parableof the same name in the Gospel of Luke. It features chorus with Soprano, Contralto, Tenorand Bass solos. It premiered in 1869 in Worcester Cathedralon 10 September 1869as part of the Three Choirs Festival. [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/prodigal_son/notes.html Information from the G&S archive about "The Prodigal Son"] ] The work was Sullivan's first oratorio and it was the first sacred music setting of this parable, [http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/r.clyde/whatsnew.htm Information about the score of "The Prodigal Son] "] preceding Claude Debussy's 1884 cantata "L'Enfant prodigue", with which he won the Prix de Rome, and Sergei Prokofiev's Op. 46, "The Prodigal Son."
Sullivan was still in his 20s when he composed this piece, which, like many of Sullivan's early works, shows the strong musical influence of
Felix Mendelssohn. [ [http://www.vlbutikken.no/item.php?catID=34&itemID=14035 Includes the Gramophone review of the 2003 recording] ] A rising star of British music, he had already produced his popular incidental musicto Shakespeare's "The Tempest", [ [http://diamond.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/lawrence/lawrence_1.html Interview by Arthur H. Lawrence, Part 1] , "The Strand Magazine", vol. xiv, No. 84 (December 1897) See also [http://diamond.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/letters/001.html Sullivan's Letter to "The Times"] , 27 October 1881, Issue 30336, pg. 8 col C] his "Irish Symphony", a "Cello concerto", his " Overture in C (In Memoriam)", [ [http://www.cris.com/~oakapple/gasdisc/sullorch.htm#concerto Description and analysis of Sullivan's early orchestral works] ] " The Masque at Kenilworth", his first ballet, " L'Île Enchantée" and two operas, " Cox and Box" and " The Contrabandista", as well as numerous hymns and songs. Therefore, it was no surprise when Sullivan received a commission to compose an oratorio for the Three Choirs Festival.
Victorian era, large-scale choral works with orchestra were a staple of British musical culture, including oratorios in the mould of Handeland Mendelssohn. Except for theatre pieces, choral works were the only genre in which Sullivan continued to compose throughout his lifetime, after the early 1870s. [http://www.cris.com/~oakapple/gasdisc/sullchoral.htm#prodigal_son "The Prodigal Son" at the G&S Discography] ]
Sullivan chose his own text for "The Prodigal Son" from the gospel of St. Luke and other appropriate books of the bible. [http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/notes/67423-B.pdf Liner notes from the Hyperion recording of "The Prodigal Son"] ] Sullivan composed the music in about three weeks. Rachel Scott Russell, a woman with whom Sullivan was having an affair at the time, copied the music.
Sullivan does not change the story much, but he omits the episode in which the elder son questions the mercy shown to the prodigal son. In his preface to the work, Sullivan justifies this on the grounds that the episode has no dramatic connection with the story. Instead, Sullivan focuses his libretto on the story of the son and his father, leading to the dramatic reconciliation between the two. His preface states his concept of the title character:
:"...the Prodigal himself has been conceived, not as of a naturally brutish and depraved disposition - a view taken by many commentators with apparently little knowledge of human nature, and no recollection of their own youthful impulses; but rather as a buoyant, restless youth, tired of the monotony of home, and anxious to see what lay beyond the narrow confines of his father's farm, going forth in the confidence of his own simplicity and ardour, and led gradually away into follies and sins which, at the outset, would have been as distasteful as they were strange to him." [ [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/prodigal_son/preface.html Sullivan's preface] ]
Performance and reception
The first performance of the piece was a great success and featured soloists Therese Titiens, Zelia Trebelli, Sims Reeves and
Charles Santley; Sullivan conducted. After the premiere, an additional performance was scheduled for 18 December 1869at The Crystal Palace. The performance was rescheduled for 11 December 1869because Sims Reeves was unable to make the performance date. Reeves missed the rescheduled performance and was replaced by Mr. Perren, while Mlle. Vanzini [Vanzini was the professional name of Mrs Van Zandt, mother of the Mlle. van Zandt, who sang at the Opéra Comique. Santley, Charles. "Student and Singer - The Reminiscences of Charles Santley" (Edward Arnold, London 1892), p. 272] substituted for Titiens. Sullivan's former teacher, Sir John Goss, attended this performance and cautioned his student:
:"All you have done is most masterly — your orchestration superb, and your effects many of them original and first-rate.... Some day you will, I hope, try another oratorio, putting out all your strength, but not the strength of a few weeks or months, whatever your immediate friends may say... only don't do anything so pretentious as an oratorio or even a symphony without all your power, which seldom comes in one fit."
In 1870, there was a performance of "The Prodigal Son" in
Manchester, and it was repeated at the Three Choirs Festival at Herefordin September. In November 1870, it was performed in Edinburgh, with Sullivan conducting. During Sullivan's visit to New York Cityto supervise the premiere of " The Pirates of Penzance", he conducted a performance on 23 November 1879by the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston. In 1885, the Canadian premiere took place in London, Ontario. [ [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=U1ARTU0002650 History of the Oratorio in Canada] ]
The piece continued in the standard choral repertory until
World War I. [ [http://discerning.stores.yahoo.net/suprsonmcd.html Liner notes from The Discerning Reader] ] One modern critic wrote, "Even at the young age of 27, Sullivan's scoring has uncommon freshness and accuracy, particularly his writing for winds, and there's a marvelous "Revel" chorus accompanied throughout by snare drum that texturally speaking recalls early Verdi, though the scoring for piccolo and contrabassoon is pure Sullivan. At almost exactly an hour in length, "The Prodigal Son" deserves to return to the repertoire of choral societies...." [ [http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?site_id=CTRV&album_id=80680 David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday.com reviewing the 2003 recording] ] In his 1971 biography, Percy Young wrote:
"The Prodigal Son", as Goss suggests, betrays a lack of commitment.... But there are a number of places where the music comes to life, often stimulated by fine details of orchestration.... In 'They went astray' there is some splendidly dramatic writing in gaunt canon – first for soprano and bass, and then for alto and tenor – against an empty orchestral background. Here Sullivan is at his most economical and his most effective, and way ahead of his British contemporaries." [cite book|last=Young|first=Percy M.|year=1971|title=Sir Arthur Sullivan|location=London|publisher=J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd]
* Chorus: There is joy
TenorSolo: A certain man had two sons
* Bass Recitative and Aria: My son, attend to my words
SopranoRecitative: And the younger son
* Tenor Solo and Chorus: Let us eat and drink
Contraltoand Chorus: Woe unto them
* Contralto Aria: Love not the world
* Soprano Recitative: And when he had spent all
* Soprano Aria: O that thou hadst hearkened
* Tenor Aria: How many hired servants
* Chorus: There is joy
* Soprano Recitative: And he arose
* Tenor and Bass Duet: Father, I have sinned
* Bass Recit and Aria: Bring forth the best robe
* Chorus: O that men would praise the Lord
* Tenor Recitative: No chastening for the present...
* Come, ye children
* Chorus: Thou, O Lord, art our Father
A 2003 recording was made by
Hyperion Recordsand the New London Orchestra with Ronald Corp conducting. Soloists are Catherine Denley ( mezzo-soprano), Clare Rutter (soprano), Gary Magee ( baritone), and Mark Wilde (tenor), with The London Chorus. Sullivan's "Boer War Te Deum" is included on the disc. ASIN: B0000DJENC [ [http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sullivan-Prodigal-Son-Boer-Deum/dp/B0000DJENC Amazon.com listing of the 2003 recording] ]
The Sir Arthur Sullivan Society issued a recording of "The Prodigal Son" on cassette tape in 1995. Also on the recording is Sullivan's "Imperial Ode" and his 1895
incidental musicto [http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/Arthur_Sullivan_-_Incidental_music_to_King_Arthur.pdf "King Arthur"] . The recording is performed by Imperial Opera, with Michael Withers and Robert Dean conducting. [ [http://www.cris.com/~oakapple/gasdisc/sullvocal.htm Description of 1995 SASS recording] ]
Other individual songs from the piece have been recorded.
* [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/prodigal_son/prodigal.pdf The libretto of "The Prodigal Son"]
* [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/prodigal_son/score.html The vocal score of "The Prodigal Son"]
* [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/prodigal_son/index.html Midi files for "The Prodigal Son" at the G&S Archive]
* [http://www.savoyoperas.org.uk/others/prodigal.html Review in "The Musical Times", Dec. 1 1888, p. 744, col. 1]
* [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9F01E0D7153AE033A25752C1A9649C94689FD7CF NY Times review of an 1889 New York performance]
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