Richard Rodgers: Turnarounds

October 3, 2018

Some of Rodgers best turnarounds.


Richard Rodgers: Johnny One Note

September 25, 2018

I’m going to do a few videos on Richard Rodgers. Here’s the first of what I think will be 3.


Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

September 9, 2018

Iolanthe Poster

A Word About the Piece:

Iolanthe is a wonderful operetta. It has many of the qualities Gilbert and Sullivan fans admire in other operettas; a ravishing overture, hilarious plot complications, scathing commentary on class distinctions, pointed and very funny dialogue, and some extraordinary music.

It also represents a few steps further down some avenues Gilbert and Sullivan had been exploring for several operettas now:

Copyright Protection

Gilbert and Sullivan were irked by the revenue they lost by pirated productions of Pinafore, and in the operas that followed, they worked diligently up front to put a stop to the copycats. They took the Pirates of Penzance to America itself, establishing copyright by premiering it simultaneously in the UK, although the UK performance was not a real production. Here they would actually open an American and an English Iolanthe on the same day, the American production conducted by Sullivan’s right hand man Cellier. Here, to pull a fast one on anyone trying to steal their work, Gilbert and Sullivan actually operated with a false title for nearly the entire rehearsal process, changing the name of the operetta and the title character at the last moment, just as Verdi had kept La Donna è Mobile under his vest until the last moment in the first production of Rigoletto.


HMS Pinafore had referenced living public figures, Pirates is, I believe, an elaborate in-joke on copyright piracy, and Patience had been a satire of the Aesthetic Movement. In fact, G&S and D’oyly Carte had been concerned that American audiences wouldn’t know enough about the Aesthetic Movement to get the joke, so they sent Oscar Wilde on a lecture tour of the states to fill people in. Here in Iolanthe, Gilbert has chosen a topic of great interest in the Victorian era: they loved fairies. And within the piece itself, public figures of the day are satirized. At one point, a character breaks the fourth wall and addresses a real celebrity audience member, Captain Shaw.   


Patience had been the first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to appear at the newly completed Savoy Theatre, the first public building in the world lit entirely by electricity. But Patience hadn’t opened there, so it wasn’t written to take advantage of the newest technology. Iolanthe didn’t pass up the chance to use newfangled electrical wizardry. The fairies each had a battery pack that lit stars in their hair and the tip of each wand.

fairy queen

A contemporary cartoon from Punch, December 9, 1882

In that spirit, our 2018 Savoy Company production in Philadelphia equipped each of the fairies with transparent wings that lit up in various colors reflective of their mood. The wings were each connected to the wifi in the venue, and could be controlled by an app on a cell phone. Our production staff is pretty amazing. 

Sullivan and Wagner

We often read that Iolanthe is the operetta in which Sullivan most references Richard Wagner. But to most fans of his work, Sullivan is the precise opposite of Wagner; witty, economical, allergic to pomposity, and never ever dull. So what did Sullivan think of Wagner? And how Wagnerian is Sullivan in Iolanthe, anyway?

In Purgatory

An 1878 cartoon in The Musical World entitled In Purgatory shows Sullivan beset by demons, including Anton Rubinstein and Richard Wagner

When the teenaged Arthur Sullivan went to study at the Leipzig Conservatoire as the first recipient of the Mendelssohn Scholarship, English culture was in the grip of a Mendelssohn Mania. There was an expectation that Sullivan would return to become the English Mendelssohn, and Sullivan came home with a suite of incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, an obvious nod to Mendelssohn’s wildly popular Midsummer Night’s Dream music, also written by a composer in his teens.

In Leipzig, Sullivan had encountered the music of Schumann, Schubert, and also music of the New German School: Wagner, Liszt, and Von Bulow, who were not well known in England at that time. It is telling that when he returned to England, he told everyone who would listen about Schumann, and in December that year, he sought out Rossini in Paris and played through his Tempest score for the Italian master. 5 years later, he and George Grove traveled to Vienna to track down some lost scores of Schubert. These friendships and enthusiasms confirm the young Sullivan’s musically conservative tastes. He remained ambivalent about Wagner his whole life, interested in the new work and ideas, but skeptical of the execution of those ideas in the operas themselves. (Sullivan adored Die Meistersinger, but we’ll save that discussion for next year when I cover Yeomen of the Guard)

Audiences have identified many Wagnerian threads in Iolanthe, but I have only found a couple of places where Sullivan’s music is specifically referencing Wagner.

There is a Wagnerian flavor to Sullivan’s music accompanying the Fairy Queen near the beginning and the end of the opera. Here’s the queen’s explanation of Iolanthe’s banishment:

Iolanthe Example 1

And here’s a very similar bit of music in Act III, Scene I of Wagner’s Die Walküre as Brünnhilde gives the broken pieces of the sword Nothung to Sieglinde:

Iolanthe Example 2

Another place that seems to be a Wagner quote is the end of Phyllis’s very sad commitment to give herself away to any old Peer at the end of Act I:

Iolanthe Example 3

Which seems to be a rather silly quote from the Prelude to Tristan Und Isolde:

Iolanthe Example 4

Entire books have been written about the daring first chord in Wagner’s version. The chord has its own Wikipedia page. Sullivan harmonizes it with a simple Italian Augmented 6th chord.  

Other places people have identified as potentially Wagnerian seem like a stretch to me. Many of the spookier passages, including the fairy “Aiaiah!” passages might just as easily be from Weber’s Der Freischütz, and Sullivan had already covered that ground in The Sorcerer. The oboe solo when Iolanthe rises from her prison doesn’t really remind me musically of Die Alte Weise from Tristan und Isolde, the downward scale of the Chancellor’s fugue doesn’t really sound like Wotan’s spear motive at all, and Iolanthe’s scene with the Lord Chancellor isn’t musically anything like Wotan’s farewell. Many have also pointed out that Sullivan gives ‘signature tunes’ to many of the characters in the opera, and he includes them in the overture to tremendous effect. But Sullivan had been doing that for several operas now, and he seems determined not to develop the ideas in the orchestra during the piece, only in the spectacular transformation of the Captain Shaw motive into the gem at the center of the overture. One way of describing it is that Sullivan uses motives symphonically, but in a pre-Beethoven symphonic method, in arriving back at a familiar musical idea after some time away, as when Sonata Allegro form arrives at a recapitulation. By contrast, Wagnerian drama uses motives the way a post Beethoven symphonic development would, where the excitement arrives by just how many possible permutations of a tune a development can reveal. .

Gilbert had many years of experiences writing burlesques of opera, and Iolanthe has many spoof connections, not least of which are the costumes. The Fairy Queen’s costume, for example was a carbon copy of Brünnhilde’s in the Ring Cycle, which had only that year reached  England.

And “Willahallah! Willaloo!” is a hilarious replacement for “Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle, walle zur Wiege! Wagalaweia! Wallala weiala weia!” even if the music isn’t anywhere near what those ridiculous Rheinmaidens sang.

What Sullivan had to say about Wagner gives us a wonderful insight into his mind and should make us very happy that he was not a Perfect Wagnerite.

Sullivan wrote in his diary after seeing Das Rheingold:

“It is difficult to know how Wagner could have got up any enthusiasm or interest in such a lying, thieving, blackguardly set of low creatures as all the characters in his Opera prove themselves to be.”

He wanted to empathize with his characters so that he could make them musically compelling and distinct from one another, a distinction he did not hear in Wagner. He wrote after seeing Parsifal in 1884:

“There is nothing characteristic in the music sung by each individual. The music of one individual would do just as well for any other.”

(Five days after writing that line, he would start work on The Mikado)

He liked the idea of musical themes returning to connect the evening together, but he found Wagner’s use of continuous motives tiresome and boring. After attending Götterdämmerung at Bayreuth, he quipped:

1st Act 4 to 6 Dull and dreary. 2nd act 6:30 to 8. Just as dull and dreary. 3rd act 8:45 to 10 Very fine and impressive.”

He wanted the Orchestra to be subordinate to the voices, telling the San Francisco Chronicle in 1885, “[Wagner] has shown us the combination of the drama and the opera, but deviated from his theory or was at fault in practice in concentrating all the dramatic effects in the orchestral portions of his work, and subordinating the stage and its action to the orchestra. He has shown us a picture that can be painted, but has not painted it himself.”  (emphasis mine)

In the same interview, Sullivan laid out his own vision of opera, which he did not think he had yet achieved:

“The opera of the future is a compromise. I have thought and worked and toiled and dreamed of it. Not the French school, with gaudy and tinsel tunes, its lambent lights and shades, its theatrical effects and clap-trap; not the Wagnerian school, with its sombreness and heavy ear-splitting airs, with its mysticism and unreal sentiment; not the Italian school, with its fantastic airs and fioriture and far-fetched effects. It is a compromise between these three – a sort of eclectic school, a selection of the merits of each one.

Yet that is exactly what he had already done with Gilbert, his music combining Mendelssohn’s grace, Rossini’s tunefulness, Offenbach’s genial humor, Schubert’s creativity of accompaniment, and just enough Wagner to give us a good laugh at ourselves.

Gilbert and the Politics of Encore verses in 2018

We presented Iolanthe in the Spring of 2018 in America and in the Summer at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Harrogate, during a particularly fraught political climate in both countries. In each venue we included some encores that poked a little fun at the Trump administration and at the Brexit negotiations. Both at home and abroad, we experienced both delight and dismay, with the thought occasionally expressed that potentially polarizing political opinions were perhaps inadvisable. On one of the facebook Gilbert and Sullivan forums, a festival attendee pointed out that a great number of the amateur companies had made allusions in their productions to current political situations. (the only other one I saw was a very pointed Trump impersonation in the second act of The Gondoliers by a Canadian company. It made me laugh) The aforementioned Facebook poster questioned the wisdom of inserting such material, especially given the unpredictable politics of the audience attending the festival. The responses to that post were generally in favor of such insertions. For my part, I understand and partially sympathize with the view of those who want the theatre to be a place where people of broad political outlooks can agree at least on their love of G&S. But I think it’s also worth noting that Gilbert’s lyrics and scenarios had some real teeth in their contemporary world. It’s only our temporal distance from Victorian concerns that make them seem tame. They were not. I offer these quotes from contemporary reviews of Iolanthe from the original production:

“He…[Gilbert] tries to prove that members of the House of Lords are a collection of amorous and senile do-nothings, scarcely removed from idiocy, and that the members of the House of Commons are dull and stupid, the mere creatures of party… Thus we find, within the compass of a two-act piece, derision of the judicial system, of the Peers and Commons, and of Love, Truth, and Friendship… As a moral lesson, I prefer ‘Punch and Judy’ to Iolanthe.”

-Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, December 2, 1882

Others were more positive in their assessment. The barbs were funny because they were true:

“The witty playwright has shown us the ridiculous side of many things before now, and we can only suppose that the umbrage taken in the present instance is because the cap happens to fit better than usual.”

-The Weekly Dispatch, December 3, 1882

And to the precise point that our contemporary audiences expressed, using remarkably similar language, The Globe questioned whether the Comic Opera was the place for such observations:

“Mr. Gilbert’s cynical allusions to the House of Peers may be prompted by strong political convictions, but are surely out of place in the libretto of a comic opera, produced before an audience of presumably varied political opinions

-The Globe November 1882 (emphasis mine)

“When therefore, a first night’s audience, prepared to laugh itself sore, and in great measure consisting of Mr. Gilbert’s avowed admirers, finds that gentleman exhibiting a tendency to import pathos and politics into a ‘book’ like that of ‘Iolanthe’, it may be excused for expressing disappointment as well as surprise- the more so because the pathos smacks of anger, a passion altogether out of place in a ‘fairy opera’, and his politics are bitterly aggressive. Anything like a moral, pointedly recommended to public attention in connection with ingenious buffoonery and put into the mouth of such a character as Mr. Gilbert’s hero- a diverting monstrosity, half fairy, half mortal, whose only raison d’etre is the wealth of comic contrasts suggested by his dual nature- is calculated to exercise a depressing effect upon people who went to laugh, not to cry; to be tickled into complacency, not roused to indignation. The libretto of ‘Iolanthe’ has been utilized by its author as the vehicle for conveying to society at large a feeling of protest on behalf of the indigent, and a scathing satire upon the hereditary moiety of our legislature. Advocacy and denunciation of this sort are all very well in melodrama, where telling ‘points’ may always be made with the unmerited wrongs of the poor and the reprehensible uselessness of the aristocracy. But they jar upon the ear and taste alike when brought to bear upon us through the medium of a song sung by half a fairy in a professedly comic opera.”

-William Beatty Kingston The Theatre, January 1, 1883

(I am indebted to the new critical edition for my access to these reviews)

In light of that, I think the most Gilbertian thing to do is to point the satire wherever the barbs will land best. Another way of putting it: If you are among those who think politics should stay out of G&S performance, you would probably have been among those deeply disappointed at the premiere of Iolanthe.

Before You Start:

A great place to start with any G&S Operetta is the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive page.The page for Iolanthe is pretty extensive, including interviews and reviews of early productions. It seems to be missing an errata list. I’ll cobble one together as I go.

The most commonly used edition is the Schirmer vocal score, edited by Bryceson Treharne. It’s perfectly acceptable. I linked to Amazon here, because most people these days buy from them. But do be aware that they sometimes lump together more than one edition of the same score, so you might accidentally get a rival edition when you order.

When it comes to the full score, you’re in a major bind. The old Kalmus Full Score is, as of my typing these words, about $140 with shipping and handling. But this score is infamously awful, and paying that much for something that’s widely loathed seems like rewarding something we don’t want to encourage. Fortunately, there is now a magnificent Broude Brothers 3 volume Full Score, with a critical source report, all the available cut material and fragments you can’t find anywhere, like the original banda parts. It’s a smorgasbord; it literally has everything, it’s handsomely bound, and the layout is easily legible. Unfortunately, this full score set is over $400. Unless you are a spectacularly well endowed company and can afford to accumulate a library of critical editions, or perhaps you are a wealthy music director who is doing this for fun, this edition is not financially feasible. I am fortunate enough to work at a University through which I was able to borrow the score through interlibrary loan, and perhaps that is the best option. As wonderful as the new Broude Trust edition is, though, it is not without its own errors. I will point out the handful that I discovered while I was using the score. What this score needs is an Oxford University edition, like the Yeomen that recently came out, edited by Colin Jagger. That comes in under a hundred dollars, and seems to be pretty good, if not completely exhaustive.

I believe in conducting chorus rehearsals from the vocal score until the chorus is off book, and then switching as early as practicable to the full score to conduct rehearsals. There is a real wealth of detail in the orchestration that you as a music director need to be aware of that is simply not present in the Piano Score. If you are renting parts, do check to see if you can get your hands on the score that goes with them to use as you rehearse. It goes without saying that conducting the operetta in performance with an orchestra from the Piano Vocal Score is an unpardonable infraction unless it is absolutely unavoidable.


As always, the OakApple Press page laying out all the major recordings is complete and fantastic. Many of these recordings are available on Spotify, but I encourage you to buy a hard copy. Looking to D’Oyly Carte for style or pronunciation help is a good idea, but I’m sorry to say that even in the case of vowels, you will find very little uniformity from one D’Oyly Carte recording to the next. 1960 D’Oyly Carte is the one to have.

If you’re going to be Music Directing Gilbert and Sullivan, you’ll want to begin building a library of reference materials. I recommend getting these, as you are able:

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian Bradley. You should probably get this one ASAP. There is a very expensive new edition I have not yet read. If it’s anything like its predecessors, it’s indispensable.

A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan by Gayden Wren: Good stuff, especially seeing the shows in the context of the whole output. I come back to this book again and again.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon by Harry Benford: in which you will find the definitions of all those words you don’t understand.

After you have procured some of these, set aside a number of hours to do the following:

1) Listen to the soundtracks with the score in hand, marking things that strike you as interesting. I also made a pass at one point with a metronome and marked the tempi of all the sections from several recordings so that I would have a benchmark of speed. When a singer complains about a tempo, it helps to be able to check and say, “Ah, yes, we’re too slow” or: “This is within the range of generally accepted tempi.” or yet again, “I’d like to take it this fast, but currently our diction won’t allow it.” Sullivan doesn’t always notate phrasing or articulations, and while it’s easy to say, “Let’s just leave it up to the taste of the players”, it’s sometimes necessary to actually make clear decisions as a conductor so that the ensemble is telling the same musical story. I have developed a system with colored pencils, where I listen to a recording of a particular year with, say, a red pencil in hand and just mark interesting articulation, dynamic, or tempo choices for the key moments. Then I go back with a different color and enter another recording’s take on the same moments. Pretty quickly one begins to realize what is standard, what is done almost every time, and what is open to interpretation. You will also find your own preference in those places where there appears to be a wide range of opinion. To me, this is the beginning of discovering your own voice as a conductor; finding where the limits of expression have been in the past, and deciding what you are drawn to in answer to the points that are vague.

2) Take the Lexicon book and copy in pencil all the definitions into the score where you don’t already know the meanings.

As You’re Casting:

Lord Chancellor

The Lord Chancellor

This is one of the great patter roles in the repertory, primarily because he sings one of the greatest patter songs ever written, the Nightmare Song in the second act. He also has some dialogue and monologues about conflicts of interest that are a hilarious rough draft for Pooh Bah in The Mikado. If you run a Gilbert and Sullivan company, your candidates for this role will be the same people who play the Major General and Joseph Porter. That is to say, terribly high class, fast talking Baritones or Tenors who don’t mind not having any high notes.  



Lord Mountararat

Mountararat is a baritone, the more prosaic of the two principal peers, and sings an important patriotic (?) song near the top of Act II. If he has a high E, there is an ossia note at the end of his song that is nice. Otherwise it is a very ordinary baritone role, playable by your Chief of Police from Pirates, your Corcorans from Pinafore, or your Pooh Bah’s from the Mikado. (The Broude edition mistakenly identifies Mountararat as the tenor and Tolloller as the baritone)

TollollerLord Tolloller

Tolloller is a great role for a comic tenor. The most beautiful moment for the character comes in No. 8 My Well Loved Lord, in which he sings ‘Of All The Young Ladies I Know” His lyrics are much more poetic than Mountarrarat’s, and Sullivan’s melodies for him far more lyrical. If played in this way, the dialogue between the two men in Act II is even funnier, as Mountarrarat plays on Tolloller’s sentimentality to try to goad him into giving up on Phyllis’s affections. Without this distinction, (and the distinction of their vocal ranges) the two are basically identical, and we’d agree with Phyllis that “There’s really nothing to choose between you.”


Private Willis

Private Willis

Willis is a wonderful role for a bass or a baritone who doesn’t mind standing at attention for the better part of an act. In exchange, he can sleep through Act I entirely, unless your production is so short on men that he is required to be a peer as well.


Strephon is the kind of character type that would normally be a tenor, but Strephon is really more of a lyric Baritone, playable by the same kind of actor that plays the Pirate King in Pirates. As I’ll mention when I get around to discussing Phyllis, I think Sullivan is making a choice to simplify the romantic leads in the operettas, having experienced particular difficulties casting Frederic in the American premiere of The Pirates of Penzance, he wrote a far less demanding tenor role in Patience, and here a role with a low G that tops off at an E flat.

Queen of the FairiesQueen of the Fairies

This role is best sung by a true contralto, if you have one. And for once, Gilbert doesn’t spend the entire opera mocking her, she’s a strong, assertive woman, playable by the same type of actress that plays Ruth, Lady Jane or Buttercup. Our Queen aptly described her as a ‘cougar’. You will want to hear the passage on 118-119 in the Schirmer Score, which tracks both the higher end of the queen’s register, and also the mock-Handelian runs she has to navigate in the Act I Finale.


Gilbert and Sullivan are so wonderful in the way they distribute interesting parts for different ranged voices of different ages. Iolanthe is nominally a soprano, but rangewise more of a mezzo, a mother, and a very young woman. (otherwise the plot doesn’t work) This makes her a really interesting part to play, and she has the most moving aria in the opera.


Celia is the higher voiced part of the two featured chorus Fairies, although there are alternate notes that make her somewhat more manageable if you wish to cast a lower voiced singer. Gilbert in his planning thought of Celia as the ‘first fairy’, or the higher part, but Sullivan thought of Celia as the higher of the two. The higher part on page 16 of the Schirmer score is the one Sullivan wanted; the lower version is his rewrite when the original Celia couldn’t hit the high notes.


Leila is the lower voiced part of the two featured chorus Fairies. The Broude edition has swapped the voice types of Leila and Celia in the Dramatis Personae, becauset originally Celia was supposed to be the higher of the two voices, and the authors quibbled on this point They also swap the solo lines in the opening number. . Figuring that most productions are going to use the conventional Schirmer score, I’m listing them as they normally appear. The lines are fairly evenly distributed between Celia and Leila. Leila had a number near the beginning of Act I, “Five and Twenty Years Ago”, which was cut for pacing reasons.


Fleta is a non-singing role, and a wonderful role to assign to a deserving company member who is not always among the competitors for the important roles.


Phyllis is the soprano lead in Iolanthe, but one gets the sense that Sullivan was holding back somehow in his writing for her. There is one rather challenging Offenbachian moment and a dramatic descending passage in the first act finale, but none of the fun or pyrotechnics of Mabel or even Patience here. She is the first soprano lead in the G&S canon who does not have a stand-alone aria. (and I believe Iolanthe and Utopia Limited are the only two G&S operas with no proper Soprano arias at all, although surely someone will correct me if I am mistaken) There were two numbers for her in Act II, which were cut. I suspect that the authors had encountered so many headaches casting and recasting the spectacular sopranos and tenors for touring productions that they wanted to tailor a few parts that could be more easily filled, or perhaps Leonora Braham wasn’t quite up to the task. (although that seems unlikely given what they wrote for her subsequently) Even so, your Phyllis should be able to sing in tune the descending diminished arpeggio on page 119 in the Schirmer score and the passage on pages 103 and 104 convincingly. They are by no means easy.


Gilbert had developed many formulas by the time he wrote Iolanthe, and one of his most basic conceits is the presentation of normal English life, turned upside down by a chaotic force. In Trial by Jury, it had been a faithless fiancee, in The Sorcerer, the power of magic. In Pinafore, it had been a young couple’s desire to marry outside their stations. In Pirates, the Pirates are a force of chaos, and in Patience, it is, of course, the two poets. This is the first time Gilbert gives us a story in which the women are the force of chaos, and in which the chaos isn’t English. As such, this women’s chorus is one of the most delightful to sing.

Your sopranos have an A flat above the staff, your altos an E above treble C, going down to the G below middle C.

The need for a substantial men’s chorus is also pronounced in this operetta, if for no other reason, because of the March of the Peers. They have four way part splits frequently, so you will need strong voices in each subdivision.

First Tenors sing up to the A above the staff, second tenors to G flat above the staff, but hopefully also the A. (this lady’s his what?) Baritones and basses sing up to the E flat above middle C, and ideally down to the E flat below the bass staff. (although some baritones can probably get away with only the low G)

General Pronunciation Advice:

I copy here general note from earlier G&S posts, with some slight emendations.

I am still no expert on RP English pronunciation, but I offer here a couple of basic pointers, to which I intend to add as I learn more:

1) Be aware of the Trap-Bath split. A fellow Savoyard in my tenor section made me aware of this chart, which is very helpful: trap-bath

2) ‘R’s that begin a word are tripped or rolled. ‘R’s that come before a vowel are tripped. ‘R’s that come after a vowel are generally dropped. At no point is the ‘r’ pronounced as we Amerrricans pronounce it. (although you may encounter different kinds of Rs if characters have regional British accents)

3) Mary, Merry, and Marry employ three different vowel sounds. Where I come from, they are pronounced identically. In Philadelphia, they are pronounced as three different vowels, but they aren’t the same vowels. Interesting chart on this matter:http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_15.html In G&S, you’ll want to say Mary with an eh as in air, Merry with eh as in get, and Marry with an ah as in cat. (someone will certainly correct me on this)

4) Many u vowels will need a y sound before them: duty becomes dyewtee, tuning becomes tyooning, new becomes nyoo, and institution becomes instityooshun.

5) Been becomes bean.

6) For words which in American English replace ‘t’s with a d sound, a true ‘t’ sound should be used. “Water” is not pronounced “wadder”, and certainly not wooder, my Philadelphia friends. But be careful not to overcompensate. I have noticed that some Americans are so anxious to Britishify their speech that they change to ‘t’ sounds that are truly ‘d’s. Lady should not be Laty, as I’ve heard people say when attempting to posh up their language. Not every ‘d’ needs to become a ‘t’, only the ones that are truly ts to begin with!

7) As I continue to conduct these pieces, and after continuing encouragement from the English members of our American company, I am beginning to become fixated on words like “all”, and the second syllable of “Doctor”, “Major” and “Sailor”. The British “all” has a darker vowel than the Americans use, almost to the point of sounding like ‘ole’, and the second syllable of the ‘or’ words is pronounced like ‘or’, not ‘er’, as Americans would say it. I am still conflicted about that particular one, because the D’Oyly Carte recordings are by no means consistent on that point, and especially at speed, it is very difficult to articulate a tall ‘o’ vowel in such a word. It is something to keep one’s ears open for.

This video may be of use to you.

That is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve probably gotten some of it wrong, but that’ll get you started. There are some places in this show where pronunciation will be governed by a rhyme. I will try and hit each of those points as we go.

Going through the show number by number:


This overture is by far the best of those written up to this point in the operas. The Sorcerer’s overture had been assembled by Hamilton Clarke. Sullivan Sketched the overtures to HMS Pinafore and Pirates and Alfred Cellier completed them. Eugen D’Albert wrote the overture to Patience, which is, I think, the second best of the batch so far. In the case of the overtures with Cellier, it appears they worked together to assemble the medley of tunes, and the job was considered so last-minute and perfunctory that it was something of a waste of time for Sullivan to do it, the understanding being that Cellier would simply pull the orchestrations from their positions in the opera, connecting them as competently as Sullivan knew he would. When we think of it in terms of composers like Rossini, Mozart, or even Carl Maria Von Weber, this practice seems like cheating. Can we imagine Mozart pawning off the overture to Figaro to Süssmayer? The recits, yes. The overtures, no.

But it’s helpful to remember that Mozart is not particularly the model for these affairs. Offenbach is. Offenbach also handed over most of the overture duties to his assistants, and seemed to have preferred just jumping right into the action. Particularly when his operettas hit Vienna, Offenbach was required to add an overture, because the Viennese expected one, rather in the same way Verdi had to add dances whenever his operas made it to Paris. The reason D’Albert’s Patience overture is so good is that Sullivan gave him a little room to develop the material, which is exactly what an arranger under pressure can’t do. Cellier was working too fast on the one hand to really say anything interesting in the overtures beyond what Sullivan had already done elsewhere in the opera, and on the other hand, creatively altering the material of your boss is the kind of license that could lose you your job.

Sullivan seems to have worked hard on the Iolanthe overture. There were two productions opening simultaneously, one in England, and the other in America. On October 29th, 17 days before the opera opened, Sullivan sent instructions about the overture to Cellier who was conducting the American premiere: “Write one yourself.” If we allow a week for the boat carrying the mail to get to America and for the mail to arrive to him, that leaves about 3 weeks for Cellier to write the overture and assemble the parts, and that’s while conducting rehearsals. In this case, the length of the transatlantic journey of an overture made the composition of a second one infinitely easier. (as far as i know, Cellier’s version is lost) Sullivan himself was a bit rushed, rewriting the overture several times and finishing 2 days before Iolanthe opened. Incidentally, people frequently marvel at composers finishing overtures at the very last second, forgetting that there is very little reason to finish one any earlier.

I often think about Sullivan’s mindset as he wrote, frustrated by his inability to make headway as a serious composer, yet having this amazing platform with Gilbert to have his music before the public. I can’t help but think he must have realized he was leaving to his assistant one of the only places where his musical imagination could run unhindered by Gilbert’s Topsy Turvy constrictions. And as many people have remarked, this overture develops the thematic material beautifully! Sullivan’s treatment of the Iolanthe theme is exquisitely treated in the opening 48 measures, and I think this is probably where listeners begin to think Sullivan is going to give us a leitmotiv score. As I explain above, Sullivan doesn’t really fulfil that expectation. At Letter Q, Sullivan gives us a magnificent riff on Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony that manages to sound like very good Tchaikovsky as well. We discover after this texture is established that Sullivan is going to elevate the most trivial moment in the entire opera (the queen’s stepping out of the plot and breaking the fourth wall to address a famous audience member) to what can only be described as sublimity.

Sullivan also begins to play rhythmic games here that he will explore throughout the opera, as the piece keeps threatening to slip from 6/8 back into 2/4. It’s a little silly to say that he begins doing that here, since this is quite literally the last thing he wrote, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Sullivan is making the audience aware of rhythm here. I’ll try and make that case more strongly later.

The Schirmer score is missing a trill on the last note before E and a fermata on the downbeat of the 28th measure of rehearsal Z. The tempo indications beginning at rehearsal Y in the Schirmer score were not in any of the parts I saw. (and I saw 4 sets of parts) I rather like them!

The Broude Trust critical edition has what I believe are errors in measure 234, 2nd violin must surely be a G sharp mid-measure, and 236 2nd violin downbeat must be E.


1.Chorus: Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither

Choose your tempo at the beginning from your ideal tempo when the quarter notes enter. It’s faster than you might expect.

See if you can really draw a distinction between the chorus music with eighth rests and the passages with true legato. Many people don’t know that the conventions of music notation demand that the text be separated by syllable as the words would appear in the dictionary. Thus Trip-ping and Hith-er, rather than Tri-pping and Hi-ther as we might prefer when singing. Americans, be sure you have a very tall vowel on ‘dance’ and ‘entrancing’, that you flip the ‘r’s that appear internally in words like ‘fairy’ (rather like very short ‘d’s) and that you eliminate the many ‘r’s that appear at the ends of words like ‘hither’, ‘thither’ and ‘our’.

The line ‘yes we live on lover’ is odd. I agree with those who say it’s meant to be  a kind of shadow vowel after ‘love’, which trick rhymes with ‘discover’, but of course, you have to leave the ‘r’ off the end of the word discover to make that rhyme work. You were, to be sure, doing that anyway.

Note at rehearsal G that the chorus is singing, “We are dainty little fairies” fortissimo, Sullivan’s loudest dynamic marking. I think this is meant to be a joke. Do observe the rests, though, even as you portray these stomping dainty fairies.

The last page has two similar phrases that are maddeningly not identical. ‘Most’ is only one note the first phrase, and two notes in the echoing phrase. This will not happen automatically, I assure you.


2. Invocation: Iolanthe! From Thy Dark Exile…

The orchestral accompaniment in this number is simply exquisite, and one of several places where orchestral reductions of the wind section are most inadequate.

At the entrance of the fairies, I really don’t see much use in saving the altos for the second phrase; I had mine sing right along from the first ‘come to our call’. Your director will have thought of some way to get Iolanthe on stage, perhaps covered in seaweed. You will have to balance your inclination to indulge the oboist in a languid tempo against the time it takes for Iolanthe to enter, otherwise, she will perhaps be left on stage looking bewildered for quite some time before opening her mouth to sing.

I can’t imagine why the Animato marking in the Schirmer vocal score at the top of page 26 appears in the middle of the measure. Surely it belongs at the beginning of the 2nd measure before rehearsal F. Watch for a clean cutoff at the end. You may want to adjust the location of the end of that note to make for a more uniform conclusion of the choral part.

From Thy Dark Exile

3. Solo and Chorus: Good Morrow, Good Mother

The introductory open 5th in the bass with a lilting 6/8 melody in reeds above shows us that even at this late date, English audiences knew the markers of pastoral music, and associated them with shepherds, as they do in Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, and innumerable other pieces referencing shepherds.

The left hand in the closing figure is oddly clumsy to play, but surprisingly effective in its orchestral context!

4: Solo and Chorus: Fare Thee Well

Note that near the end, the word “We” in the last phrase comes on beat 3, not beat 2 where it had appeared earlier.

4a. Duet: Good Morrow, Good Lover

The number is almost exactly the same as 3. To those who suggest this as one us Sullivan’s Wagnerian leitmotiven, I say that this is really nothing more than a reprise. The idea is never developed further than a key change the next go around. Again, that’s not a knock on Sullivan. Not every thread needs to be woven into a tapestry to make a compelling piece of music theatre.

5. Duet: None Shall Part Us From Each Other

There are some odd errors in the Schirmer score. The easiest one to clarify is that the accompaniment in the first ending on page 39 should read exactly as the accompaniment in the first measure of the second ending. I keep finding sources that say the repeat should go back to the 3rd measure and not to the beginning. The major recordings follow this practice. But the new critical edition does not list that correction, and includes no notes clarifying the discrepancy. Your guess is as good as mine, but my preference is to go back to the beginning as notated. Going back to measure 3 feels very odd to me, and the number doesn’t overstay its welcome. The critical edition has an error in the 2nd clarinet in measure 10. It should read F#. Also of note is the fact that your violins may wonder in the second and fourth measures of rehearsal B whether the third note should be marked C# again. I don’t think so, and a courtesy natural is probably in order. The critical edition lists these measures with a C# (I think erroneously)

Sullivan wrote to Cellier that the number should be “sprightly and lightly”, which I think is a fine mood to strike.

Our Phyllis put her last 2 notes up an octave, which is a lovely touch, but rankled the adjudicator when we did it at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. (I’ll write a post on my thoughts on altered pitches another time)

None Shall Part Us6. Entrance and March of the Peers: Loudly Let The Trumpet Bray

This is surely the high point for men’s chorus writing in G&S, or at the very least among the top 2 or three such moments. In addition to its anthemic memorability, there are several other unusual features I will call your attention to.

Traditionally there is a drum roll at the top of this number. Have a look at your parts: some editions include the roll, others don’t. It’s worth a look before you begin working with your orchestra to be certain you’re all on the same page.

I found 2 errors in the Broude Trust critical edition in this number: The third note in measure 23 in the piccolo must be an A natural, and the 2nd note in measure 29 in the double bass is surely a C natural, as in the cellos. In measure 155 and 173, the critical edition also has the double basses on a low E flat, which strikes me as unlikely for Sullivan.

A few things to notice in the choral parts:

You will likely find that the low E flat at a bar before Rehearsal E, and in the fourth measure of F is simply too low for your basses. They can jump up to the Tenor E flat easily there. Before G, and throughout that stanza, you do not have that option, because the basses are on their own. They’ll have to open their mouths and emote the note they’re not actually singing.

In the 11th and 12th bars of rehearsal F, be sure your tenors are singing very small half steps. That passage has a tendency to go flat.

Be very careful to play the passage beginning at letter G slowly and deliberately as you learn it, for accuracy of pitch. You may also find that your tenors will tend to slow down and your basses speed up. Tell the basses not to breathe in every single rest, because that will lead to hyperventilation and rushing. And be sure the tenors and your orchestra observe the dotted eighth-sixteenths properly, without letting it devolve into triplets. Both groups should work hard to remain exactly in the center of every beat.

At letter H, you may discover some of your choristers wanting to sing a B flat harmony note that doesn’t appear in the score. This note sounds fine at first, but will subsequently be harmonically confusing to resolve on the fly. To facilitate discovery of the G the baritones are meant to sing, I suggest having the baritones sing the tenor A flat one note before H, then going down the half step to secure that G.

The composer half of my brain puzzles at the tenor line in the 9th measure of rehearsal J and the similar passage 4 measures later. The tenors drop down to the low B flat while the baritones jump up to the high B flat. When I suggested to my group that we simply leave the tenors on the high B flat, they strenuously objected. And then as we rehearsed it, I began to hear the effect Sir Arthur must have been going for. I can’t say that I understand it; on paper, it just seems very ineffective. But in practice, it brings out a new color for the end of the phrase, and he certainly knows better than I do what he wanted.

Before I leave rehearsal J, I just have to tip my hat to Sullivan and say that the passage is harmonically absolutely extraordinary.

At rehearsal K, in the name of all that’s holy, carefully go over the words the tenors are singing. They are not uniform.

At the eighth measure of rehearsal K, we meet one of Sullivan’s unusual experiments with phrase length, in which he upends the binary phrasing he’s established, and combs everyone’s hair backward for about two pages. Let me try to explain what I mean:

We’ve had 2 measure phrases very consistently through the whole number, as befits a march. But here Sullivan introduces a rocketing E flat major scale which drops us off mid-measure in the beginning of a new phrase a measure and a half later. The new perceived downbeat occurs on a structural upbeat, and that sets the chorus off by half a measure from the metric stress of the bar. This is why your chorus will initially miss that entrance until you drill it. If you are conducting from the piano in rehearsal, you will discover that it is very difficult to cue a phrase beginning on an upbeat with your head while simultaneously playing an E flat major scale in octaves and then continuing to play offbeats against the new tune. When I had to cover the accompaniment in a rehearsal or two, I proved myself wholly inadequate to this challenge.

Sullivan could easily have simply inserted a measure of 2/4, allowing us to reorient ourselves toward the new perceived downbeat. But instead, he rather perversely leaves us beating the bar the opposite way with upbeats for downbeats and downbeats for upbeats until the 7th measure of rehearsal L. This is where your chorus will also sing it wrong for the first 2 weeks, because Sullivan has to extend the phrase by half a measure to make up the difference and land the downbeat on the correct part of the measure. You will have to experiment with ways for the chorus to remember how many times they say tan-tan-ta-ra. I found that different people needed different memory aids, and that a strong choreographer can be of great assistance in tying the words to the movement where possible. Of course, they can always just watch you. (ahem.)

Because of the prominence of the brass, this is a number which feels most empty in orchestral reduction. After all, we have a complete onstage banda part for an early production, so we know that Sullivan himself was not even satisfied with the sound of the full orchestration!


7. Song and Chorus: The Law Is The True Embodiment

The fugato entries here are really ingenious, but present some trouble for pick-up orchestras, since the first entrance is by the cellos and basses, who are perhaps not accustomed to playing this fast in this context. They are followed by the violas, who are also not famed for playing quickly or decisively. (I say these things with fondest affection) By the time you reach the group of strings capable of driving the tempo forward, (the violins) you will probably have settled on a tempo that is slower than you or your Lord Chancellor may have preferred. (I did not have this problem in Harrogate, where the festival orchestra knew perfectly well how to execute the passage) After struggling with this for a while initially with an American orchestra, my concertmaster spoke to me confidentially:

“I think I see your problem. I have noticed that you are giving the cellos and basses the tempo you expect them to play.”

“Yes, good.” I replied.

She said, “No. Give them a tempo a third again faster than what you want and you stand a chance of getting the tempo you want.”

I did so, and the results were indeed better. Obviously the effectiveness and advisability of this method is contingent upon your performing ensemble, but I offer it here for your potential use.

The number itself is fairly straightforward, but here are a few thoughts anyway:

In the third verse, as Gilbert instructed Cellier in a letter for the American Company that premiered Iolanthe on the same day as the English company, it is customary to to slow down around letter C, and to in fact come to a full, brief pause after “one for Ye”, “One for Thou,” “One for Thee”, “Never, oh Never”. In measures 84, 85, and 86, the first violin should only play beats one and 4. Some engravings of the orchestral parts will include this as a separate third verse; others incorporate the alteration in a notation included over the music read for all three verses. You might have a look at the parts there, so you know how to talk to your players if confusion arises.

Finally, the last 4 measures are in C major. Sullivan indicates ‘Major!’ in the full score, because he knows the copyists and the players are likely to want the C minor they’ve been playing up until this point. Just be prepared to politely say, “Major, please” in the first orchestra read when you hear an A flat four measures from the end.

The Law Is The True

8. Trio and Chorus: My Well Loved Lord and Guardian Dear

The number begins with the shepherd theme moved up to F# as an introduction to a brief arioso for Phyllis, punctuated by one of Sullivan’s signature unison male chorus phrases celebrating the heroine.

Tolloller’s subsequent melody over a gentle barcarolle is one of Sullivan’s most exquisite and exotic, the B sharp adding a piquant and dissonant touch to the F# minor tonality. (Is he singing one of the Lord Chancellor’s F# minor 6/8 Andante judgments Mountararat mentions in Act II?)

Note that when the men sing “of birth and position he’s plenty”, their line is full of rests, but that Tolloller’s remains legato. Don’t let them throw one another off. Conducting the rallentando in 6 may out to be somewhat tricky. The thing is in 2, naturally, but it will slip into 6 at letter C, then back out again in the third measure of C. Also observe the delightful details in the violas, as the descending two note sighs set off the rhymes.

Mountararat’s verse is lyrically more prosaic, and his legalese text culminates in a clever pun. Accordingly his music has modulated into D, and Sullivan has given him a much more pedestrian vocal line to sing.

Phyllis’s verse returns to F#minor, with all the flavor of Tolloller’s verse, and yet she manages to one up him with a spectacular flute obbligato as she mentions ‘pipes and tabors’. When this passage is well played, it is just breathtaking. The tune is so distracting that one is likely to miss the point of the words; Tolloller has offered grammar and spelling for two and blood and behaviour for twenty, with plenty of birth and position. Using his melody, she strikes him down on each point: She spells all the words she uses, (presumably all she needs) her grammar is as good as her neighbors, and she’s born the same way everyone else was. To Mountararat’s rather too fine point about the party preferences of the house of Peers, she turns his pun back on him, saying that she knows where to look when she wants to find somebody, implying that it isn’t them. It’s a really lovely lyric.

Coming around the tail end of the number, the chorus parts require some attention. Get that ‘look’ 2 before letter H to be quite short, help your tenors and basses count the ‘ah’s they have to get to, and practice conducting the six pattern to get you through the acappella section.

One of my favorite Sullivan touches appears at H; a melody built around hopping thirds that seem to trace out two planes, one higher, and one lower. Other examples include the opening of “My Name Is John Wellington Wells” from The Sorcerer and the transition between verses in “If Saphir I Choose To Marry” from Patience.

If I may commit a minor heresy, I must say that I find the transition back into the closing ritornello awkward, and I wish Sullivan had overlapped the instrumental melody with the last chord. But we must do as he says, mustn’t we?

9. Recitative and Chorus: Nay, Tempt Me Not

The Schirmer score has an extra measure up top, which was cut early in the performance history of the piece. Begin in measure 2. When the orchestra is there, be sure you have the attention of your cellos and bass as you begin, or you’re dead in the water. The indication ‘recit’ in the second measure makes no sense. Ignore it.

Americans, the words are pronounced ‘des-ti-tyoot’. and ‘ver-tyoo’.

You may wonder why these 10 measures are a single number. Evidently this was once a much longer set of couplets.

10: Song and Chorus: Spurn Not the Nobly Born

Tolloller’s solo is a typical lovely lyric tenor solo, but the Tenors and Basses of the echoing chorus can prove somewhat difficult to manage, having different rhythms than one another, and plosive closing consonants, which are unforgiving. Be sure the first time through we do not slow down much. Save that for the second time. I also suggest everyone cut the word ‘Flood’ short, and have the basses and baritones cut their second to last ‘blood’ short, giving the tenors a catch breath before their last ‘ah, Blue Blood’. This way the ‘d’ sounds all arrive in a coordinated fashion, and it should be fairly clear exactly where they go. The last time the men echo, the rallentando makes the problem of coordinating them more acute, especially when you add in the tenor, who will naturally want to sing the A flat for some time. This will take some practice to get right.

There appears to be some controversy about the rhythm of “Hearts just as pure and fair”. The downbeat rest we find in the Schirmer score appears to be an authentic correction; Singing it as a quarter matches Sullivan’s original take on that measure. I think that means both versions are basically legitimate.

Sullivan’s modulation to G major is gorgeous.

11. Recitative and Chorus: My Lords, It May Not Be

We can see by the rehearsal letters and by the lack of closing cadences that 9, 10, and 11 are meant to be one continuous unit.

Be sure your men make the last syllable of ‘horror’ in the 4th measure of D very short. This is a good general rule for G&S, and the word appears frequently enough to require the rule. The two chords before the Lord Chancellor’s recit are usually played before he begins singing, not as written. He should wait. Note also that your chorus echoes “A shepherd He…” and so forth are meant to be pianissimo. (they’re hiding!) The written C for Strephon 3 measures before rehearsal F is sometimes sung as an E a sixth lower (in the 1960 D’oyly Carte recording, for example)

3 before rehearsal G for the chorus should read “betrothed are they, and mean to be”.

My chorus baritones and basses had a tendency to sing the second measure of H as the 4th measure, beginning on E flat. Keep your ear out for that.

The problems at the end of the number are identical to the ones at the end of The March of the Peers, with different words. Whatever strategy got you through that will work as well here.  

Once again the Broude Critical Edition has a low E flat for the Contrabasses in measure 89. I doubt Sullivan’s basses had the note. Probably this was a spot where Sullivan had indicated the basses to double the cellos and simply wasn’t taking the range into account.

12. Song: When I Went To The Bar as a Very Young Man

If there’s one spot in Iolanthe where we most feel our writers treading familiar waters, it is here. The Judge’s Song from Trial by Jury, and When I Was A Lad from Pinafore are virtually indistinguishable musically or in content from the Lord Chancellor’s “How I got this way” number. We can overlook it, though, because in Act II, the Lord Chancellor will sing the most original patter song in the canon.

The Broude Critical edition has inverted the lyrics of verses 2 and 3. I’m a little surprised nobody caught that.

In measures 32 and 33, when the Lord Chancellor sings, “The Army, the Navy, the Church, and the Stage”, the strings traditionally only play beats 1 and 2, omitting the upbeats. It’s all much slower there.

13. Finale: When Darkly Looms The Day

This is the longest single number in Gilbert and Sullivan. It won’t feel like it for the audience, but it will feel like it during rehearsal. You’ll be blocking the first act Finale for most of the rehearsal process.

In an interesting article called Tonal and Structural Designs in the Finales of the Savoy Operas, with Some Suggestions as to Derivation by John C. Nelson, (one which is surprisingly difficult to get your hands on), the author tracks Sullivan’s finales section by section. After carefully comparing the finales, he observes that Sullivan’s Finales are constructed more like Offenbach or Rossini than Mozart. Mozart’s finales are a marvel of construction, partly because they seem to be oriented around a careful tonal plan, actually showing adhering in a broad sense to Sonata Form. This tonal planning shows the strong evidence of enlightenment thought. In Sullivan’s music, and in other romantic era music, the need to ground large scale movements in opera is secondary to the moment-by-moment drama of each dramatic transition. In other words, it is Gilbert’s job to make certain there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and Sullivan’s job is to make each plot twist land harmonically and melodically, and no one is watching the store when it comes to getting back to the starting key. At several points in this Finale, Sullivan makes hilarious detours at critical moments, and he also plays disorienting games with phrase length that I’ll examine below. These moments break any sense of classical unity in the finale, not only pulling the work further away from the high classical models, but pulling even away from the Comique composers Sullivan clearly admired. More on that later. I think when we examine Iolanthe, Gilbert and Sullivan have left far behind the concerns I plotted out in my Pinafore Guide. Gilbert is exceptionally free with his lyric material, trusting that Sullivan’s depth of invention is sufficient to create as much material as will be necessary to get through it all, and indeed, Sullivan rises to the occasion.

I’m going to combine my rehearsal suggestions with my thoughts on the writing, and then leave the Broude errata for the end.

The fermatas in the first few pages of the finale were tough to get out of until I realized that I didn’t need any fermatas at all. Just beat time straight through those measures and there’s well more than enough time for Phyllis’s asides.

Saint James’s park is pronounced something like ‘sint’ James’s pok. Cut off ‘remark’ and ‘dark’ on beat 4 for the men with a strong ‘k’ consonant and no ‘r’ sound. The same goes for the extremely brief madrigal.

Sullivan indicates a long cadenza ad lib after the Allegro Agitato, but he didn’t write one, and there aren’t a lot of recorded options either. The problem is this: The chord implied at the fermata is a G dominant 7 chord, which might be simple enough, except that in the previous measure an A flat places the mode squarely in C harmonic (not melodic) minor. So any cadenza you place here will have to battle the augmented second between A flat and B natural, an exoticism not normally encountered in cadenzas like this. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Put the A flat and the B on opposite sides of a run, like so:

Iolanthe 5

Or some sopranos will prefer an even bouncier one, like this:

Iolanthe 7

Others may want something just as flashy but more legato. This one just converts the scale to a melodic minor and lands the a flat at the end to get us thinking minor again. 

Iolanthe 6

Or write your own. Remember she’s angry.

I hope your tenors can all hit the high A. “This lady’s his what?” It is often shouted, which I suppose is preferable to hearing the entire tenor section crack at once. I also prefer the ‘ha ha ha’s throughout the finale to be sung, not shouted, and in time, not out.

I hope you don’t mind a digression here into a very odd rhythmic game Sullivan begins right after rehearsal E. By inserting two half notes into an otherwise square phrase of quarters and eighths, Sullivan creates a 9 measure phrase, which throws the symmetry off in a disorienting way. If you are thinking in terms of balanced phrases as you conduct, you will feel strange at the tail end of each of these phrases, as though you have somehow lost a beat somewhere.

It’s easy to dismiss this passage as just a funny anomaly, but if you take into account that Sullivan has already played this exact game twice in the Peers music, it begins to feel intentional. My knowledge of 19th century operetta is not exactly encyclopedic, but when I noticed these odd phrasings, I got curious and threw on a bunch of Offenbach and Johann Strauss operetta recordings, and I kept an ear out for odd numbered phrasings. I didn’t hear any at all. I suppose Offenbach was just too busy cranking out the tunes to bother being creative with phrase length, and Strauss was too connected to the dance to play games like this.

2 further points and then I’ll get back to the play by play:

  1. We know that Sullivan was very careful not to allow the meter of a text to circumscribe his rhythmic creativity. He often plotted out several possibilities for a given text before choosing one, and at his most inspired, Sullivan found ways of reordering the rhythm of a text to stunning effect. This is almost exclusively found in the solo material, though, not in ensemble work. He might just be branching out here.
  2. It’s just possible that Sullivan was trying to be disorienting in these very specific spots to make a subtle dramatic point; never so jarring as to stop the proceedings, but just odd enough to cause a minor sense of, “what just happened?”. A glance at where these moments appear in the opera almost justifies this hypothesis.

The one scenario that doesn’t hold water is that Sullivan wasn’t paying attention.

The passage beginning “My Lord, of evidence I have no dearth” is bel canto lite for Strephon, containing declamatory phrases, and a legato melody over a Donizetti or Early Verdi accompaniment. A few pages later he’ll get a more dramatic moment when he calls the fairies in. Note that even though Sullivan is very clearly referencing Bel Canto style vocal writing here, Strephon’s range is extremely limited, even for a Baritone.

Make sure your Strephon sings e-vi-dense, not e-vi-dunce.

On page 100 of the vocal score, change the didn’ts to ‘did not’s.

The passage leading up to the Allegretto after J (not a word, you did deceive, you did deceive her) is the first of Sullivan’s brilliant left turns.  The chorus part is rather thrilling, and Sullivan must have liked it very much. He uses it here and then drops it for the remainder of the Finale, but it appears as a transitional passage before Q in the Overture, and in that guise it sounds like a rather fine chunk of the development passage of an early Romantic Era symphony. But having stoked that fire up here in the finale, Sullivan drops us without ceremony (without even a full introduction) into a simple, pretty tune for Phyllis that snidely quotes the prelude to Tristan and Isolde. It makes the head spin a little. In an even more bewildering touch, the vamp is twice as long on the repeat of the tune as it was in the initial hearing, which goes against normal rules of musical construction. Generally one uses longer preliminaries on the first time through, and trims them on the second pass. For all the talk of Gilbert’s topsy-turviness, Sullivan here employs more than a smattering of his own.  

Conducting the end of this passage gave me a little grief. The tune begs to slow down and luxuriate right at “I turn to you”, speeding up after breaking. (at least that’s how I hear it) But having slipped into 6/8. It proves very difficult to bump back into 2 mid-measure for the upbeat to the measure after ‘breaking’. My orchestras were very forgiving there, and somehow things came out alright, but it wasn’t due to my beat pattern, I can assure you.

The Allegro Con Brio is so Offenbachian, we seem transported to La Belle Helene. As originally written, the chorus actually took a turn at her melody, and as I look at it in the Broude edition, I can imagine the sounds the chorus made as they sang it; I feel pretty sure they were not up to the task.

At L, Phyllis can sing a third higher on ‘if you but choose’: F,E,F A,G#A, That is in fact the original intention for the line, I believe. Following the phrases that appear around it, the printed version looks very much like a compromise. Is this evidence of a soprano not quite up to the task in that original production? Maybe so.

In the passage at N, Strephon actually gets some excitement, and an E flat to sing. Be sure he sings D flat and not D natural in the measure before O.

Your fairies have been offstage for a while. Be sure they observe the rests as well this time as they did at the top of the show.

Strephon’s “The Lady of my love…” tune is a great one. The Schirmer score has an error at the top of page 112. The first measure should read “Fairies”, not Chorus. At the first measure of 113, that should read ‘only’ five and twenty.

Sullivan plays 2 more rhythm games here:

  1. In his normal vein, he moves up the second iteration of “Tho’ she is seventeen and he is only five and twenty” by 2 beats. Your chorus will want to learn this detail earlier rather than later in the process.
  2. In his newly absurdist vein, he arrives by ascending scale at the new tonic a full beat early on a sforzando, turning a pickup into an ersatz downbeat on the entrances of Tolloller and Mountararat. Once you clue into it, it’s wild fun.

If you’re looking for a chorus diction warmup, you can do no better than the text for the full chorus that begins on page 114: “To say she is his mother is an utter bit of folly”. Learn the tune very slowly, and insist on a quiet dynamic until Sullivan indicates at the third measure of rehearsal W. It’s a nice effect. You’ll like it.

At the Allegro vivace, come to a full stop after beat 3, and then cue the Lord Chancellor to inaugurate the new section.

This melody is in a minor mode, which is uncharacteristic for Sullivan’s finales, and it’s surely one of his most inspired passages. If you find the right speed and execute it well, it should get an applause break before the Fairy Queen leads us into the ending. The theme has been compared to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Tempest Sonata, and the main motive of Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino.

Iolanthe 8

Go Away Madam

Iolanthe 11.jpg

Beethoven Egmont Overture Op. 84 passage, reduced to piano and transposed for comparison

Iolanthe 9

Beethoven Tempest Sonata Op.31 no. 2, (transposed, meter altered for comparison)

iolanthe 10

Verdi, Forza Del Destino primary motive (transposed, meter altered for comparison)

What they all have in common, aside from genius, is a minor mode, a triple meter, and 4 measures of tonic, followed by 4 measures of dominant.

The Fairy part at rehearsal X is tricky, particularly where the altos split off into their own part. Note also that Sullivan has simplified the line slightly at ‘Brazen Faced’ from the Lord Chancellor’s version of the tune. It becomes more complicated again when the quodlibet comes together after AA (second rehearsal A in the Schirmer score)

My only quibble with this glorious passage is that Sullivan wound up in a key that prevents Phyllis and the Queen from properly contributing to the proceedings. When they enter at AA, they are not in a strong part of their ranges, and only a true piano dynamic lets them be heard in this texture. When Phyllis sings “Should repent…”, Sullivan seems to know that it isn’t flashy enough, since he marks it Fortissimo and adds 3 other Sopranos to the line. This passage is the classic Sullivan exotic harmony moment we often encounter in his First Act Finales. As far as they go, this one is mild, an F natural pointing us in an Aeolian descent, but my gosh is it hair raising when it happens! The Fairy Queen joins the line when it comes in range. The piano reduction at CC is not an accurate version of what is happening in the orchestra, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much. This is more like what’s really going on:

Iolanthe 12

At letter DD, we know from Sullivan’s letter to Cellier that he wanted the 2 beats of the new tempo to equal one bar of the previous section.

Note that ‘respectful speech’ for the Queen and ‘with dames unknown’ are not identical to the previous phrases. Note also that before rehearsal HH, the men come in a full measure later than they do at rehearsal FF. Also, be sure that the last syllable of ‘proprietor’ rhymes with ‘for’.

You may find the brass entrance before JJ is hard to cue. Beat quickly through the recit measures, then pause and address the brass for each entrance in preparation for the answering phrase. When you get to the final one, give a strong ONE downbeat as a pickup. Pros will be fine. Amateur orchestras will probably mess that entrance up the first couple times you run it.

I found it effective to put a crescendo in the word “Oh…” leading to “spare us”, with “us” being quite short.

This is the second moment in the finale where Sullivan leads us to a climax, only to make a quick left turn into a goofy non sequitur. There is a very traditional change to the second time through the chorus part, right after “He’ll command a large majority”:

Iolanthe 13

Here as elsewhere, the word is pronounced Pah-lee-uh-ment.

During the curse section, conduct beats 1 and 2 quickly, then use beat 3 to cue BOTH the last beat of the measure and the men. When you get to the 3 measures before the key change, conduct beats 1,2,and 3 quickly and then use beat 4 as an upbeat to land the next measure.

The Allegro Molto may take you a couple times to get right. Be sure the last syllable of Horror is super short. (as always) I would also alter the Fairy ‘they’ to a quarter note, which is what nearly all recordings do. The eighth note is awkward, hard to cue, and makes the word unintelligible. For ease of singing, allow your altos to drop the octave on “nor hide the” rather than dropping a minor 7th mid-phrase. And no sliding from ‘trem’ to ‘ble’, for goodness sake.

Then follows the third and funniest non sequitur. The crazy tremolando curses, and the diminished and dominant harmony of the 10 measures of response from the chorus is as dramatic and legitimately scary as anything since the shades in the Sorcerer, and after all that buildup, Sullivan drops us right into the bounciest, frothiest closer imaginable, an earworm that won’t quit.

As you start teaching this passage, clear up the difference between the soprano line at “who shall say what evils may result in consequence” and the one at “oppose his views or boldly choose to offer him offence”

Since there are so many mid-word rests, this is also a good place to clear up which side of the rests the consonants go. Ex: hi-deous, ven-geance. Etc.

Before rehearsal NN is a landmine for your chorus: the women sing a B natural on “The” at the beginning of the line ‘the word prestige is French’, then an A natural on the repeated phrase. Your chorus will want to sing an A again on the pickup to rehearsal NN, not a low D. That octave is important.

Note that the sopranos sing the first lyric “who shall say what evils may…” to the second melodic variant formerly applied to “oppose his views”.

The word ‘cannaille’ is here pronounced Kun-eye.

The little “That word is French” and “A Latin word” echo phrases are somewhat hard to hear, especially in the lower parts.

How great is this little detail in the Broude critical edition?

A greek remark

Make sure the countermelody in the basses and tenors at rehearsal SS has rests in the first phrase, and is legato the second.

After the Second World War, all the recordings have ”Away We Go” for sopranos and altos just as the Basses and Tenors at rehearsal UU.

If you’re not competing in the International Festival, let one of your sopranos pop the high B flat 2 before VV. Only one, though.

Cut off the last note on the downbeat, not a half a beat later.

The Broude edition has a couple fishy moments, including an earlier lyric variant around measures 199-202 that isn’t generally done in performance, and which I advise against. At measure 200, the second note in the first and second violins is E flat, not F, I believe. I believe that the traditional pickup to R in the first violins and in other similar places is probably right, even if it isn’t in manuscript. (although the commentary is silent on this point) Whatever rationale Sullivan may have had for leaving the upbeats out would surely have applied to the flute and oboe around 257 as well, and they have the pickup.  In measure 269, I believe the Second Violin should read E flat in the third beat. F is certainly wrong. At the fourth measure of letter D, the Broude critical edition has a D for the Queen in the fourth beat, contradicting the Schirmer score, which has a G there. I suspect the Schirmer is correct.

In the last 3 measures , a rallentando is in order, but my brass players taught me something important here: don’t take the rall. before the last 2 measures, or the sixteenth note pickups will be sloppy.


14. Song: When All Night Long a Chap Remains

Private Willis opens Act 2, and stays onstage for a great deal of the action. His opening ritornello is almost long enough to be considered an Entr’acte. Because Willis’s melody at B is almost l’istesso tempo from the earlier passage, it can be a little odd to switch into 4, but Sullivan knows what he’s doing. It also gives a little bump to the new tempo at rehearsal C.  Singers generally slow WAY down at ‘Fa La La’. It’s almost worth telling the orchestra to put a fermata on the rest.

An interesting side note about this number: When he was in England, Stravinsky often stayed at the Savoy hotel which was built by Richard D’Oyly Carte next door to the Savoy theatre at which Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas premiered and ran in repertory. In fact, in 1921, He thought of the idea of writing his opera Mavra there.

This photograph was taken at the Savoy hotel in 1921


Stravinsky actually attended some G&S there, which he seems to have enjoyed. We know that like a lot of Russians, Stravinsky delighted in puns and word games, so his thoughts on Private Willis’s aria should come as no surprise:

“What immediately fascinated me was the way the music adjusted to the rhyme. (no foreigner can be in England more than five minutes without immediately learning two words- ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’), recognizable even when they are pronounced ‘liberAL’ and ‘conservaTIVE.”

I have to wonder what Stravinsky thought about Sullivan’s phrasing games in Iolanthe, especially since he was then in his neo-classical phase, where he combines smaller orchestral forces and classical tropes with his trademark mind-game-phrase-length-jujitsu.

When All Night Long

15. Chorus: Strephon’s a Member of Parliament

In our production we had a talented dancer fairy dance the opening, and we repeated the first 10 measures to leave more room for her to dance.

The third measure of E, second note, sopranos is wrong in the Schirmer score. It should definitely be a D, as elsewhere.

Note again that ‘parliament’ is pronounced ‘pah-lee-a-meant’, that ‘all’ is pronounced rather like ‘ole’, and that ‘shake in their shoes’ and ‘kettle of fish’ are not identical in pitch.

It became something of an obsession for me to get the women to cut off the word ‘shoes’ and the men to cut off ‘fish’ at the downbeat of the following measure. In fact, I would occasionally shout out “FISH, TWO, OFF!” three or four times in a row during lulls in rehearsal. I don’t know whether the cast found this endearing or not, but in our brushup rehearsal, the men held ‘fish’ as a joke for the remainder of the number. They tell me the look on my face was indescribable. It was, in point of fact, a ‘pretty kettle of fish.’

The little meter change near the end is easy, but choruses have a tendency to rush near the end.

The Broude Edition has an interesting variant at the end of measure 42, in which the last 3 notes of the measure in the violins and violas arpeggiate the opposite direction from the way they do in the vocal score and other editions of the full score. No mention is made in the critical apparatus. I rather like it, but I don’t know if it’s legitimate, since I can’t find it anywhere else.

16. Song and Chorus: When Britain Really Ruled The Waves

When he was asked permission to use the third verse for political purposes, Gilbert apparently said, “I cannot permit the verse from Iolanthe to be used for electioneering purposes. They do not at all express my own view. They are the views of the wrong-headed Donkey who sings them.”

It takes a surprising amount of breath to get through the verses, so you might want to take that più lento marking literally at the chorus entrance, and move the verses at a good fast clip, slowing down for the choral responses.

In the last verse, Mountararat often sings a high E on the final ‘glorious’ with the Chorus. If your Mountararat doesn’t have that E, Tolloller can perhaps oblige.

Horace Lippincott

Horace Mather Lippincott

This number holds a particular significance for the company I conduct. In 1904, the Savoy Company of Philadelphia, then in its 4th year, produced their first production of Iolanthe. This was also the year Gilbert himself wrote an encouraging letter to Savoy president Horace Mather Lippincott, still a treasured relic of the organization. Lippincott wrote the following lyric to be sung to the choral response music at the end of When Britain Really Ruled The Waves: “Let every heart be filled with joy and sing the praise of old Savoy.” Since 1904, we remove our hats and sing it at the close of every rehearsal, and before and after every performance.

17. Soli and Chorus: In Vain To Us You Plead

Note that the indication of who is singing in the Schirmer score has omitted the Peers. They only sing two notes, but they do in fact sing!

In most of the historical recordings, the “Don’t go!”s are spoken. Pay attention to the dynamics though, it’s funnier as an aside! Be sure Celia sings ‘laws’ with a dark vowel, and that the word ‘because’ actually rhymes with it; don’t say ‘becuz’. This goes for the chorus too. All the responses should have short final notes. Maybe even put a staccato on them to be sure.

This piece is beautifully orchestrated on a knife edge. The likety-split obligatto is in the pizzicato violins, (both first and second) which can prove a little tiring, particularly if you mistakenly read Sullivan’s Allegretto indication as Allegro. Pizzicato strings are generally quieter than we imagine they’ll be, because we’re spoiled by souped up studio pizz. we hear on recordings. At the end of the pizz section there’s a quick switch to arco and back again, and your section may decide they want to plan out some staggered rest stops to facilitate this and to avoid fatigue. The festival orchestra in Harrogate did it like it was child’s play. (It’s not like it’s Tchaik 4 after all…) The rest of the orchestra is trying to stay under the pizz sound, the cellos and violas divided up and playing harmonies, and the flutes, clarinets and bassoons working as hard as they can to play sotto voce. Flutes are nearly inaudible anyway in that register, but the clarinets and bassoon may need a reminder. The reduction I rented and abandoned made this problem worse by eliminating one of the violas and one of the cellos, which meant that the Double Bass was commandeered to play 2nd cello, and the second desk of the second violins was pushed into service as first viola. The bass is far too thick in that register, and there were fewer violins on the melody, which made the balance issues worse. Reduction is a tricky business, folks.

At rehearsal L, the Broude Critical Edition leaves out a low A traditionally played on the downbeat (in addition to the printed F#) in the second violin. I’m not sure which is right.

18. Song and Chorus: Oh Foolish Fay

I first want to put something out there that has confused me; perhaps you can all enlighten me: Gilbert clearly intended the verses to be a triple double rhyme throughout:







And so forth.

So should we not sing ‘tendensigh?’ Is this one of those words that was in the midst of a pronunciation shift when Gilbert set them? Is it intended to be humorous? (in which case maybe we should sing it ‘sigh’?) I found no recording of anyone pronouncing it so that it actually rhymed.

Interestingly, the beginning of this tune comes back as the beginning of “If You Go In”.

iolanthe 14

iolanthe 15.jpg

The song is straightforward. Slowing down a little on your way from the verse into the chorus is perfectly acceptable, as is the addition of an E natural the second time through on your way up to the F, but please don’t be too indulgent on either count.

19. Quartet: Though P’rhaps I May Incur Your Blame

After what is surely one of the funniest passages of dialogue in Gilbert and Sullivan, there follows this short, beautiful quartet. Sullivan shrewdly plans the first phrase in a key that shows off the most beautiful part of the tenor’s midrange, modulating en route into the dominant, where the baritone can sing very nearly the same melody down a fourth. The end of Mountararat’s phrase allows Phyllis a third, altered iteration in B flat minor that somehow cadences just as Tolloller’s did, dropping us off in a mini-madrigal. The composer part of me marvels at how well Sullivan writes a cappella passages for mismatched vocal ensembles. Tolloller and Phyllis have melodic material in thirds and sixths, which are so charming that we don’t miss an alto part, Mountararat is playing the pedal point, performing the function of a french horn, as it were, and Willis provides a bassline which would not be out of place in an Anglican hymnal. Willis’s cadenza (which in our production he addressed lovingly to his rifle) is a loony non-sequitur, reminding us that this quartet about friendship is sung by two men who are too much rivals to be friends, a woman who has no feeling whatever for the others, and a man who is not involved at all in the proceedings. Getting OUT of the cadenza is trickier than you might think. A strong downbeat will get Tolloller going, then Willis comes in beat 3, then the other two add their two cents in beat four. Note that Sullivan has asked for a tempo there. I think the key to staying in tune during the a cappella section lies with that insistent A flat Mountararat keeps articulating, and everyone else orienting themselves to him. He needs to stay right in the center of that pitch, and everyone else needs to truly be listening.

The Broude Critical edition has the last 2 notes for of measure 31 a step low for Sergeant Willis!

20. Recitative and Song: Love Unrequited Robs Me Of My Rest

This is the greatest patter song in the English language. If you require further of my potentially inane thoughts about the development of Gilbert and Sullivan’s patter writing, see my commentary on My Name is John Wellington Welles in my guide to The Sorcerer. As in all other aspects of their writing, Gilbert and Sullivan begin by essentially writing parodies of French, Italian and German models, quickly mastering the basic technical necessities, then finding fluency, and finally leaving the models behind. In the case of these patter roles, the initial models are Italian. (Rossini, Donizetti, and the other Buffa composers they in turn inherited their forms from) Gilbert quickly develops a way of building lyrics for these kinds of numbers that is a marked improvement on the content of the historical models, and Sullivan figures out a way to avoid monotony by embedding motivic ideas in the long string of syllables. Here in the second act of Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor uses the tiniest sliver of a connection to the plot (I had a bad dream because she doesn’t love me) to tell a wild shaggy dog story. This freedom gives Gilbert free rein to indulge in ideas that would not at all be out of place in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. For his part, Sullivan is freed from the kind of square formal construction he customarily uses; we hear repeated passages, but each repeated passage is full of new detail, there are few closed cadences, no feeling of, ‘here we go again’, and the singer gets almost no time to breathe; it is a true tour de force. It’s also critically important to note that unlike the Italian models of the bel canto era, Sullivan’s baritones are almost never given anything vocally impressive to do. Figaro et al. must sing fast and rather high for baritones, but Gilbert and Sullivan’s patter baritones are allowed to focus on the articulation and on the comedy. In addition to the formal freedom the authors have allowed themselves, there are in Gilbert’s lyrics some moments of his most inspired lunacy, and at least one moment where Sullivan gives us music of totally unnecessary beauty and surprise, words we frankly do not associate with patter arias.

The recit is inaugurated with the Lord Chancellor’s fugato. Sullivan uses fugue ideas in his concert works in various contexts, but in the operettas, he prefers to use fugue ideas to express the workings of the legal system or a lawyer’s mind. The chorus in Trial By Jury sings a fugato at “He’ll tell us how he came to be a judge” In All Hail, Great Judge! In that context, we’re clearly meant to hear Handel. It’s really interesting to look at Sullivan’s method here in Iolanthe though. In The Law Is The True Embodiment, he was working up the Lord Chancellor’s entrance, so he has time to get most of a fugal exposition out. When he appears in the first act Finale, Sullivan has no plans to be in 6/8, so he cleverly adds an eighth note here and there to the figure to shoehorn it into 4/4. A more self-indulgently learned composer would have taken this third iteration in act 2 to finally pay off the fugue and give it a development. But Sullivan is ever a dramatist, so he gives us the same exposition we began with in Act I, cutting 7 measures from the opening and leaving us on a wonderfully pregnant half cadence. The measures of orchestral commentary in the recitative are mini-developments of the possibilities of this little fugato idea, but they really exist to get us into d minor and to emphasize the descending chromatic interior line over a dominant pedal which is the unifying feature of the end of the work.

iolanthe 16

The opening of the aria proper is simplicity itself, tracing chords as a simple accompaniment elegantly modulates from D minor to F, then pointing itself back toward D minor just before rehearsal F. We then get the first vocal example of the descending chromatic scale Sullivan will make so much of later.

iolanthe 17

At rehearsal G, Sullivan returns to the tune and harmonization of the aria’s opening, but the flutes have given the proceedings a decidedly queasy pall, the descending chromatic line is harmonized rather daringly, and at rehearsal L, Sullivan is in two meters at once, a trick we haven’t heard since How Beautifully Blue The Sky in Pirates. This device in Pirates is depicting the disparity between chorus and principals. Here it seems to be depicting a disordered mind at cross purposes with itself.

At Q, we hear some of the more daring harmonic writing Sullivan ever attempted. The vocal line now ascends chromatically while the bassline descends in 4 note chromatic phrases, each beginning a whole step above the last. At the apex of this ascent, the balloon deflates, the vocal line turns around, and over a pedal G, diminished chords slip half step by half step into 4 measures of G#diminished 7. This unexpectedly drops us into D major, but with the tonic chord in a 6/4 position. With the ever-so-delicate scoring of violins and flutes, it is a moment of totally unnecessary beauty. Over this orchestral dawn is a vocal line suddenly stripped of chromaticism, and now becomes all Ds and As.

And just as he did at the end of Strephon’s a Member of Parliament, Sullivan switches abruptly to 2/4 just to be more emphatic, the Chancellor sings a very un-spooky D major descending scale, and the orchestra rounds the proceedings off with a lickety split codetta.

Note that the new idea at the end of the aria is in a way a kind of extension of the Fugato theme. I don’t call this a development really, Sullivan’s mind doesn’t seem to work that way. The ideas do not fundamentally change, they simply reappear in different contexts.

iolanthe 18.jpg

iolanthe 19

The Broude Critical edition is missing F sharps in the 2nd A clarinet in the second measure of J.

I have to share with you a terrific parody poem I found in a book called “How to be Tremendously Tuned in to Opera” from the late 1980s. It’s Mark Holtby’s summary of the plot of Iolanthe to the meter of the Nightmare song:

When your mother’s a fay,

someone’s certain to say,

on observing her looks and agility:

‘Your assertion that this

is your Ma we dismiss;

such a statement has no credibility.’;

When your filial embrace

is pronounced a disgrace

by the girl you’re expecting to marry you,

And she flirts with the peers,

and together their jeers

are combining to mock you and harry you;

You may feel some relief

from your fury and grief

when the Queen of the Fairies enlightens them,

And, a Member ‘elected’,

at last you’re respected-

nay more, your omnipotence frightens them-

You’ve regained your lost bride,

and the fairies decide

they will after those nobly-born gentry go,

While the Queen of them all

is in amorous thrall

to the private she’s spotted on sentry go.

But you haven’t won through

For though Phyllis loves you,

The Lord Chancellor’s scored,

He will marry his Ward,

And is deaf if not dumb

To the pleas of your mum,

Till she’s forced to unveil

The astonishing tale

That the husband she had

Is this Lord, he’s your Dad!

So he can’t marry Phyl,

But your mother is still

As a mere mortal’s wife,

Under threat to her life,

Till the queen mends the flaw

In this Fairyland Law

And makes weddings that were

Disallowed, de rigeur,

So the peers will explore terra nova.

And with wings on their backs

Make immediate tracks

For the Chamber above-

And this triumph of love

Is the sign that the opera’s over.

The book is chock full of hilarious things like that. Go buy a used copy.

21. Trio: If You Go In, You’re Sure To Win

First things first: I don’t know what happened with the Schirmer vocal score, but maybe it went something like this: Bryceson Treharne: Tolloller’s line should go on top, since he’s the higher voice type. But Mountararat gets the first verse. Hmm. Well, what if we very clearly mark that Mountararat is verse 1, and Tolloller is verse 2? Great! *enter editor* Aha! The top line is He Who Shies. That must be the title!

…or something like that. My point: the title is, If You Go In, You’re Sure to Win.

There is a tendency to relax the tempo at B, which is fine, but pick it back up again when the melody comes back in, or you’re sunk.

What a wonderful tune.

21a. Song: Fold Your Flapping Wings

This number does not appear in the Schirmer Score, but you can download it here. One of the reductions I looked at was not based on the original orchestration, which is available in the Broude edition appendix. It seems to be meant for Strephon’s initial entrance in this scene, but we placed it  after “…fool that I am” and it worked well there. The number didn’t land in the original production, and it was cut. It’s the most politically incendiary, borderline revolutionary text I can think of in G&S, but I don’t think that’s actually what caused it to fall flat. Sullivan doesn’t seem to have a take on the idea musically. The recitative lacks forward momentum, and when the aria proper begins, it’s strangely discursive. The orchestral interjections seem to promise an excitement the aria itself isn’t providing.

All that by way of saying, if you do reinsert it, Strephon has to sell it, with some bite. He can’t wallow in self pity, you have to point the number out at the world’s injustice.

22. Duet: If We’re Weak Enough To Tarry

After an adorable dialogue comes this extremely brief and to-the-point duet, once intended for Act I. It’s actually has more measures in its form in the overture than it does in the actual opera, where it goes by so fast, it almost seems perfunctory. It is traditional for Phyllis to slow down at Rehearsal B, then pick things up again in the 5th measure.

Watch that ‘tire’ is a single syllable, not Ti-yrrr.

23. Recitative and Ballad: My Lord, A Suppliant at Your Feet

This is the heart and soul of the operetta. It’s deadly serious; Sullivan wrote Iolanthe’s aria pretty soon after losing his mother, and people often speculate (I think rightly) that this beautiful and simple melody is infused with his deep loss. Gilbert gave him an oddly metered text, which Sullivan made short work of.

Behold the placement of the word ‘tears’ in the meter. The Master at work.

It is customary to separate the orchestral interjections from the vocals; begin them after the vocal ends on the first page until the bottom line “Hear me tonight”, when you play them as written.

In Sullivan’s letter to Cellier, he instructed that the first verse should be sung with ‘simple pathos’, and the second ‘more passionate’ The exquisitely simple accompaniment in strings only works at several speeds, and I think you choose the speed based on the tone of the singer. To put it delicately, we want to hear a beautiful tone and legato all day, a less exquisite tone we will want to keep moving…

24. Recitative: It May Not Be

You should get applause after Iolanthe’s aria. If your audience is composed of unfeeling rubes, just plow ahead. Sullivan’s instructions about the tempo are very clear and easy to follow.

In my score I wrote ‘ugh’ in my score above the fairies first ‘forbear’, because cueing offstage choruses is usually a mess. Hopefully you can find a way to get a sight line for them somehow.

There’s an extremely odd rhythmic wrinkle in the Aiaiah! parts: The first time through at rehearsal D, we’re in 2. At F, and at H, we’re in 6. The figure is extremely similar, but not rhythmically or lyrically the same. The first time it’s ‘willaloo!’. The other times it’s ‘whillahalla, willaloo” Do have a careful look at the rhythms. They’re not the same. Spend some time teaching the two versions. Oddly, it all works out in the wash as soon as the fairies block the thing.

Keep the Queen’s Andante moving, and don’t let things get indulgent at G.  The Ds in the final right hand chord are D sharps. The chorus only sings an octave though. (I had some sopranos trying to add other notes there)

You Are a Brave Fellow

25. Finale: Soon as we May, Off and Away

This reprise of If You Go In, You’re Sure To Win is supposed to be a touch faster than the original. ‘Peris’ rhymes with ‘series’ The pronunciation that confused me was ‘beaux’. The French pronunciation is correct; ‘bow’, even though one historical recording sings what sounds like ‘bows’, and there are English pronunciation guides I found that list beaux in English with a z sound at the end, because English sometimes needs the Z sound to indicate plural. I think the non-z way is the best way.

You can add a high B at the fermata for one soprano, unless you’re at the International Festival…

Your Orchestra:

With modern musicals I sometimes counsel music directors not to hire all the players, but with G&S, you’re dealing with a true orchestral color, so I think it best to hire as much of the orchestra as you can afford with good players. The original orchestrations are available from Tams, but I can’t imagine why you’d use that when there are available here at a reasonable price or here for free. Reductions can be found here, or here or here for example. (incidentally I think we can now stop reducing this one, fellas)

A reduction of this particular score is not ideal for two reasons: The exquisite Tchaikovsky style flute writing in the overture is already commandeering a clarinet to play third flute. Reducing it further means you either have two clarinets joining your flute or a flute, oboe, and clarinet, which is simply not quite as magical. Further, the March of the Peers is weak sauce when you only have single brass and some woodwinds trying to sound like a full brass band.

I had a rather unfortunate experience renting a reduction that was riddled with hundreds of errors. Instrumental lines were missing completely, measures were inexplicably omitted, melodic lines were missing their final pitches, and in the full score, vocal lines were sometimes gone or in the wrong staff. Fold Your Flapping Wings was included, but the orchestration bore no resemblance to Sullivan’s original, and was presented without comment. I spent a great deal of time locating and correcting the errors in the parts, but we ultimately decided the better solution was to find another edition rather at the last moment. The Richard Balcombe reduction suited our purposes very well. The other edition had tried to solve the reduction problem by moving the missing brass into the clarinets and bassoon and using the trombone as second horn and occasional second trumpet. Balcombe’s edition was far more artful in the use of the the horn to augment some of the missing woodwind passages, and using the oboe as a second trumpet occasionally. While preserving the character of the original instrumentation where possible, Balcombe is also very shrewd in subtly revoicing chords where necessary to preserve the balance among the sections.

I want to also add that it is possible in most G&S to get away with 2 or 3 first violins, 2 seconds, 2 violas, a single cello and a double bass. But in Iolanthe, there are a few places where two cellos is really quite essential, the most prominent being at the Allegro non Troppo of No. 11 My Lords It May Not Be, where full chords below the violins low G are necessary, and there are not enough other instruments capable of playing down there to fill out the critically important introductory passage.

Better that you do G&S than that you ignore it, but do try and do it properly if at all possible, with Sullivan’s magnificent orchestration in full color! Have fun with your production of Iolanthe! I will be including more G&S as I music direct them! Yeomen appears to be next.



Godspell (original version): A Rough Guide for the M.D.

June 1, 2018
Villanova Godspell

The lobby card from the production I music directed at Villanova, beautifully directed by Matt Pfeiffer

Before You Start:

  1. Listen to the 1993 Godspell Recording. The recording has its drawbacks, including a pretty underpowered Jesus, but unlike the OBC it is a complete recording. Listen to the Original Broadway Cast recording, which will give you some sense of the original cast, whose performances clearly shaped the formation of the piece. (and are perhaps not to be emulated)
  2. Read the Gospel of Matthew. Read the Chapter Religious Experience as Musical in Joseph Swain’s book The Broadway Musical. Read Harvey Cox’s The Feast of Fools
  3. There is a pretty comprehensive blog called The Godspell Experience that has a lot of info about the show, and this Schwartz themed page is full of information. Schwartz’s own website has a good FAQ and this pdf for directors and music directors is also very exhaustive. You can watch some interesting interviews from the time of the filming of the movie in 1973. Start around 2:53 for John Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz. Scott Miller has an excellent essay here.
  4. Your production team will need to decide which version of Godspell you want to do. My preference is the original version, even though the 2001 version has some spectacular arrangements by Alex Lacamoire, who is one of our living treasures. This is a question that relates back to your production’s basic concept of the show. The 2001 version attempts to update many of the cultural references in the piece, with varying levels of success. But in 2018, (and later, as you may be reading this) some things that were current in 2001 are now themselves almost 2 decades old. The insertion of Trump for example, into the prologue reads wildly differently today. Furthermore, the revival arrangements are pretty slick, and have traded the folky simplicity of the original version for a much more showbiz flavor. Do read both scripts and make the decision together as a production team. And then I would encourage you not to mix and match, that is; once you’ve made your decision, don’t listen to any of the other versions until your show closes.

Some Background:

The story of the inception of Godspell has been told many other places, so I don’t feel a need to relay yet another version of those events. The Wikipedia article will give you the bare essentials well.

Because this blog is aimed at Music Directors, I will focus my attention on Schwartz’s portion of the work. He finished his score in 5 weeks, which is astonishingly fast, and when a piece is written that quickly, we are by necessity hearing the composer at his least guarded or filtered. There are many qualities about Godspell that will follow Schwartz through his long career, and we can see interesting things that set him apart from his contemporaries and from his followers. Schwartz is not shy in speaking about his process and his influences, so there is a deep well to pull from in looking at this curious work. In fact, since his death in 1985 John Michael Tebelak’s original conception has been relegated to something of a foot-note, because Schwartz has so fully curated the public memory of the creation of the piece. One wonders whether Tebelak would have fully agreed with Schwartz’s framing of the work as a piece about community in the notes which accompany the script today. Tebelak seems to have been after a more explicitly spiritual aim in his original concept than Schwartz gives the piece credit for.

But that is perhaps one of the things Godspell has going for it. The biblical material is odd and compelling in its original form. Tebelak felt a sense of joy at engaging with the material, and wondered why it felt sterile in Church. His attempts to pull that joy into a theatrical work rooted in clowning brought the show a good deal of the way toward ‘clearing the cobwebs’ from the liturgical text. Schwartz brought a totally different perspective to the work, since he came to the piece never having engaged with this biblical material before. Somewhere in the cross-purposes of the Gospel story, Tebelak’s clowning with it, and Schwartz’s attempts to wrestle it into a form that employed some traditional musical theatre tools, a wonderful hybrid form emerges that cannot be satisfactorily described entirely in the language of any one of its collaborators alone.  In some way it is a religious experience put on the stage, a prospect which bears great potential for disaster as anyone who has attended religious drama can attest. Serious religious plays are often humorless and lacking in irony, speaking meaningfully to the converted, but falling flat on the ears of those who aren’t already believers. The heroes aren’t often well drawn, the villains lack depth, and the conclusions can be seen a mile away. But Godspell is also an improvisatory clowning experience. Such affairs are potentially amusing but often formless and lacking direction. The beats in clowning are small and circumscribed. Is it even possible to tell a dark and serious story? To quote Ethan Mordden’s typically dismissive take:

Godspell was the opposite of Jesus Christ Superstar in all respects. Small. Reverent. Idiotic. Jesus wears a Superman T-shirt, the girls look like Raggedy Ann and the boys look like Stephen Schwartz. It’s the joyous world of ‘Hey, we’re gentle clowns doing our comic yet so very touching little show!’ Once, American girls dreamed of growing up to be Ziegfeld stars, or later, Julie Andrews. Now they dream of growing up to be Godspell’s Day by Day clown.”

Or to let Joseph Swain say it more gently:

Alas for You is rhythmically and harmonically imaginative, and appropriate for its rather harsh text, but can such passion come from a clown?”

It’s difficult to draw anything with a clowning form that keeps interest and tells a serious story over a long period of time.

Finally, Godspell is in some ways a traditional musical, and traditional musicals run the risk of being predictable and empty. Each of these 3 qualities (religious drama, clowning, and traditional musical theatre) avoids common pitfalls because the other 2 qualities work to balance them. As we examine Schwartz’s contribution to the project, we will see that he counterbalances the religious tone of the work by essentially avoiding traditional religious musical gestures, substituting ideas from the more sophisticated singer/songwriters who were working at that time. The older and more creaky the religious text he’s given, the more smart-folky Schwartz runs with it, so audiences leave Godspell in the curious position of singing catchy 70s hippy pop to archaic English texts, without even being aware of it.

“…to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly Day by Day…”

Does it occur to anyone how high flown that lyric is? Not to most people; Schwartz has completely disarmed them with his compelling and contemporary pop musical language.

Schwartz also gives direction to the clowning by engaging in some strong characterization, using the tools of traditional musical theatre. The Prologue tells a compelling narrative and paints a world of philosophical chaos into which the figure of Christ comes to bring order and Joy. He accomplishes this with careful musical portrayal of characters, and deftly portrays chaos in a way that only a shrewd musical craftsman could manage. All For The Best gives characterization and an opposing viewpoint to the principal characters, and Alas For You gives Jesus his strongest musical statement, bringing a much needed point of gravity to the proceedings exactly where the show needs it. In these places, Schwartz uses traditional musical storytelling devices to ground the clowning in a narrative structure. These areas are where I think I can bring the most insight, and I’ll leave it to others to explore some of the other important elements that ground the work.

One further area of potential interest for Musical Theatre mavens revolves around the way Musical Theatre comes to terms with and assimilates popular styles. The most recent style Broadway has successfully assimilated is Hip Hop, so I’ll lay out my concept in that more recent trajectory, then superimpose it into the 1950s-1970s for comparison. (neither is meant to be comprehensive)

1970s Roots of Hip Hop are formulated, hip hop culture develops

1980s Hip Hop becomes diversified, develops wide vocabulary and public awareness

1987 Established Musical Theatre Composer Stephen Sondheim uses a passage of rap (awkwardly) in Into The Woods

1990s Hip Hop is a mainstream popular art form

1995 Bring In Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk is an attempt to approach musical theatre from the other angle, the Revue form allowing it to bring more convincing elements of Hip Hop into the theatre, but not attempting a broad synthesis.

1996 Jonathan Larson uses rap in Rent.

2008 Rap is used in a non-embarrassing way throughout In the Heights

2015 Lin Manuel Miranda is a native to both Hip Hop form (in many varieties) and Musical Theatre Form and finds a way to effortlessly synthesize both genres convincingly in Hamilton, because he understands the requirements of both forms and has learned from the earlier missteps of others


Now compare a very limited trajectory of Rock into Musical Theatre

1940s Roots of Rock and Roll are laid in Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Jump Jazz, Race Records, etc.

1950s Rise of Rockabilly, Popularity of Elvis

1957 The final edition of the Ziegfeld follies in 1957 contains a spoof of a rock number

1960 Traditional Musical Theatre team Strouse and Adams write Bye Bye Birdie, which uses a Rock persona in a musical. (but the show doesn’t really rock convincingly)

1960s Rock becomes diversified, develops wide vocabulary and public awareness, becomes a mainstream art form.

1967 Hair is a groundbreaking show that approaches musical theatre from the other angle, the Revue form allowing it to bring convincing elements of Rock into a Musical Theatre framework, but not attempting a broad synthesis.

1970 Jesus Christ Superstar basically begins as a rock album, becoming a musical only later.

1971, Stephen Schwartz is a native to both Folk-Rock (in many varieties) and Musical Theatre Form and manages to combine functional versions of both convincingly in Godspell because he understands the requirements of both forms and has learned from the earlier missteps of others.


Similar things happen with the fusion of Jazz and Rock, and the Americanization of the Musical Theatre by including ideas from Black Music in the first place.

Viewed from this framework, Schwartz can be seen as one of the trailblazing writers who finally manages to fulfill the storytelling requirements of Musical Theatre using a musical language derived from Rock.

Joseph Swain says that “Godspell is not really a ‘rock musical’… for its diversity of popular styles is far too broad for that label to do it justice.”

But I think that’s precisely the point. Schwartz understands such a diverse variety of popular styles that the term Rock Musical is not simply a musical with a lot of snare on two and four in it, but a musical that does its job using the tools of many different kinds of rock music. When Leonard Bernstein was asked if shows like Godspell were an indication that rock and roll would be taking over more and more of the theatre, he answered,

“If you can explain what rock and roll music is, I can answer your question”
In describing his process, Schwartz clearly values both the old Musical Theatre tropes and the newest sounds from Folk Rockers. I’ll try and draw some of those influences clearly below. Joseph Swain notes that Godspell is an unusual success, in that the authors did not have years of experience writing shows. But in the case of Schwartz, you had someone with a pretty deep knowledge of how show music works, even very early in his career.

My Biases:

I feel like I need to tell my readers here that I am a practicing Christian, and that I am a huge fan of the person and teachings of Jesus. That probably colors my thoughts on this musical, and if you want a kind of dispassionate take, there might be another blog somewhere that will do that better. I am a casual Stephen Schwartz admirer, but not a fanatical one, and I am not by nature delighted by rock musicals. If you feel as I do about these matters, we will find many things to agree upon here! If you are of a different mind than I am, I do hope you’ll still find my observations interesting even after correcting for my point of view.

As You’re Casting:

In Joseph Swain’s chapter on Godspell, he remarks of the characters: “…it is important to Godspell that the characters other than Jesus are drawn with much more anonymity than is usual in a musical play. They do not have stage names; rather, they carry their own real names, but only first names, so as not to specify their characters too much. They could be anybody. But each gets his own solo music, his own response to conversion. Listeners recalling the play remember the individuals not by who they are, but by what they have sung.”

In that spirit, I would suggest you choose the actors primarily by the songs they sing, and be open to moving speaking lines around among the non-Jesus/Judas troupe as needed. They do not have much in the way of individual throughlines or character superobjectives. They do need to be able to sell their individual songs, though.

Prologue Players:

I go over these parts individually. If you’re in a production that is trying to expand the cast, this would be a good place to do it.

John The Baptist/Judas:

Again, if you were looking to expand your casting to include more people, you could easily split this to 2 actors. Both characters need to be strong, attention grabbing people; John The Baptist starts the whole series of events with Prepare Ye, and the show doesn’t make very explicit the relationship between Jesus and Judas, who is as close as the show comes to an antagonist. So think of your John the Baptist as needing to sing the top of Prepare Ye, to be able to sell the vaudeville of All For the Best as Judas, and being able to have the gravity as an actor to convincingly play the ending.


Garber Godspell

Your Jesus grounds the show. Jesus doesn’t sing all that much, and you can transpose some numbers to find the right range for a few different types of people to play the part. Whoever you choose, the Jesus must be able to hold the stage for the entire show, to be charismatic, warm, charming, funny, and wise, the ear and timing to sing Alas for You, and it helps if there’s a little traditional showbiz skill for All For The Best. If you have this actor, you have a show! If not, no amount of casting elsewhere can save you.

After auditions, our creative staff determined that casting a female Jesus was the very best use of the actors we had. We also felt casting a female John the Baptist/Judas made the most sense. I imagine there will be some out there whose feathers will be ruffled by such a casting choice, but I found it incredibly revelatory, even though I myself think there are viable theological arguments to be made for the necessity of Jesus being gendered as male in the Biblical narrative. As our faculty New Testament Scholar noted on Speaker’s Night, the Bible presents Jesus in ways that challenged 1st century ideas about gender, and the presentation of Jesus using a female actor gives the audience a chance to reflect on the qualities of God that transcend gendered expression. The director and I agreed that the presentation of a female Jesus and Judas would have been much more problematic in a piece like Jesus Christ Superstar, which presents a more traditional narrative structure. But in Godspell, parable after parable are presented using gendered names and pronouns, and female actors often play men in those parables without any explanation or even acknowledgement. We simply see all actors as actors, and all characters as universal or non-gender specific. This is part of the way the play works, a kind of dramatic manifestation of Galatians 3:28: In Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile, Slave or Free, Male or Female.  For my part, one of the beautiful things about the process was the removal of the part of my thought process where I asked myself whether this Jesus matched my mental picture of Him. A female Jesus allowed me to relax about that, to get over my hangups about the physicality or portrayal of the historical Jesus, and to simply allow the parables and the message to reach me on their own terms. This made the process a profoundly spiritual one for me, and I think I would not have been able to access that with a traditional Jesus casting. You will have to determine for yourself what suits your production, but I can vouch for the fact that it worked very well in ours, and that it is possible to present a respectful and beautiful representation of a female Jesus that honors the Biblical text as presented in the book of the musical.


Robin is the first in the tribe to express her belief, and that makes her a kind of unnamed Peter in the group. Cast the person who can best and most sincerely sing Day by Day


Gilmer’s vocal part is probably the least taxing vocal track of the show. Cast the person who can sing Learn Your Lessons Well. You can rewrite this moment, but you might want to check to see that your actress can get into measure 67 of By My Side and hold that minor second.


Joanne’s O Bless The Lord, My Soul has the most rocking female singing of the evening.  


Lamar’s simple All Good Gifts requires a folk singer with a high baritone or tenor range. The original Lamar has a unique voice which your actor should probably not try to emulate.


Peggy sings By My Side, which is not terribly difficult, but you should, of course, have an actress who can match pitch. As I mentioned earlier for Gilmer, you might want to check to see that your actress can get into measure 67 of By My Side and hold that minor second. Peggy and Jeffrey sing Light Of The World, but in a pinch you could split that song up among the rest of the cast.


Jeffrey sings Light of the World, but again, you could give that song to the rest of the cast easily. We Beseech Thee is another matter. As the show is written, the role is best cast with a strong Gospel/R&B singer. You could divvy the number up among the other actors effectively as well, if you find yourself running low on strong male singers.


Traditionally this role is given to the ‘sexy’ actress, because of Turn Back O Man. As written, her number is very low, but it can be transposed effectively.


An enterprising creative team can easily expand or contract the show to fit the abilities of your pool of actors.

A Few Things to Note About the Music Director’s Materials:

There are a number of places in the re-engraved parts that I feel confident are errors. I don’t have access to the original books, but I’ll try and catch the errors I think I’ve found, and perhaps an astute reader will correct me if I’m wrong here and there.

It seems as though some of the things in the score are transcriptions of things arrived at by ear in rehearsal. For me, the aesthetic of the show musically shouldn’t be too studio-crisp, but should have a little looseness around it. As bewildering as the original cast recording is in terms of pitch and ensemble, it does have a kind of campfire kumbaya truth about it that would be sorely missing if you cleaned and polished every inch of it. Additionally, the original cast brought very personal vocal styles to the table, and as an MD, I think it’s part of the job to try and find places for your actors to embody these songs in personal ways that draw on what makes them unique.

Trouble Spots and Advice:

No. 1 Prologue

When Stephen Schwartz was brought on to the project, the opening was a long scene with dialogue pulled from the work of famous philosophers. This was one of the places where Schwartz suggested a brand new musical number. He has spoken about it numerous times, saying of the scene it replaced: “It was reeeally long! That thing went on forever.” Many people come to the show having no familiarity with the number, since it doesn’t appear on the original cast recording or in the filmed version. (although it does appear on the 1997 recording supervised by Schwartz) If you poke around the internet, you’ll find exasperating threads where people talk about whether the number was in the original production or not, (it was) and whether it needs to be there. (it does)

The Prologue is a complicated number, and by design it doesn’t have the same flavor as the rest of the show, but it’s very important, and even if Schwartz hadn’t very explicitly stated that he doesn’t want the number cut, it would be a mistake to remove it from the show. As Schwartz says,

“within the context of the show, the Prologue is vital. Because Godspell is essentially about the formation of a community, it is necessary to see what the individuals are like when there is no community — how lost they are and how easily they descend into violence and chaos.”

Elsewhere, Schwartz says, “…we deliberately did a number that was different from the rest of the show. We thought of it as the black-and-white section of The Wizard of Oz. We wanted to set up a world and a sound that we could break out of, so when the drums came in and the colored lights and the colored costumes came out, there was a freshness and a relief without going to another place”

So the Prologue is really the world before the transformational event happens. We encounter a group of people who present wildly disparate views of the universe, and although the ideas seem intriguing, we are not meant to find them compelling. Schwartz takes great pains to make the philosophers’ musical material match their content, and the bedlam resulting from the combined versions of their melodies is meant to be impressive and annoying simultaneously.

At each place where Schwartz introduced a brand new idea to the original conception of the work, we find him working ambitiously in complicated forms. (more on that later) This one is a quodlibet; a musical form in which many melodies are presented separately and later combined. The form is almost 500 years old, and is common in Gilbert and Sullivan, but we know it in Musical Theatre principally because of Irving Berlin. Schwartz makes it clear that the Quodlibet in All For The Best is inspired by Berlin’s work. The melodies in the Prologue sit on top of a very contemporary and somewhat unusual progression:

E     F#/E   D#m7 G#

C#     Eb/Db Cm7     F

G     Gmaj7 Cmaj7     F

E   F#E Am7 B7/E      E

The first phrase starts in E, then the F#/E chord seems to be pointing us toward B. But then D#m7 and G# act as a ii/V heading toward C#. That whole unusual idea then repeats a minor third lower, and we hear those as a pair, two A sections in two keys. The third phrase acts as a B section, G seems like a tonal center, headed toward the IV chord of Cmaj7, then, abruptly, an F, which either feels like bVII in the key of G or a continuation of a circle of 4ths progression. But when we drop back to E for the last phrase, we come to hear that F chord as some kind of Phrygian idea, dropping us from bii back to I, only to encounter that same raised 4th scale degree, then in quick succession, minor iv chord, followed by a conventional V-I cadence. (if you can follow all that, you get a gold star)

The progression feels ‘normal’ very quickly as you work on it, but I think it’s worth noting that it’s quirky and odd. Schwartz comes back to this Phrygian #4 a number of times in the piece, and the minor iv chord is also a standby in the score. There are strong directionally oriented harmonies, like ii-V-I cadences, but they contradict what came just before them, and the three tonal centers, E, C#, and G are worlds away from each other. We are meant to be disoriented here, and this repeated oddball progression gives the listener the sense that yes, these philosophers make sense, but this is not a narrative we care for very much, because it is essentially ungrounded harmonically. Prepare Ye will thus be a very nice change, and that’s the effect the authors were going for! You can’t cut it.

I’ll combine my practical advice with my overview here:

Introduction: (measures a-d)

Work for even sixteenths in the left hand, try to capture the crescendo-decrescendo idea. The number isn’t all that difficult, but you have no help from the pit: they don’t come in until song No. 3. (and when they do come in, the audience is meant to feel that something important has changed) The #4 scale degree (A#) will come back so many times, it’s clearly a motif. I have a suspicion in the back of my mind that the falling third idea is literally a motive. When I run across it, I’ll label it doorbell motive, so we can spot it.


socratesThe text is adapted from Plato’s Apology of Socrates, at which Socrates defends himself against charges of corrupting youth.  The melody here opens with the doorbell motive, and for the most part it traces the root to third of each chord, sometimes playing in the area from the 3rd to the 5th. The entire passage works within the range of an augmented 5th, and so Socrates can be sung by anyone in your cast who can match pitch. In the 1997 Godspell recording, which was supervised by Schwartz, it sure sounds like he plays a D natural in the right hand on beat three of measure 15, making that Bm7/E. But maybe I’m hearing things.


Thomas Aquinas:

acquinasI believe this text is pulled from Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. Aquinas is a fitting post-Socratic thinker, since he values the Greek philosophical tradition, but he’s also a provocative person to place at the top of the show as an example of the pre-Christian world, since he is one of the greatest Christian philosophers. The relative simplicity of Socrates’s melody is gone, and in its place are a patter section (which proves rather difficult), and an expansive passage tracing up and down the chords of the progression. Use the singer in your cast who can manage the patter; that’s the hardest part. Spend extra time teaching the last phrase as well, the descending passage is tricky.


Martin Luther:

lutherLuther’s text comes from his Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed. Again, by placing Luther in the pre-Christ portion of the piece, the show is signalling to the audience that both Catholic and Protestant dogma will not be a part of the show’s discussion. Luther’s music is accompanied by a kind of a polka, and his melody is bombastic, as befitting the firebrand of the German Reformation. The ending should get you your first laugh of the night. (pronouncing it ‘ze cherman vay’ is an obvious joke) If you don’t get a laugh here, you’re in for a long night. It’s the rangiest melody of the lot, so you should give it to a singer with a strong voice and an engaging stage presence.

Da Vinci/Gibbon:

da vinci.jpgThe DaVinci portion appears to come from his notebooks,although very loosely, and the Gibbon nagibbonturally comes from his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon’s argument is pretty coherent, DaVinci’s part of the text seems to be a kind of basic humanist perspective. The ranges are moderate, so you can choose an ordinary singer for the part, but levitable can be something of a tongue twister. The C# in the left hand in measure 57 is clearly meant to be an E.


nietszcheWhat Is Noble is title of the 9th chapter of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. I don’t think the words really say much about Nietzsche’s philosophy, but the line will get a laugh, especially if the singer needs to take a breath in the middle of the line somewhere.



Jean Paul Sartre:

sartre.jpgSartre is, among other things, the brain behind Atheistic Existentialism. His words here are taken from his 1947 L’existentialisme est un humanisme, variously translated as Existentialism and Human Emotions, or Existentialism is a Humanism. The published version has nearly this exact wording; the online free version is translated differently.



Buckminster Fuller

buckminster fullerHe was, at the time of the piece’s writing, the contemporary thinker of this batch. In fact, the book from which his lyric comes, I Seem To Be A Verb was written in 1970, although there is a slight misquote. The score reads, “patterns, of processes”, the 1997 cast recording sings “patterns and processes”, but Fuller’s original phrase is “patterns or processes” The fourth eighth note in measure 87 is clearly wrong. The F should be a G. In the recording Schwartz supervised, the eighth note in beat 3 is played as an Eb and a Bb, I think, not a G. Note that “patterns, of processes” has slightly different pitches in each iteration. The ’97 recording has a variant low E for the last 2 notes of 97. He repeats this in the Babble section as well.

No. 2 Tower of Babble

This is demarcated as show number 2, but it’s really part 2 of the Prologue, as the measure numbering makes clear. In the 1997 recording, Schwartz takes 109 really fast, which is great, but makes the figure in 120 impossible. The pianist leaves it out. The ragtime right hand pattern against the left hand waltz is somehow very Bernsteinian. After you’ve gotten it into your hands, do your best to get out of your head and let it play.

Each of the singers is singing the same thing they sang before, although Nietzsche’s melody is twice as long, and Schwartz seems to think the ‘t’ in ‘what’ is audible if you really punch it. You might want to time the whole business to the fastest speed Thomas Aquinas can manage. At measure 145, there will be a danger of going out of sync, a danger you can avoid by having the cast walking on the beat, or assigning a cast member to pound on a drum (or the set) in time. Certainly, the piano punctuations are places to realign.

You’ll have to decide what the ending means. The last 2 measures, F# and D# are a return to the opening piano phrase. (the doorbell motive) As written, those two notes blunt the effect of the shofar cutting through the exasperated last note of the Tower of Babble section. Consider getting rid of those last two notes and interrupting measure 166 with the shofar.

No. 3 Prepare Ye

The shofar is harder to play than you might imagine. If you’ve been to services on the High Holy Days, you can attest to the fact that there are people who do it well, and people who can’t seem to play it at all. In an ideal world, John the Baptist physically plays the note, but in reality, a sound cue will be far more reliable and easier to cue musically. This is normally staged with John the Baptist entering from somewhere in the theatre. If you pre-record the sound, you should make sure the sound is coming from the direction your John The Baptist is coming from, or the effect will be lost.

If you have not made the mistake of cutting the Prologue, the musical materials of this ‘true’ opening number will be a welcome relief, with their simplicity and sense of direction. The melody is 2 measure repeated phrase, and the phrases are identical except for the final 2 notes. The bass line is even simpler, tracing only the ascending first five notes of the scale, ending once on the dominant and once on the tonic. The score isn’t marked, but at measure 9, the keyboard is clearly supposed to be on a gospel organ patch, with a good fake Leslie style vibrato.

Measure 16 is marked Faster, but I’d make it Much Faster. I can picture in my head a version in which this new section is exactly twice as fast as the opening. If your singers are good at riffing, you can give them free reign after the first time through to go places with it. Perhaps you can select the actors you want to dress things up, or another idea would be to let people embellish the parts after each of them are baptized, one at a time.The second ending is a little tricky to coordinate with the band; measure 36 is twice as slow, the sixteenth note rhythm in the guitar culminates in a fermata, and when you get out of that, your riffiest female cast member has one last riff. Have a look at the individual band parts, and then make a plan of attack so that you as the MD know how you’d like that to go, and how to convey that to your band.

No. 4 Save The People

It is tricky to establish a great tempo up top in this number. You might want to have a conversation with your director before you get too far in, just to see what kind of vibe you’re going for. The piano figure at the beginning is just a placeholder for fingerpicked guitar, which may or may not play what you’re playing. Keep that in mind. If you strum this pattern with hammer-ons, it has a very different feel than the kind of picked groove laid out in the Piano Vocal. Schwartz connects this guitar groove with a song he wrote for the play Butterflies Are Free. (his Broadway debut as a composer,later made into a film with Goldie Hawn) I can’t imagine Save The People this slow, but I do see the family resemblance.

Measure 53 should be significantly faster. For our production, we landed on a tempo which was basically as-fast-as-I-could play-it, which was easy to remember when I got it into my head. Measure 87 needs a tempo marking. It’s significantly slower than the previous passage, but it isn’t one long ritard. We are in a new, more dramatic tempo. Measure 95 needs an a tempo mark. We’re right back at the old speed.

The drums drop out in the orchestration in measures 113 and 114, which has to be an error. It just doesn’t make sense. In the 1997 version, there’s a 2 measure fill. Also in the ’97 version, the guitarist replaces 135-136 with a mellower flourish.

We transposed this number for our female Jesus into Bb. It required the choral parts at the end to be revoiced, but not drastically, just a basic inversion. It was actually a very interesting discussion. In a female head voice, the song has a touching vulnerability. In chest voice, it seems more assertive. We went with more assertive.

No. 5 Day By Day

FUN FACT: This is apparently the last showtune to chart as performed by the original cast.

Paul Laird’s book The Musical Theater of Steven Schwartz: From Godspell to Wicked and Beyond  lists What The World Needs Now (1968) and Society’s Child (1967) as songs that inspired Schwartz. They lyric is attributed to St. Richard of Chichester in the 1200s. What the World Needs Now also has a shuffly midtempo waltz feel, Society’s Child is a harder influence to hear until you get to the last third of Day By Day. where the harmonic world is somewhat similar, hypnotically back and forth from ii to V.  But as Laird points out, that progression is pretty common in pop music of the late ’60s. I hear a lot of Carole King in this song, and her greatest hits come right in this time period. I like Joseph Swain’s observation that the repeated seventh chords make each tonal center “just credible without the harmonic commitment of a cadence” He compares this quality to impressionism, and notes that it contributes to the feeling that the song is a centering prayer or mantra.

The rhythm of Robin’s melody in measure 1 is not how the melody is normally sung, and I think the singer should keep the feel pretty free, although the melodic contour should have some integrity, since this is the first time we’re hearing it.

When you get to measure 25, a second set of Ahs comes in, which looks like it’s marked for 6 other girls. You have some flexibility here, it sounds good that way. But I’m pretty sure it should be marked with the 8vb treble clef, or marked for the tenors and basses. In fact, all the vocals near the end are flexible, so you can give singers whichever parts suit their ranges. The trick will be to remember how many times you repeat before the thing stops. You want a nice crisp downbeat on 105, so Robin’s last line comes out clearly.

The last note in the chorus has a tritone leap, which I eliminated. The major 7 in the chord is covered in the band very clearly, there’s no need to introduce it in the chorus and run the risk of being out of tune. (unless you have some people with excellent ears, in which case, have at it)

In measure 109, the Chord is supposed to be Cmaj7, obviously. Correct it in the guitar book as well. Then in measure 110, the left hand should have an F, not a C. I also think that awkward eighth note C against the vocal D in both hands at the end of 110 is ill advised. Just leave it out. The band doesn’t have the button at the end, I added the Bass and a kick, just to make it sound like we actually intended the button.

No. 6 Learn Your Lessons Well

This number was added because Schwartz felt too much time had gone by without a song. It has a half-a-number sort of feel to it, which actually serves it well. The inspiration comes out of the previous scene.

Coming after such strong folk-rock material, this music sounds like a throwback to more traditional musical theatre, and of course it does deliberately play in old-timey musical clichés, but it must also be noted that this kind of number is also very common both in Musical Theatre in the time, but also in singer-songwriter style rock albums. King Herod’s Song has a similar vibe. And if you picture Randy Newman singing this song, you’ll hear that this is not a pastiche as much as an idealized showbiz style that is also a part of 70s culture. This soft-shoe kind of writing particularly appealed to Bob Fosse, who uses this facet of Schwartz’s toolbox to great effect in Pippin.

No. 7 O Bless The Lord, My Soul

Bless The Lord

Kara Krichman and company in Villanova’s production of Godspell (photo by Paola Nogueras)

Schwartz’s website and tempo markings in some editions makes the Laura Nyro connection clear for this song, particularly “Save The Country”

The text is adapted from Scottish Hymnodist James Montgomery’s 1819 versification of Psalm 103.

I want to pick up and develop a theme Joseph Swain points out in the clever way Schwartz has dealt with modality here. The verses are in A minor and the choruses in A major, but at measure 81, as the tempo quickens, he alternates between the major and minor modes every 2 measures, finally truncating it to A major in one measure, A minor in the next at 101 before the coda. The audience feels this harmonic quickening viscerally, and when Joanne sings her C natural over the accompaniment’s C# in 114 and 115, it acts not only as a blue note, but as a reconciliation of the two modalities.

The word ‘abate‘ is very unusual, and most singers don’t really land the final ‘t’, which leaves the audience thinking ‘ready to obey‘, since that’s the sentence that makes most sense grammatically. (although not particularly in the context) I recommend putting that ‘t’ very strongly on beat 3 of measure 40.

If you’re leading from the piano, I would suggest having the drummer drop out from 81-84 so you can establish the new tempo, which really comes out of nowhere. At 85, most people miss the G#, and at 87, they leave out the A. Try and get that there and where the same figure recurs. At 89, the second staff is a women’s part, and the Group 2 on the following page is a male part. There is riffing to be done near the end if your singer is equipped in that way.

No. 8 All For The Best

All For The Best

Mina Kawahara as Jesus in Villanova’s production (photo by Paola Nogueras)

Schwartz says in this video “There were a couple of things, most specifically All For The Best, that I said, ‘You know, if we’re telling this story, and the major relationship is between these two characters of Jesus and Judas, if you were doing a traditional musical where nobody knew the story when they walked in and nobody had any investment in these characters, they’d have to do a number together, so you establish their friendship so when the friendship changes or dissolves or evolves at the end and Judas betrays Jesus, there’s some investment you’ve made in that relationship’  So we found a spot and I wrote All for the Best as a sort of Irving Berlin number. I basically took the idea from something I’ve always admired, like the Irving Berlin song, You’re Just in Love, in Call Me Madam, where someone sings ‘I hear music and there’s no one there’ and then Ethel Merman sings, ‘You don’t need analyzing’ and then magically they go together and they sing them at the same time, which I just always thought was the coolest thing ever, so I basically just stole that idea and did it for Jesus and Judas.”

If this lyric is supposed to be a paraphrase of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, I think Schwartz has missed the point somewhat. And as much as this moment uses the tools of traditional Musical Theatre to build a relationship between Jesus and Judas which has more distinct substance than the one established between Jesus and the other unnamed disciples, one wishes Schwartz did a little more foreshadowing in the text for what will come in Act II. Again, the director is critical in forcing the song to do dramatic work, instead of functioning merely as a vaudeville number.

As a Music Director, be careful to pace your tempos so the last iteration is the fastest you and your cast can do with clarity.

The last measure is awkward and ineffective on the piano. I wasn’t good at landing the figure to begin with; if you play the E flat with your pinky, you can’t land the whole C chord, and if you try and grab the chord with your left, that’s a lot to track while trying to cut off the band. When I could manage it, I found it very difficult to get it loud enough to cut through the cast and the band; it’s in a weak part of the piano. No suggestions here, only confessions. 

No. 9 All Good Gifts

Schwartz’s website lists “Fire and Rain” and Elton John’s “Your Song” as inspirations for the chord progressions and accompaniment of All Good Gifts. Both All Good Gifts and Fire and Rain go from the tonic chord to the minor dominant right off the bat, which is very distinctive. Schwartz uses almost the same set of chords, but uses a V/V chord and a minor iv chord to inflect the progression not just toward G, as Taylor’s progression did, but also toward A and toward D minor:

Fire and Rain Comparison

From the very beginning, Schwartz shows a propensity for piano accompaniments that sound like finger-picked guitar, and they come straight out of the 70s singer-songwriter toolbox. This particular pattern comes from Elton John’s Your Song. 

All Good Gifts Your Song Comparison

Notice how Schwartz has retained the rhythm in the right hand exactly, but has expanded the left hand to fill out 2 and a half octaves to John’s single octave, and how his harmony is much more adventurous; Elton John, especially in this period, tended to use simple primary chords. Schwartz has some bigger fish to fry.

The recorder solo was written to take advantage of the original Jeffrey’s playing abilities. Unfortunately, the recorder solo is in real danger of drowning out the monologue that it accompanies. If the player tries to play very quietly, he/she is liable to go pretty flat. Be aware of that from the outset. Perhaps you have an actor who plays another, quieter instrument capable of playing that passage.

The drop in measure 7 (and elsewhere) from the F natural to the G is often out of tune. You might want to assign the riff at 80 to Lamar and not everyone together; it can be messy. I also think the cutoffs tied to eighth notes are fussy. Cut off 71, 75, and 87 and so forth on the downbeat.

I like this song a lot, but there’s one chord I can’t get behind. One of the sophisticated things about the song is how the melody hits some non-chord tones or 9th or 11th of the chords, such as the D in “breezes and the”, over the F#m chord, and in the following measure, “sunshine” is tracing the 11th and the 9th of the G chord. But on “soft, refreshing” in the next measure, I feel like the melody is actually insinuating a totally different chord: E major. That’s not quite different enough from the G# minor chord to play as a higher chord tone color. It just feels like you’re playing the wrong chord. I suppose it’s really the same move as in measure 13, but when I got there, it always felt like I’d mixed up the salt and the sugar somehow. Play it the way it’s written; nobody will complain.

No. 10 Light of the World

I gotta say, this one comes very close to being great, but somehow just isn’t funky enough, particularly compared to the re-orchestrated revival versions. A wah pedal helps in the guitar, and you should tell your players that if they hear something better in their heads they ought to try it out. This is one of the numbers where the other production staff may look to you to make the thing pop a little more.

At the top of the number is really a rap, although it’s tough to get from the script. Listen to a recording to see how it should go; we went with something like this:

Light of the World Opening

The Keys part should really be marked Organ. Choose a dirty, funky one with a lot of bite. But probably you’ll want to play it on the piano until the pit comes in, because it’s really hard to assert the groove all by yourself with the organ sound.

Measures 5 and 6 are tough to coordinate.  Someone will correct me perhaps, but I think the last 2 notes in measures 17, 21, 33 and 37 are probably in the wrong order. (should be swapped, Eb, E) I’ve been using the 1993 studio recording as a reference because Schwartz supervised it, but the recording doesn’t clarify there, because the bass player is playing a much funkier James Jamerson riff there.

If your singers are good enough, encourage them to improvise the solo passages. If you’re going to have the cast use the vibraslap, get it into the process early. It’s a little odd. 

The playout for this number wasn’t interesting enough for me to solo over on a single chord, so I took us back to measure 25, and we took turns soloing through 48. Hopefully you’ve got players with some imagination and they can raise the roof a little here.

No. 11 Learn Your Lessons Well Reprise

If you have instrumentally talented cast members, it is customary to have them play and sing this at the end of the intermission to inaugurate the second half.

No. 12 Turn Back O Man

The text here was written by Clifford Bax, the brother of the very underrated English composer Sir Arnold Bax as a response to World War I. It was set to music by Holst, who requested the text to replace another for a motet he had written. It is not difficult to find fusty Hymnologists complaining about Schwartz’s setting, which deliberately plays against the stern tone and is modeled musically on a style associated with performers like Mae West. Again, though, this is a place where Schwartz’s theatrical instincts perform a course correction that keeps the piece from slipping into sanctimony at a critical juncture. Incidentally, Schwartz rejects the idea that the singer is Mary Magdalene, who has often been associated with promiscuity, even though the bible does not make that connection. The vampy music creates some odd double entendres like ‘their tragic empires rise’ Indeed, the most interesting thing about the number is the way the lyric plays against the grain of the tune.

Mae West typically came on to people in her songs, so she may not actually be the best model for your actress, should she be unaware of this kind of song. You might turn instead to Peggy Lee as seen here in Why Dont You Do Right? This sort of song is also sexy, but the point of the song is to teach the guy a lesson, not to ‘come up to my place’. That sentiment is more consistent with the message of the text. Jessica Rabbit would be taking things too far, I think.

I have this sense that the right and left hand were played in independently of each other without regard to how they work together. There are places where the left leaps higher than it needs to in the stride, and actually collides with what the right is playing.

There is an error in measure 96 in the bass part. Have a look. Be careful to emphasize the correct pitches in the last phrase of the chorus right near the end. D, E flat, E natural, dip down to C, then F sharp. There are many incorrect ways to sing that, it turns out.

Because we had a female Jesus and a Sonia with a higher belt, I changed the key for both singers, which required a slightly different modulation. It sits very low for Sonia. Your singer may have also heard the revival version, which is in a different key and has a lot of vocal pyrotechnics. It is stylistically totally okay to dress this number up, but those particular riffs function much better in the other key. (you can find the other version easily by googling)

No. 13 Alas for You

Schwartz musicalized a section of dialogue. he says in this video “..The scene where Jesus drives the money-changers from the temple, it was this big long speech, a big harangue, and so I basically just took the what the words were and kind of made them rhyme and gave them a little bit of song structure and that became Alas For You.” Elsewhere Schwartz has called this ‘very Leonard Bernstein’.

My personal preference is that the singer work for great clarity and intention and allow the meter changes and percussive nature of the accompaniment do the work without adding a lot of ‘rock’ mannerisms to the mix. There are a few recordings available that make this number sound as though it belongs in Rocky Horror, which is fun, but distracts from one of the only moments of real gravity in this musical; this is where we begin to sense that the show is taking a darker turn.

One point worth clarifying with your Jesus early on is the fact that measure b and measure 37 are in 7/4, but measures 5, 18, and 42 feature a very similar rhythm in 6/4. To make matters ever so slightly more confusing, measures 61 and 62 function as essentially an 8/4 measure of the same idea.

There is an error in the score in measure 24 and 48, which should read the same as measure 11 in the left hand. The Bass book and the chord symbols in the piano score have it correct, I think.

We cast a female Jesus, so I had to move this number. We played around with various options for keys and settled on G major, a third higher, with our Jesus singing it basically a sixth lower. It was important for the gravity and intensity of the song for her to be able to access her chest register.

One final thought: Tenors seem to struggle with the last note, and I have a workaround if the high G is impossible. The simplest solution if to just sing an E flat instead. In the original cast, Stephen Nathan just stops on ‘Alas’ and leaves out “for you” entirely. Victor Garber in the film gets through it well, having gone pretty sharp on the F at the end of the previous phrase. A slightly more interesting solution is to begin the arpeggio one note lower in the chord. So instead of Eb,G,Eb,Bb,G,Eb,Bb,G, you would sing Bb,Eb,Bb,G,Eb,Bb,G, Eb. That preserves the shape of the phrase.

No. 14 By My Side

This is the only song in the show not written by Schwartz, and indeed, it seems not to have been written for Godspell, but a totally different play at Carnegie Mellon.

Schwartz says: “I could try to write a new song for this spot, and maybe I would write a song as good as this, but why bother if we have this wonderful song?”

I think what we have in the score here is an attempt to transcribe what was originally figured out organically. That’s why the rhythm of the lead doesn’t quite match the recorded vocal. The big choral sections also don’t quite work as written (in my opinion), and you can’t make out what was actually happening on the original recording because they wash over it with cymbal rolls. I wonder whether this was a decision in the studio to mask something else. I recommend you prune some of  that harmony based on the singers you have. I eliminated the top note throughout, and added one particularly tricky note myself into the mic they gave me for On The Willows.

The line that descends from C to A through B natural in the piano as in measures 7-8, 11-12 and elsewhere is not reflected in the guitar book (which doesn’t have the descending line) or the bass book, which actually has Bb near the end. I think you want to go through and make the instrumental parts match the vocal score.

No. 15 We Beseech Thee

Schwartz says the opening rhythm of this number is influenced by Where Did Our Love Go? by the Supremes. It’s the last moment of pure joy in the show before we reach a pretty dark and/or subdued section, so really go full bore here.

If you want to open the number up to the cast, it’s very easy to divide up the calls in the call and response sections to various cast members. It’s also possible to give an instrumental part to anyone who plays in the cast, if you have the skills to write one. The ‘instrumental’ section only has 2 chords over and over again.

We Beseech Thee

Villanova production, Photo by Paola Nogueras

For the passage beginning at measure 41, a 4 note chord is not necessary, you should voice it according to what you have available to you. At 49, I gave the top line to the altos, the second line to the sopranos, and the lowest line to the tenors and basses. at 53, I gave the top line to the sopranos, the second line to the altos, and kept the Tenors and Basses on the bottom. At 57 I switched the Altos back to the top line, the sopranos to the middle, and again, left the tenors and basses where they were, and finally, I switched them one last time at 61: Sopranos on Top, Altos in the Middle, Tenors and Basses on the bottom. If you choose to sing it as written, I think your Jeffrey can feel free to riff a little, if he/she is gifted in that area.

No. 16 Day By Day Reprise

This reprise combines the earlier version with an ending that will be used later in the bows. I’m not so sure this is the best way to work this moment in the piece, and I think Beautiful City helps the rest of the show land better. (see below)

Potential Addition: Beautiful City

Beautiful City

Mina Kawahara as Jesus, me on piano in Villanova’s production. (photo by Paola Nogueras)

Schwartz says in this video: “I did write a new song for the film, called Beautiful City, which replaced We Beseech Thee because the director of the film David Greene felt that We Beseech Thee was too theatrical a number, he wasn’t quite sure how to translate that to film. I’m not sure he was correct, but nevertheless, so I wrote this new song called Beautiful City, and I had some reservations about the way the song is in the film, and then several years later, maybe 10, 15 years later whenever the L.A. riots were, there was a production of Godspell, like a benefit concert that was being done to raise money to benefit the victims of the L.A. riots, and I rewrote Beautiful City, I just completely rewrote the lyrics from this sort of like cheerful, happy, flower-strewing song into much more of a reflective song and that’s the version that now gets done, and now it gets interpolated into the show a lot, and of one of the fun things for me is that people put Beautiful City in the show,  but they put it in different places so it’s always interesting to me to see if they’ve put it in and where they’re using it and how they’re using it and who’s singing it, so that’s been kind of fun.”

The original lyric, which Schwartz disavows somewhat above read:

Come sing me sweet rejoicing/Come sing me love

We’re not afraid of voicing/All the things we’re dreaming of

Oh, high and low/and everywhere we go

The newer lyric (Out of the ruins and rubble…) really lands at the moment formerly occupied by the Day By Day Reprise. But that’s a decision to be made with your director based on the vision they have of the piece.

If your production staff is concerned about copyright, the FAQ page from Schwartz’s own website makes his approval clear for performances of Godspell.

If you buy the version from musicnotes.com, you can choose the key that works the best for your Jesus. I wrote a simple orchestration for my production, but it’s the kind of number your band can improvise an orchestration for on the spot if you give them sheet music, or better yet, a lead sheet.

No. 17 On The Willows

The lyric here comes from verses 2-4 of the 137th Psalm, a lament about the Babylonian captivity in the late 7th century BCE. In High Church Christian traditions, it is recited on the fourth Sunday of Lent, so it’s a liturgically appropriate text for this moment. Schwartz claims the text was chosen “because it was about ‘believers’ isolated and persecuted by a hostile society”The word ‘lives’ was originally ‘lyres’ (harps), which proved confusing and was switched.

The song is traditionally sung by the band, and that’s indicated in the piano score, but the melody is not in the parts. You will need to figure out a way to teach it to them if that’s what you’re doing. We chose to have a few actors who played well come in and out of playing with the band, so that at this moment they would simply step back toward the onstage band and join us. As before, the top staff seems to be for a woman’s voice, the bottom for men (and an octave lower) It does split into 4 parts, although you can trim that back if you find it too difficult. Alternately, you can give the melody to the tribe to sing together. It’s important that it strike the right mood, because it helps get our audience to a place where we can accept the last beat of the show.

Allison Hilliard

I have a soft spot for this song. My wife Allison sang it in the 2006 production at the Walnut Street Theatre. I saw it as many times as I could.

No. 18 Finale

This is the place in the show where a director’s taste and vision make all the difference. The more traditional storytelling in Jesus Christ Superstar helps that musical earn this moment, but Godspell has had so much clowning up to now that it’s difficult to work up to the pathos necessary to get across an execution, especially one that’s sort of figurative. The heavy rock guitar approach also reads campy now in a way that it didn’t in the early 70s. Swain puts it this way:

“Unfortunately, when the crucifixion music in the Finale tries to be explicit, it falls far short of expressing anything of the complexity of what should be the central event in the narrative. The use of rapid harmonic rhythm seems no different than in other, happier songs, and the jamming of electric instruments is but a superficial substitute for dramatic expressions drawn from more essential musical elements. The lyrics here are too absurdly simplistic.”’

Evidently the earlier version, before Schwartz came in was worse. The lyric originally read; “Oh, God, I’m busted.” According to Schwartz:

“I just said to John-Michael, ‘You can’t. That’s a really bad idea.’, and he got it right away.”

We went back and forth about whether to change the key for our female Jesus, and ultimately decided not to; she just sang it at pitch. It’s an awkward line for a male voice; I think intentionally. We’re supposed to be seeing Jesus at his most vulnerable.

It’s unclear how the MD is supposed to execute the top of the number. Technically the three staves are playable by one person, (kinda) but not on two instruments as indicated. Perhaps a cast member plays the organ staff. The transition from the first section into the Long Live God passage needs to be finessed, because it’s the payoff of the entire piece; where the tribe takes the message out into the world; Some productions will put a kind of resurrection in here somewhere, others just imply that the excitement of the clowns radiating out to today is how we know about this story. Both approaches are very much workable. Again, this is one of those places where the director decides what this show means.

Measures 38-41 should have the chord symbols of 42-45 and vice versa. Note that the last 4 measures differ slightly from the earlier version of Prepare Ye.

No. 19 Bows

Pretty straightforward reprise with a slightly different, but very easy ending.

Pit Orchestra Considerations:

The original pit orchestra in 1971 was Schwartz on piano, Rick Shutter on Drums, and Jesse Cutler, both 19 years old at the time, and Richard LaBonte. Shutter played by ear, not a lead sheet. This may be why the guitar book lays out on Alas For You. If you expect the band to sing On The Willows, you might indicate that as you’re hiring. Some players might balk at that. (others might be excited!)

This is not a terrible difficult show for the pit to play, and pretty much every pit budget can handle 3 players. As always, it helps a great deal to have players who are well versed in several styles of playing and who are sensitive to playing under singers.

Godspell is a tried and true crowd pleaser, with lots of options to tailor it to the specific needs of your space. Have a great time with it!



July 26, 2017

20170726_104454.jpgI’m not very good at practicing.

I remember when I was just starting to look into the idea of being a musician. I began to realize that there were these different facets to playing proficiently. There were some people who could play by ear. For these people, music just seemed to happen on command. Then there were these other people who could play anything you put in front of them the first time they saw it. This was a different kind of fluency. They didn’t often happen in the same person. Both of these skills seem superhuman to the non-musician, but even then I had this sense that both of these skills were probably obtainable by practicing.

I must have been thinking about the two skills seriously, because I have a memory of asking my band director Mr. Jeske which was more important: being able to play by ear or being able to sight read. My director hedged; both were important. But he added that working musicians needed to be able to read.

At that point I knew how to read a lead sheet; even a lead sheet with complicated chords. In fact, my ability to read a lead sheet allowed me to pretend to be a much better pianist than I actually was; people could throw music in front of me, and I could get them a decent approximation of what was on the page, only on my terms, at my technical level. In retrospect, this was a sign I was more cut out to be a composer. I had not been a particularly good piano student. I would start fascinating discussions with my teacher to delay the inevitable revelation that I had not put in the time to learn how to play the music I was assigned. The secret that I didn’t really know how to play the correct way was a shame known only to myself and my longsuffering teacher Ellen Southard. Everyone else thought I was pretty good.

At one point, I played a Schumann piece in a master class at the local community college. As I recall, I made a hash of it. My playing was stiff and frightened; I was worried I would miss the chords in the jumping left hand, and my fears were well founded. Those jumps weren’t in my muscle memory. When I finished, Frederick Moyer, the kind and brilliant concert pianist who was in town to play Rachmaninoff’s 3rd concerto asked me what kind of music I liked to play. Perhaps he sensed that there was a musician hiding in me who was at that moment out of his depth. I said that I liked to play jazz out of a fakebook. He asked what appealed to me about that, and I said that I liked the freedom to play difficult things when I felt I could accomplish them and to alter my pace when I felt I couldn’t. He shrewdly pointed out that classical musicians do that too. They simply disguise their necessary tempo alterations as artistic choices. The audience laughed. I think he probably was trying to tell me that musicians all face the same kinds of problems. Jazz is not really a place to hide from technical problems, and classical music is no place to hide from personal expression. I don’t think I caught his meaning. My takeaway was that I might not have what it takes to tackle classical repertoire. Later that night I would get hopelessly lost in rehearsal playing 4th horn in the orchestra that accompanied him.

I started school as a voice major, then changed majors and schools to pursue composition. I’ll pick up the narrative at the age of 20 or so, when it became clear to me that to be taken seriously as a musician, or even to hold down a job as a working musician in any way, I would have to learn to sight read. So I went to the library and checked out a stack of books a couple feet high, brought them back to a practice room and played straight through them without stopping to fix anything. I then brought the books back, checked out more, and repeated the process. Within a year or so, I was able to crash through quite a bit of music in a halfway convincing manner. Not long thereafter, I started accompanying a voice studio. I recall my deep embarrassment when one student was a better pianist than I was and noted that I was not playing the page correctly. If I was going to be paid to accompany, I would have to play better than the singers. Somehow I managed to get a job playing cocktail piano at a restaurant where the waiters sang arias and musical theatre songs for bored travelers waiting to catch the next flight out of San Francisco. That was its own invaluable education.

I had been fortunate enough to stumble across situations where people were patient as I learned to read as quickly as I could, in high stress situations. So when I took my first job music directing a show for kids, I floundered a little, but I didn’t make a fool of myself, and more importantly, I didn’t need to spend hours in the practice room to get the show under my fingers. I knew what the notes meant the first time I saw them. But that doesn’t mean I could play them all. There was a new kind of curse: I could see exactly what the composer wanted the first time. If I couldn’t do what the composer wanted, that was too bad. It was as good as it was going to be the very first time I played it. I still hadn’t learned how to practice technique. I had only learned to practice my sight reading.

Incidentally, if you are not a good sight-reader, this is how to become one: Read a whole lot of music, as many kinds as you can get your hands on, and play it at a moderate tempo, never stopping to fix anything. Stopping to fix blunts the urgency of looking ahead and getting that information approximated very fast. You want to activate the part of your brain that decodes it quickly and sees 2 or 3 measures ahead. Additionally, the sound of your inevitable uncorrected mistakes will bother you so much, it will act as a kind of immediate and painful punishment. This will motivate you to be more observant next time. Pretty soon your brain will have sorted out what to look for, and how to find it fast.

These are skills the world needs from a musician, particularly a collaborative musician. The world does not want to hear you stop and figure out a passage. It needs you to get to the end of the measure with everyone else, preferably with an eye left over to cast a sidelong glance at the conductor.

But recently I spent many hours in the studio, recording a project that was really right at the edge of my playing ability. If you’ve ever spent any time in the studio, you know that it brings into sharp contrast the hard facts about your playing. They can do magical wonders with pro-tools, but they need something to start with. The studio is in some ways the opposite of the rest of the world. You will stay here until we get it right, and it will cost someone a lot of money if you get it wrong. 

I know the basics about how to practice: Play it slow. Too slow, really. Find a fingering that works. Play it every single time with that fingering. Be expressive. Find the meaning of the phrasing and incorporate it. Don’t let your mind turn off. Be engaged. Take a break when you can’t stay engaged. Memorize it if possible. Gradually increase the tempo at increments so small you can’t tell the difference. Master musicians often really don’t ever play it up to tempo until the gig is upon them. That’s terrifying, but the greats trust that the slow practice will get them what they need.

It’s kind of like Tai Chi, something I have only a tiny amount of experience with from a vocal intensive I took one Summer in High School. The movements are very slow and fluid. You are learning how your body and your balance work and interrelate. There is an aspect of the discipline where you would actually use the movements in self defense, but that’s not how the practice works on a daily basis. Technical practice on an instrument is slow and exploratory, not a contact sport.

Like everybody else, I instinctively want to increase the speed the very moment I find myself able to play it correctly. I suppose everyone is like this. Then when we increase the speed, we lose the fingering, or we improvise a new fingering on the fly, we barely make it through, we miss the point of the phrase, we become frustrated. We lose our focus and mindlessly bang out the phrase. But we console ourselves: “Nobody will notice”, we think. “Listen to how fast I’m playing it!”

Yesterday morning, before I went back into the studio for one final round of fixes, I had an interesting thought:

Musical practice is like spiritual practice. 

Normal life asks you to think and act quickly. Especially in our modern world. What’s that phrase I’m seeing everywhere? Life Comes At You Fast, generally followed by two contradictory tweets that reveal a sudden change in circumstance. People around you don’t want to wait while you figure your responses out. That’s like sight reading. Being a functioning adult means you need to know how to talk to people and speak intelligently and with humor no matter what happens. You have to know how to read a room and how to adjust your words and actions to avoid offense and to have a productive interaction with other people. Life is like chamber music.

But getting along with people and being productive is only one part of your life. Spiritual practice takes more time. Spiritual practice is the cultivation of the kinds of things you aren’t automatically going to do. Just like choosing your best way to get through a passage, spiritual practice is how you train yourself to behave with kindness toward people with whom you disagree. It’s training yourself to question your self-righteousness, to have courage to speak when others might disagree, to have the grace to disagree with kindness. And just as in my piano practice, I have the tendency to pass myself to the next level too early, wrongly assuming I have this tempo figured out. “Nobody will notice”, I think. “Listen to how quickly and wittily I responded.”

The spiritual practices that are a part of my religious tradition, like prayer and occasional fasting, reading, reflection, giving, among many others, are a kind of slow-motion living, where I can discover the tiny habits I have picked up that impede my playing in my daily life and correct them. It takes discipline and patience to incorporate that kind of work into your schedule and into your life. But the human experience is empty at the constant breakneck speed of the 21st century. You have to slow it down.

I think total musicianship requires a multifaceted approach aimed at quick thinking and also deep, transformative practices. So do our lives. Without a determination both to listen and live in the moment and to pursue deeper growth, we’ll miss out on the full spectrum of life and musical expression.











Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore: A Rough Guide for the M.D.

July 6, 2017

Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore: A Rough Guide for the M.D.
1908 Pinafore

A Word About the Piece:

The internet does not need me to provide a comprehensive history of HMS Pinafore. Along with The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance, it sits at the very top of the Gilbert and Sullivan pantheon, beloved almost since the first performance. It is the piece which transported Gilbert and Sullivan from being an interesting potentiality to being a global phenomenon. The tunes and catch phrases from the operetta have become part of the lexicon, and as such, the operetta is among Gilbert and Sullivan’s crowning achievements.

It is by no means perfect, however. When the operetta first hit the boards, audiences must have felt the shock of discovery as they saw the first version of the G&S formula operating on all cylinders. Cutting social commentary, far more incisive than we had seen in The Sorcerer, memorable tunes worthy of comparison to Rossini and Offenbach, and a host of other details combine to make this operetta a truly English confection, not merely a parody of more respectable shows from the continent. But as time has passed, and Gilbert and Sullivan continued to hone their craft, audiences can see Pinafore as a brilliant step in a journey not quite completed. Commentators have sometimes noted that HMS Pinafore seems like a rough draft of The Pirates of Penzance. Arguments to that effect tend to cluster around the way Pirates is constructed, the way it reuses the most interesting character devices and plot contrivances of Pinafore, but in a smarter and more intentional way. While Sullivan may have taken part in those developments, the characters and construction of the plot are clearly Gilbert’s domain. In this post, I hope to demonstrate Pinafore as a musical step forward for Sullivan as well, one in which he started to draw thematic connections across the entirety of the piece, and in which he began to really come to terms with the way an effective finale is constructed.

It is no mark of shame to say that Gilbert and Sullivan were learning as they wrote. They did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. The fact that Sullivan was in excruciating pain while writing this operetta due to a kidney stone makes his achievement almost superhuman. (when I had a kidney stone, I sincerely wanted the doctors to have me put down) So while I may quibble with some choices here and there, I may beg the indulgence of the Gilbert and Sullivan community by reiterating that we composers can only hope to achieve what these two men did while ill, distracted, or otherwise indisposed.

Writing Operetta is a tricky business, but Gilbert and Sullivan found the elements of their success remarkably quickly. Their first collaboration, Thespis (the music sadly now lost) was an extravaganza, not a standard opera, and Trial By Jury is quite short. The Sorcerer, their third piece for the stage, had thus given them their first chance to present a full length piece with real character development. The Sorcerer had established the familiar patter baritone, a particular style of writing for the primary couple, ensemble work full of character and humor, and the broad satire of British cultural mores for which Gilbert and Sullivan are so famous.

With their 4th collaboration, HMS Pinafore, the writers began to tackle larger scale problems, particularly musical unity and pacing, and they began to find their stride in one of the most difficult areas of writing for the lyric stage; the finale. Their progress in these areas make HMS Pinafore a more successful operetta than its predecessors, paving the way for even more spectacular writing in the future.

In The Sorcerer, Sullivan had experimented with two different tunes for a single lyric, “with heart and with voice”, which were later unexpectedly combined. The irrepressible tune, “Now to the banquet we press” also made a second appearance at the end of the show. But in HMS Pinafore, there are a plethora of lyrics and tunes to which we return for a second (or even third) hearing:

We sail the ocean blue

What never? Well, hardly ever…

His sisters and his cousins and his aunts

For a British tar is a soaring soul

He Is an Englishman

Oh, joy, Oh rapture unforeseen

The return engagements of these melodies not only help us recall them to mind after the operetta has ended, they help unify the work musically. This operetta is not merely a collection of beautiful tunes, but a carefully thought out whole. I hope to draw connections between all these tunes below.

Another marvelous and enviable feature of Pinafore is its unending well of melody, much of which is flavored strongly with sea chantey. Not enough is made in the literature of just how well Sullivan matched his musical ideas to the topics of his operettas. Along these criteria, HMS Pinafore is basically perfection.

Before You Start:

A great place to start with any G&S Operetta is the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive page.The page for Pinafore is pretty extensive, including interviews and reviews of early productions, an extensive list of errors in the common scores, etc.

The most commonly used edition is the Schirmer vocal score, edited by Bryceson Treharne. It’s fine, but you will want to take time to correct the errors in the score before you begin rehearsing. I linked to Amazon here, because most people these days buy from them. But do be aware that they sometimes lump together more than one edition of the same score, so you might accidentally get a rival edition when you order. There are a few errors in the Schirmer score that are not on the errata list, and I will cover those below.

There is also a Dover edition, which I have not really looked through. I believe it goes with the full score they also printed, and includes some corrections and an alternate passage in the second act. I seems not to be paginated the same way as the Schirmer score, which may be an issue if your company is using the Schirmer version. The Dover edition also has measure numbers, which is great if somebody is calling them out, but again if anyone is using the Schirmer, that won’t be helpful. I wound up writing measure numbers into my Schirmer version and copying my notes into the Dover full score.

The Dover Full Score is quite good. Sadly, I believe it’s out of print, which may account for the preposterous price of $180 on Amazon. (someone is even selling it for $675!) By sheer luck, I found mine on the shelf at my favorite local music store and spent precisely $19.95. I will not sell it to you. As with the two other Dover G&S scores, the scholarship seems to be very good, but the lyric font size is very small, and I did find several errors, which I will list below. I believe in conducting chorus rehearsals from the vocal score until the chorus is off book, and then switching as early as practicable to the full score to conduct rehearsals. There is a real wealth of detail in the orchestration that you as a music director need to be aware of that is simply not present in the Piano Score. If you are renting parts, do check to see if you can get your hands on the score that goes with them to use as you rehearse. It goes without saying that conducting the operetta in performance with an orchestra from the Piano Vocal Score is an unpardonable infraction.


As always, the OakApple Press page laying out all the major recordings is complete and fantastic. Many of these recordings are available on Spotify, but I encourage you to buy a hard copy. Looking to D’Oyly Carte for style or pronunciation help is a good idea, but I’m sorry to say that even in the case of vowels, you will find very little uniformity from one D’Oyly Carte recording to the next. 1960 D’Oyly Carte is the one to have.

If you’re going to be Music Directing Gilbert and Sullivan, you’ll want to begin building a library of reference materials. I recommend getting these, as you are able:

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian Bradley. You should probably get this one ASAP. There is a very expensive new edition I have not yet read. If it’s anything like its predecessors, it’s indispensable.

A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan by Gayden Wren: Good stuff, especially seeing the shows in the context of the whole output. I come back to this book again and again.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon by Harry Benford: in which you will find the definitions of all those words you don’t understand.

After you have procured some of these, set aside a number of hours to do the following:

1) Listen to the soundtracks with the score in hand, marking things that strike you as interesting. I also made a pass at one point with a metronome and marked the tempi of all the sections from several recordings so that I would have a benchmark of speed. When a singer complains about a tempo, it helps to be able to check and say, “Ah, yes, we’re too slow” or: “This is within the range of generally accepted tempi.” or yet again, “I’d like to take it this fast, but currently our diction won’t allow it.” Sullivan doesn’t always notate phrasing or articulations, and while it’s easy to say, “Let’s just leave it up to the taste of the players”, it’s sometimes necessary to actually make clear decisions as a conductor so that the ensemble is telling the same musical story. I have developed a system with colored pencils, where I listen to a recording of a particular year with, say, a red pencil in hand and just mark interesting articulation, dynamic, or tempo choices for the key moments. Then I go back with a different color and enter another recording’s take on the same moments. Pretty quickly one begins to realize what is standard, what is done almost every time, and what is open to interpretation. You will also find your own preference in those places where there appears to be a wide range of opinion. To me, this is the beginning of discovering your own voice as a conductor; finding where the limits of expression have been in the past, and deciding what you are drawn to in answer to the points that are vague.

2) Take the Lexicon book and copy in pencil all the definitions into the score where you don’t already know the meanings.

As You’re Casting:

PInafore Characters


The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B.

Joseph Porter CardSir Joseph is the patter role, and could easily be played by a tenor or a baritone, but probably someone older than the other principals, because of the life experience he lays out in his signature aria. His lowest note is an A below Bass C, his highest the E above middle C. He should have strong comic timing and be able to play imperious. He was played originally by George Grossmith, the first Major General in the D’Oyly Carte Pirates and the first Koko anywhere.

Fortunately for us, Gilbert wrote a book for children elaborating the story of HMS Pinafore, and in it he describes the characters upon their first appearances. Since these descriptions were written decades after Gilbert’s inception of them, they are often different and sometimes clearer than they are in the actual script. His description of Porter is as follows:

“One of the most important personages in the Government of that day was Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. You would naturally think that the person who commanded the entire Navy would be the most accomplished sailor who could be found, but that is not the way in which such things are managed in England. Sir Joseph Porter, who had risen from a very humble position to be a lawyer, and then a Member of Parliament, was, I believe, the only man in England who knew nothing whatever about ships. Now, as England is a great maritime country, it is very important that all Englishmen should understand something about men-of-war. So as soon as it was discovered that his ignorance of a ship was so complete that he didn’t know one end of it from the other, some important person said, ‘Let us set this poor ignorant gentleman to command the British fleet, and by that means give him an opportunity of ascertaining what a ship really is.’ This was considered to be a most wise and sensible suggestion, and so Sir Joseph Porter was at once appointed, ‘First Lord of the Admiralty of Great Britain and Ireland.’ I daresay you think I’m joking, but indeed I am quite serious. That is the way in which things are managed in this great and happy country.”

“Sir Joseph was a gentleman of great refinement, who was very easily shocked, and as he knew that the society of charming ladies had the effect of making everybody polite and considerate, he never travelled any great distance without them.”

Later he writes: “I’m afraid that Sir Joseph, though a very distinguished man, was, like a good many other very distinguished men, a bit of a goose.”

Captain Corcoran

Corcoran Cigarette Card

Gilbert describes him thus: “…a very humane, gallant, and distinguished officer, who did everything in his power to make his crew happy and comfortable. He had a sweet, light baritone voice, and an excellent ear for music, of which he was extremely fond, and this led him to sing to his crew pretty songs of his own composition, and to teach them to sing to him. To encourage this taste among his crew, he made it a rule on board that nobody should ever say anything to him that could possibly be sung, a rule that was only relaxed when a heavy gale was blowing, or when he had a bilious headache. Harmless improving books were provided for the crew to read, and vanilla ices, sugar-plums, hardbake and raspberry jam were served out every day with a liberal hand. In short, he did everything possible, (consistently with his duty to Her Majesty) to make everybody on board thoroughly ill and happy. “

It sure seems like Sullivan was a little unsure of Corcoran’s fach. At times he seems like a tenor. In fact, in the original higher key of his Act 2 aria, it would take a tenor or a very impressive lyric baritone to do it justice. In many other moments, Corcoran is a real Bass Baritone. In almost all the numbers he’s in the treble clef, but in number 8 he’s in the bass clef. (When he appears in Utopia Limited 15 years later, he’s listed as a Bass) Then there’s the issue of him needing to be the same age as Ralph, but also the age of the father of Ralph’s love interest. Most productions ignore this, which makes the ending more ludicrous, and that’s probably okay. I would encourage you to cast a tenor with a full bodied sound. His lowest pitch is the B below Bass C. If you do Fair Moon in D, as it was written, and as it appears in the vocal score, his high note is F# above middle C or perhaps A, if he goes for the high note. If you do it in C, his high note is F above middle C, or perhaps G if he goes for the high note.

Rutland Barrington originated the role. He would also originate the role of the Sergeant of Police in the first D’Oyly Carte Pirates and the role of Pooh Bah in The Mikado. 

Ralph Rackstraw

Rackstraw Cigarette CardRalph is a traditional leading male tenor, although you have a good excuse to cast somewhat older, if you hope to explain away the baby swapping with Corcoran.

It helps if your Ralph has a flair for the dramatic, because he has some very purple lines and an over-the-top suicide attempt to pull off. His low note is E flat below middle C, and his high note A above middle C. The A needs to be pretty solid, Ralph hangs up there. There is an optional high Bb for those who are able.

Gilbert says this about him in his Pinafore Picture Book:

“One of the smartest sailors on board Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore was a young fellow called Ralph Rackstraw, though, as will be seen presently, that was not his real name. He was extremely good-looking, and, considering that he had very little education, remarkable well-spoken. Unhappily he had gotten it into his silly head that a British man-of-war’s man was a much finer fellow than he really is. He is, no doubt a very fine fellow indeed, but perhaps not quite so fine a fellow as Ralph Rackstraw thought he was. He had heard a great many songs and sentiments in which a British Tar was described as a person who possessed every good quality that could be packed into one individual, whereas there is generally room for a great many more qualities than are usually found inside any sailor… So, although Ralph had gathered up many excellent qualities, there were still some that he had not yet added to his collection, and among these was the appreciation of the fact that he hadn’t got them all. In short, his only fault was a belief that he hadn’t any.”

As early as possible, train yourself to pronounce the name Raif, not Ralf. You will save yourself a great deal of embarrassment among the seasoned Savoyards.

Dick Deadeye

Dick Deadeye CardGilbert describes him as follows: “…one of the ugliest persons who ever entered the Navy. His face had been so knocked about ans burnt and scarred in various battles and from falling down from aloft that not one feature was in its proper place. The wags among the crew pretended that his two eyes, his nose, and his mouth, had been playing ‘Puss in the Corner’, and that his left eye, having been unable to find a corner that was unoccupied, was consequently left in the middle. Of course this was only their nonsense, but it shows what a very plain man he must have been. He was hump-backed, and bandy-legged, and round-shouldered, and hollow-chested, and severely pitted with small-pox marks. He had broken both his arms, both his legs, his two collar bones and all his ribs and looked just as if he had been crumpled up in the hand of some enormous giant. He ought to have been made a Greenwich pensioner long ago, but captain Corcoran was too kind-hearted to hint that Dick Deadeye was deformed, and so he was allowed to continue to serve his country ad a man-o-war’s man as best he could Now Dick Deadeye was generally disliked because he was so unpleasant to look at, but he was really one of the best and kindest, and most sensible men on board the Pinafore, and this shows how wrong and unjust it is to judge unfavorably of a man because he is ugly and deformed.”

Deadeye was originated by Richard Temple, who was the first person to play roles in 8 different D’Oyly Carte original productions. He was the first Sir Marmaduke, Pirate King, Mikado, and many others. He must have been an extraordinary singer and actor. Deadeye is a strange sort, as a character, and as a piece of writing. He is clearly meant to be a kind of villain in the piece, but he lacks real agency. Although his revelation to Corcoran in the second act does precipitate the chain of events that allows the play to conclude, it is unclear what his motivation is, or what he is capable of doing to thwart the lovers. The type has fallen somewhat out of use over the years, but Deadeye is an example of a character outside the community who is dangerous but speaks the truth, as when he says, “When people have to obey other people’s orders, equality’s out of the question.”. This is a thought provoking sentiment even now, and is an unusually cutting and open statement of the general principle behind much of G&S. But as he also says, “From such a face and form as mine, the noblest sentiments sound like the black utterances of a depraved imagination.” He is rather like Jigger and Judd combined, with a dash of Richard III or Iago. Vocally, the role is fairly demanding, particularly in the first act finale, where Deadeye has to sing very quick and rangy patter, some of which is rather hard to hear and  to place. He has a Bb below Bass C and an Eb above middle C within a beat and a half, for example. In the second act, he has a few measures of ensemble work which need to be floated. You should keep these things in mind while casting. The low note is G below Bass C and the high note Eb above middle C.

Bill Bobstay (The Boatswain)

This character is never referred to by name in the piece, only as Boatswain, (pronounced Bosun) Very important minor Baritone principal, he introduces the He Is An Englishman melody and has a great deal of dialogue.

Gilbert says precious little about him, except that he was “One of the most tenderhearted creatures living…”

When you audition this part, you simply must have someone who can carry the middle part of a trio. His low note is the G below Bass C, and his high note the E flat above Treble C.

Bob Becket (Carpenter)

Original Bob BecketBob Becket has no lines, but he has a very important Bass part in A British Tar. Requires a good ear and a clear, well placed true Bass voice, because at the end of the Glee, before the chorus comes in, Becket is the one leading the Rallentando, which ends on an important low E. His low note is that E below Bass C, his high note the E flat above middle C.

Bob does not appear in the Children’s book Gilbert wrote. Incidentally, Deadeye, Bobstay, and Becket are named for parts of a ship.






Becket (near bottom of diagram)


Josephine CardJosephine is the classic Gilbert and Sullivan soubrette, well suited to a light soprano, but also potentially for a richer-toned soprano who has access to the Bb. Mabel in Pirates has some coloratura, Josephine has none. The two arias require some long line, but the duet and many moments in Act II also require some faster diction and clarity of execution. She should have a good ear; some of the chromatic passages can easily go out of tune.

Gilbert describes her: “… a beautiful young lady with whom every single gentleman who saw her fell head-over-ears in love. She was tall, exquisitely graceful, with the loveliest blue eyes and barley-sugar coloured hair ever seen out of a Pantomime, but her most attractive feature was, perhaps, her nose, which was neither too long nor too short, nor too narrow, nor too broad, nor too straight. It had the slightest possible touch of sauciness in it, but only just enough to let people know that though she could be funny if she pleased, her fun was always gentle and refined, and never under any circumstances tended in the direction of unfeeling practical jokes. It was such a maddening little nose, and had so extraordinary an effect on the world at large that, whenever she went into Society, she found it necessary to wear a large pasteboard artificial nose of so unbecoming and ridiculous a description that people passed her without  taking the smallest notice of her. This alone is enough to show what a kind-hearted and self-sacrificing girl was the beautiful Josephine Corcoran.

Her range is Middle C to high Bb. (optional and highly recommended High B and C)

Cousin Hebe

Hebe CardOne wishes Gilbert had written a few words in his children’s version about Hebe, to clarify her character, but sadly, she does not appear. She is a principal chorus member with two important story moments, but other than that, we have very little information of the specificity of her character. It comes out of left field that she wants to marry Sir Joseph, because it had until that point not been entirely clear whether she was a sister, a cousin, or an aunt. Like the rest of the end of the show, we simply shrug and think, “Oh, sure.”

She was played originally by Jessie Bond, who would go on to create many of the Mezzo roles in future G&S shows, such as Iolanthe, Pitti Sing, and Tessa. She was apparently a good actress, but Pinafore caught her at the very beginning of her career, and she felt uncomfortable speaking onstage, so nearly all her dialogue was cut.

In a trio in the First Act Finale, she needs to have sufficient midrange volume to compete with Ralph and Josephine in a higher tessitura. Her range is from the A flat below middle C to the F above treble C.


Buttercup Card

Buttercup is the Mezzo of the piece. You could go a number of ways with the part. Unlike many other G&S Mezzos, it’s not entirely clear what the joke of her character is. Gilbert seemed unclear what exactly to do with her, and even her presence on the boat seems to be problematic for the book, because Gilbert keeps making her leave without reason only to return immediately afterward to deliver some piece of information. He would rectify the problem in Pirates by making her counterpart Ruth an active crew member who stays on and is integral to the action.

To put a positive spin on that, there are many ways a director could push the character. She could be hideous or sexy, an outsider or one of the boys. Since Gilbert hasn’t bothered to give her many distinguishing characteristics, you are more free to invent your own.

Buttercup should be able to play old enough to have been a ‘Baby Farmer’ during the infancy of Corcoran and Ralph, but of course the math on that is fishy to begin with. Her low note is G below middle C, her high note the E above treble C.

Gilbert describes her: “…a rather stout but very interesting elderly woman of strikingly personal appearance. She was what is called a ‘bum-boat woman’, that is to say, a person who supplied the officers and crew with little luxuries not included in the ship’s bill of fare. Her real name was Poll Pineapple, but the crew nicknamed her ‘Little Buttercup’, partly because it is a pretty name, but principally because she was not like a buttercup, or indeed anything else than a stout, quick-tempered, and rather mysterious lady, with a red face and black eyebrows like leeches, and who seemed to know something unpleasant about everybody on board. She had a habit of making quite nice people uncomfortable by hinting things in a vague way, and at the same time with so much meaning (by skillful use of her heavy black eyebrows) that they began to wonder whether they hadn’t done something dreadful, at some time or other, and forgotten all about it. So Little Buttercup was not really popular with the crew, but they were much too kind-hearted to let her know it)”

Later in the book, Gilbert gives a really elaborate backstory of Buttercup and Corcoran.

Midshipmite/Tom Tucker 

Sometimes there is a small boy cast, to whom Buttercup gives a lollipop after her opening number.


Sopranos should have the A above the staff and if possible the A below Middle C, although they have help on that note. There is a spot where a high Bb might be helpful, but Josephine also sings it at the same time.

Altos should have the A below middle C, and the treble clef 4th space E.

The Tenors bottom out at Bass C and have an A above Middle C for the top.

The Basses have the low G and top off at the D above middle C, although 2nd basses drop as low as Eb below Bass C.


I appreciate how the Gilbert and Sullivan choruses allow for the potentiality of many ages and body types, and also how singers can age through character types in the operas. Not everyone needs to look like the very first flower of youth to participate!

General Pronunciation Advice:

I copy here general note from earlier G&S posts, with some slight emendations.

I am still no expert on RP English pronunciation, but I offer here a couple of basic pointers, to which I intend to add as I learn more:

1) Be aware of the Trap-Bath split. A fellow Savoyard in my tenor section made me aware of this chart, which is very helpful: trap-bath

2) ‘R’s that begin a word are tripped or rolled. ‘R’s that come before a vowel are tripped. ‘R’s that come after a vowel are generally dropped. At no point is the ‘r’ pronounced as we Amerrricans pronounce it. (although you may encounter different kinds of Rs if characters have regional British accents)

3) Mary, Merry, and Marry employ three different vowel sounds. Where I come from, they are pronounced identically. In Philadelphia, they are pronounced as three different vowels, but they aren’t the same vowels. Interesting chart on this matter:http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_15.html In G&S, you’ll want to say Mary with an eh as in air, Merry with eh as in get, and Marry with an ah as in cat. (someone will certainly correct me on this)

4) Many u vowels will need a y sound before them: duty becomes dyewtee, tuning becomes tyooning, new becomes nyoo, and institution becomes instityooshun.

5) Been becomes bean.

6) For words which in American English replace ‘t’s with a d sound, a true ‘t’ sound should be used. “Water” is not pronounced “wadder”, and certainly not wooder, my Philadelphia friends. But be careful not to overcompensate. I have noticed that some Americans are so anxious to Britishify their speech that they change to ‘t’ sounds that are truly ‘d’s. Lady should not be Laty, as I’ve heard people say when attempting to posh up their language. Not every ‘d’ needs to become a ‘t’, only the ones that are truly ts to begin with!

7) As I continue to conduct these pieces, and after continuing encouragement from the English members of our American company, I am beginning to become fixated on words like “all”, and the second syllable of “Doctor”, “Major” and “Sailor”. The British “all” has a darker vowel than the Americans use, almost to the point of sounding like ‘ole’, and the second syllable of the ‘or’ words is pronounced like ‘or’, not ‘er’, as Americans would say it. I am still conflicted about that particular one, because the D’Oyly Carte recordings are by no means consistent on that point, and especially at speed, it is very difficult to articulate a tall ‘o’ vowel in such a word. It is something to keep one’s ears open for.

This video may be of use to you.

That is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve probably gotten some of it wrong, but that’ll get you started. There are some places in this show where pronunciation will be governed by a rhyme. I will try and hit each of those points as we go.

Going through the show number by number:


It is a little unclear exactly how the Pinafore overture came to be. In their preface to the Dover Pinafore full score, Carl Simpson and Ephraim Hammett Jones speculate that the overture may not have been written by the time the show opened, which may account for the unusually long introduction to the opening number. This sounds right to me. More on that introduction later. Sullivan often had help with the completion of his overtures, but the authorship of the overture we have is also somewhat mysterious. It’s part of the standard legend of Pinafore that the initial box office for the operetta was poor, partly because of a heat wave. The nasty experience of seeing Pinafore in a gas lit, poorly ventilated theatre in a sweltering heat almost led to the operetta’s closing, until (as the story goes) Sullivan conducted a medley from the operetta prepared by Hamilton Clarke at the Proms, and everyone fell in love with the music, leading to international success. Clarke had also helped with the Sorcerer Overture  This story has led to speculation that the Overture is a set of selections Hamilton Clarke arranged. But as Simpson and Jones have pointed out in the preface to the Dover edition, we have a set of Overture instructions in the score in Sullivan’s own hand, so while he may have referred to Clarke’s work in some way, he went to the trouble to write a good deal out himself. If you’d like to play armchair musicologist, the manuscript score is available here at the Morgan Library website:

You’ll notice the timpani part is notated, and the tutti chords, but then Sullivan has written the melody in the violins, with the understanding that the copyist will fill in the passages from the places where these passages occur elsewhere in the opera.

Pinafore Autograph Overture Page 1

First page of Sullivan’s autograph of the Overture

The overture is then, a pretty straightforward medley of the most memorable passages heard elsewhere. I only note one error in the Dover Full Score, and that’s in the pickup to measure 65. The Cello and Double Bass should really switch to arco there. With a good oboist and a sprightly, well articulated style, the overture packs a nice punch and is a great opening to the operetta.


1.Introduction and Chorus: We Sail The Ocean Blue

Pinafore Crew WoodwardThe Introduction is long; it took the place of the overture missing from the first performances.

Melodically, it covers the upcoming men’s chorus, Sorry Her Lot, I’m Called Little Buttercup, and I am the Captain of the Pinafore. Sullivan signals from the outset that he intends to develop his material this time around, and although HMS Pinafore is not as thoroughly woven a musical tapestry as we shall see in subsequent operettas, Sullivan uses ideas thematically and returns to older ideas much more intentionally than he had in Trial By Jury or The Sorcerer. In fact, we hear these tunes for the first time in radically altered forms: Josephine’s aria is prefigured in the oboe at a much faster tempo, and in 6/8 instead of 9/8. Buttercup’s aria is in 2/4, not 3/4. Corcoran’s entrance aria appears as a canon, moved into the minor mode. If this is in fact, a proto-overture, it does not behave as an overture at all; it’s acting more like a tiny symphonic development section.


G&S’s 2 previous operas Trial by Jury and The Sorcerer had opened with the entire chorus singing. But as I mentioned earlier, Sullivan had employed an interesting device midway through Act I in The Sorcerer. The gentlemen and the ladies of the chorus sang With Heart And With Voice in two different melodies, which finally joined together in a quodlibet. Sullivan must have found the device effective. In Pinafore, the show opens not with the full chorus, but with the men on their own in a memorable introductory tune we shall discover fits perfectly with the introductory tune of the women. Putting this tune at the very opening of the opera draws a connecting thread across the first 40 or so pages of the opera. By the time we hear the men’s tune and the ladies tune combined to complete the development of the thought, many more melodies have been introduced, which will in turn thread through the remainder of the show.

Starting with the men alone also turns out to be a great way to differentiate the members of the chorus from one another, and in 7 of the 10 subsequent operas, Gilbert and Sullivan would open with a men’s or women’s chorus. In Pirates, they would discover that involving the opposing groups of men and women romantically was even more interesting, and that it is even possible to split the chorus three ways, dividing tenors and basses into two. Thus the device of the gendered chorus is put to its traditional G&S formulation essentially for the first time here.

Gilbert’s narration of the story for children indicates that Corcoran has taught the men this song. Of course, in the Operetta proper, Sir Joseph is the only composer on board that we are made aware of.


Now to more mundane matters for the music director:

A practical consideration and an error present themselves immediately here.

Firstly, your timpanist may need a moment to tune from E flat to C. It’s kind of unfortunate timing.

The error in the Piano Vocal Score is not in the errata list on the G&S Archive page. On page 7, in measure 4, the eighths in the left hand are wrong; that measure should look like the previous measure’s left hand, and the eighths begin in the following measure.

Your pianist will be tempted to play the canon figure at the 2nd system of page 8 (Schirmer Vocal Score page numbers referred to here and elsewhere) forte, but it is in fact, piano, part of a long crescendo to the tutti statement of the melody on the 4th system.

Bruce Miller remarks in a G&S discussion group that the writing for the men is not ideal here. The basses lie somewhat low, so their part doesn’t project until the tenors arrive, and when the tenors do come, much of their part is also somewhat low. In No. 7, the tenors are up the octave occasionally, which is more effective. Be sure your singers sing the dotted rhythms faithfully. “dyootee”, not “dooty”, please. You should also decide what to do on the words “Portsmouth tide”, where the vocal part is similar, but not the same as the accompaniment. Not all recordings observe this difference. Watch the balance between Tenors and Basses on the word ‘ahoy’, a mild fp will keep rambunctious tenors from drowning out the basses. It’s customary to crescendo on the long ‘day’ before the final statement of the melody.

2. Recitative and Aria: I’m Called Little Buttercup

Buttercup BobI’m afraid I’m not so crazy about this number lyrically, for the same reason Gayden Wren lays out in his book:

I’m Called Little Buttercup is a virtual clone of My Name is John Wellington Wells, simply a list of items for sale, except that Wells’s items were funny, while Buttercup’s are commonplace and uninteresting. Many performers have found it hard to memorize, simply because there’s no order to it beyond the rhyme scheme, nor any real structure.”

The melody, however, is a winner all around. The melodies in The Sorcerer often played around with rising and falling three note motives, but never with this kind of economy. It almost sounds like a folk song, and like most good folk music, the melody refers back to itself constantly, so it coheres in a closed vocabulary. If Gilbert gives us a fairly pedestrian lyric, Sullivan the melodist is beginning with a bang.

Buttercup Melody 1

What a beautifully constructed melody; a subtle execution of a sophisticated idea! The second section of the melody modulates to the relative minor, adding new ideas to the ones already in play:

Buttercup Melody 2.jpg

The third portion introduces some chromatic ideas and rhythmic variety before closing with the opening melodic material to complete the circle.

Buttercup Melody 3

Aside from what Wren says about the lyric being hard to memorize, the number is not difficult to perform, nor conduct, but do keep it on the sprightly side.

2a. Recitative: But Tell Me, Who’s the Youth…

Compared to the dismal recitative in The Sorcerer, Buttercup’s short recit with the Boatswain is just right; brief, expressive, and easy to manage. As you conduct your orchestra, be sure to beat through the whole measure so they know where you are. For example, in the opening measure, cue the downbeat, then quickly beat through 2 and 3, holding at three until Buttercup sings feet, then give 4 as an upbeat, after which she’ll sing With, and you’ll be right there to land the downbeat of the next measure. It takes practice, but you can do it!

3. Madrigal: The Nightingale

Ralph Rackstraw Woodward.jpgI’ve been puzzling somewhat over why this arietta is called a Madrigal, since it’s not particularly polyphonic nor choral. Lyrically, it does play with tropes of the Renaissance Madrigal. The Nightingale sings at night, and is consequently symbolic of other nocturnal happenings like love, grief, and insomnia.

“Ah Well a-day” is one of those mournful phrases Gilbert liked to return to that sound vaguely Elizabethan, like Willow Willow Waly, Heighdy Heighdy, Misery Me, Lack-a-day-dee! or Tit Willow, Tit Willow. Shakespeare uses Ah Well-A-Day in Romeo and Juliet, when the Nurse tells Juliet that Tybalt is dead, and it seems to have been fairly popular in literature of the 18th century. Maybe the most famous use of “Ah, well-a-day” comes from the early English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who used it in a passage of The Rime of the Ancient Marriner to describe the dismay of the title character at having to wear a dead albatross around his neck:

Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.

Ralph’s opening aria lyric is deliberately archaic and high-flown. He’s singing about a bird who is himself singing, forlorn, in the moonlight. In Act 2, his counterpart Corcoran will also sing, forlorn to the moon, but there is little poetry in Corcoran’s lyric. He’s petulantly concerned with his own affairs. So while others have carped that Ralph’s lyric here is full of cliches, I think Gilbert was actually starting a thread he would follow through the entire opera: Ralph is very poetic for a sailor, and in his dialogue, he will frequently sound like one of the poets from Patience. I like to think perhaps Gilbert was foreshadowing the fact that Ralph is in the wrong station.

It’s a shame that when we music direct these pieces, we often learn them via the vocal score. The Nightingale is a delightful little arietta when accompanied by the piano, but I missed until well into the performances the lovely orchestrational detail that the clarinet Nightingale is answered a step higher by the flute echo. I had internalized these things by melody only, and happily discovered their meaning as echos when I had the orchestra in front of me.

The first part of the aria is straightforward for the tenor and chorus. the echoing phrases in the men’s chorus end with “day” a different duration each time. Be sure your chorus knows that.

The pun at the end, “a lass” vs. “alas” will alas be lost on your audience if your Ralph does not observe the little rest after the word “love”. That sixteenth rest really makes the “alas” sound like an exclamation and not a noun.

3a: Ballad: A Maiden Fair To See

This is really the second half of the same aria, and like most early Gilbert and Sullivan introductory tenor arias, this one is in 3, with a long line and a couple of lovely high notes. The orchestral introduction is very chromatic, with 11 of the 12 chromatic pitches represented. Ralph’s melody is also very chromatic, with the first 2 phrases covering all the notes between B and F in a tune that floats down like a feather. The third phrase balances by climbing to the high A with again, nearly every pitch represented.

If the Madrigal section of the double aria was about storytelling, this is about the beauty of the line. There is maybe a little flexibility possible with regard to tempo, to let the tops of the phrases bloom, but think of this second half of the aria as the faster half.

The men of the chorus have a similar task to the one they just accomplished in their echo phrases, with the exception of the ending. My suggestion is to have Ralph’s “Oh pity pity me” be only slightly slower the first time, and then really observe the fermatas the second time. Then you’ll want to cue through the chorus as follows:

And he, (have the chorus catch a breath, line up and with Ralph’s me) Follow Ralph’s lead as he sings Our to line up his Captain with:

He, (again have the chorus catch the breath, to line up that with Ralph’s she) Follow Ralph’s lead as he sings And to line up his with:

Lowly (no breath, connect the Suitors together)

They will have to watch you so that you don’t get a bunch of SSSSSSS at the top of the last word.

Buttercup leaves here for no reason at all that I can tell, except that she has nothing to sing and Gilbert doesn’t know exactly why she is on board.

4. Recit and Song: My Gallant Crew, Good Morning

Corcoran’s entrance aria is marvelous, beginning with the opening exchange. If your chorus is well rehearsed, we get a great sense of the order that Corcoran brings to the ship. Gilbert’s retelling for children indicates this charming detail:

This was how he greeted his crew every day:

“My gallant crew, good morning!”

and they would reply:

“Sir, good morning!”

Then he would say:

“I hope you’re all quite well.”

And they would answer:

“Quite well, and you, Sir?”

And he would reply:

I am in reasonable health, and happy

To see you all once more.”

And they would sing:

“You do us proud, Sir!”

Of course, when he was not quite well, he would alter the words to suit his condition, like this:

“I have a dreadful toothache, yet I’m happy

To see you all once more!”


“I have a housemaid’ knee, yet I am happy

To see you all once more!”

And so forth, for Captain Corcoran never intentionally said anything that was not strictly true.

If you track down the book online, you’ll also read Gilbert’s charming way of softening the Big Big D to “Bother!” for the sensitive ears of the children.

In the Dover full score, you’ll notice that measures 18 and 19 have 2 readings. In the autograph and in the other sources, the 2 chords appear on beats one and two of measure 18. In the Schirmer Vocal score, they appear on the downbeats of 18 and 19. Probably your orchestral parts will match the Schirmer score, but it would be worth having a look to see what your parts say. Incidentally, the autograph score, and the 1880 and 1882 English and German versions have the two chords in one measure. It isn’t until the Metzler 1920 Vocal score that the other version seems to have appeared. It seems like the two notes were originally in one measure, then fermatas in the rests were sanctioned, and finally, someone determined it was easier to notate it as it now appears.

A frustration of this score in particular is the inconsistency of similar passages as they appear throughout the score. Where possible, I suggest that you standardize similar passages for the sake of memorization and clarity. This means that “What, never?” is always short the first time and carried to the downbeat in the following measure the second time. When this passage reoccurs at the end of the show, you should ignore the other lengths and do it precisely as you did it here. “And a right good captain, too” ends on beat 2, not on the and of 1 as it is notated at the end of the show. If you try to do the end of the show as written, you’ll be very frustrated to no conceivable purpose.

Traditionally there are no fermatas the first time through, and the second time through, you do them. I never got that first one quite right; the tenors need to be the link between the fermata and the next passage, it’s difficult for them to connect the old idea with the new section, even if you don’t breathe between the notes. Plan to spend some time there. Conducting the second fermata is hard, since you have to land beat 2, then suspend it, then reiterate it so you can get out into the next measure.

Everyone leaves except the Captain. Buttercup re-enters to talk to him, having done whatever took her off the stage. See what I’m saying? Gilbert doesn’t know what to do with her.

4a. Recit: Sir, You Are Sad…

This can somewhat tricky to conduct through if you’re not accustomed to conducting recits. (see my note to 2a) At measure 12, we are in tempo. The recit. is pretty good, if not inspired, but since Buttercup is so awkwardly brought off and back on, the exposition seems pretty hamhanded. She then leaves again, having fulfilled her function of getting the information out.

5. Ballad: Sorry Her Lot

Corcoran and Josephine WoodwardThere is a wonderful thread of detail in the orchestration of Pinafore that begins here, and it involves the use of the woodwinds in opposition to the strings, as a metaphor. Generally speaking, in traditional writing for the orchestra, the strings are the backbone of the ensemble, and the woodwinds are used to provide warmth, color, or melodic material above or behind the strings. The strings are the main course, and the woodwinds provide flavor, as a kind of musical garnish. Generally, Sullivan sticks to that approach. But beginning here in Josephine’s entrance ballad, Sullivan begins setting off the woodwinds in relief on their own, as in measures 3 & 4, and 32 & 33. It is a very small detail here, but it is significant nonetheless. This is the first place in the score where any winds play without the strings accompanying. With the exception of a few measures of very comical doubling of Dick Deadeye’s snide commentary in the First Act Finale, the next time the winds play without help from and in opposition to the strings is in Josephine’s other major aria a full act later, “The Hours Creep On Apace“, where they will represent a very clear metaphor. When we get there, I’ll elaborate. The metaphor extends into the trio Nevermind The Why And Wherefore, which also has this effect, and makes its final appearance as a device in Buttercup’s revelation that she swapped the Captain and Ralph in infancy. To make my point clear: Sullivan uses the family of winds alone in opposition to the string family in only 5 places in the score, and in each place, the subject at hand is the precipitous distance in station between Josephine and Ralph. If you are unconvinced, I hope to win you over presently.

There is much to say about the Ballad apart from that detail of orchestration.

Firstly, this is a fine example of Sullivan’s genius for unexpected text setting. If you were a composer and saw the lines:

Sorry her lot who loves too well

Heavy the heart that hopes but vainly

you might place the first three syllables on upbeats in 9/8 as Sullivan did, although likely you’d choose something more pedestrian, like a waltz. Then for the next line, if you saw:

Sad are the sighs that own the spell

Uttered by eyes that speak too plainly

you’d probably notice that those lyrics scan the same way, and you’d set them rhythmically identically. But Sullivan sets Sad not on the upbeat, but on the downbeat, which gives it a tragic emphasis, on the minor 6th scale degree over a half diminished ii7 chord. If you’re at a piano, sing Sad and play that chord. Is there anything more tragic? After bringing the phrase to a wonderful half cadence, Sullivan modulates to the relative major and reuses the first two lines, placing the first note of each phrase on the downbeat this time. In doing so, Sullivan has completely reoriented Gilbert’s lyric, just as Mozart often did to DaPonte’s libretti. Verdi and Puccini would have asked for an amended lyric. Note also that Sullivan’s setting basically ruins Gilbert’s internal rhyme; you don’t even notice it anymore. I think Gilbert meant:

A) Sorry her lot who loves too well

A) Heavy the Heart that hopes but vainly

B) Sad are the sighs 

C) That own the Spell

B) Uttered by Eyes 

A) That speak too plainly

But because Sullivan phrases it over many measures, we hear the second part like this:

Sad are the sighs that Own the spell

Uttered by Eyes that Speak too plainly.

The second part of the aria is in a faster F major, and just as the first half had been tracing gently descending scales, the F major portion traces chords up and down the range before ending on a chromatic melisma. On the repeat, Josephine gets a lovely cadenza up to the B flat.

Sullivan had set texts unusually in the previous operas, but this is a tremendous step forward, and he would continue in that direction in Pirates. 


I went into some detail in my Pirates Rough Guide into the way Sullivan shortens his connecting passages to build excitement. I think I called it ‘sawing the end off the diving board’ Here, Josephine’s opening music is shortened the other way, by cutting off the front! In measure 29 and 59, Sullivan moves the beginning of the phrase from beat 1 to beat 2. You can certainly see why he did this; the melody begins on the third, which would spoil Josephine’s cadence. (note also the bold descending tritone in the melody!)

Sorry Her Lot opening

Melody at the Opening

Sorry Her Lot Second Iteration

Introduction as it appears the second time

Sullivan would pull the same trick years later in the 3rd Act of Princess Ida in the title character’s aria: I Built Upon a Rock, which is also an Andante in 3/4 time.

I don’t find Josephine’s arias as convincing as Mabel’s in Pirates, but they are very strong. It is important to treat her arias as serious moments; the piece must be grounded and beautiful to work. The situations these characters find themselves in are by nature preposterous, but to make them work correctly, these few moments of sheer beauty must be sincere.

6. Barcarolle: Over The Bright Blue Sea

This sequence is where the opening number pays off! Many people have pointed out the wonderful orchestrational detail of the pianissimo bass drum strikes on “Bang Bang”. And again Sullivan’s melodic fecundity is amazing.

Performance details:

Be sure you are clear about where to breathe at the ladies entrance, and observe the dynamics. The last note on K.C.B. is tied to an eighth note in the next measure. The English have a way of notating cutoffs that I don’t completely understand, except that it’s inconsistent and doesn’t make sense to me. I do hope one day someone will enlighten me further on this. Conversations with colleagues have just led to mutual bewilderment. Cut off that B on the downbeat of measure 20.

7. Sir Joseph’s Barge Is Seen

Sir Joseph and Crew Woodward.jpgBy rights this should be 6a. The first portion is an elaboration of the opening number, with better voicing for the chorus and a truncated ending. It leads to one of the most delightful passages of delicate woodwind frothiness in the canon. Compare Climbing Over Rocky Mountain, which was originally written for Thespis, and was repurposed for Pirates. That’s quite a nice little tune, but it has nothing on this beautifully filigreed passage. The end of this number completes the musical idea that began in our opening number, and the number that immediately follows will inaugurate a new set of melodies that will be peppered through the show.

In your Schirmer vocal score, the tenors go up the octave for the lines, “And its crowd of blushing beauty” and for “and attentive to our duty.” The original orchestral score doesn’t have this, and neither does the 1878 Metzler, the 1890 Ditson Vocal Score, the 1920 Metzler, or the Dover full score. Only in the Schirmer does this variation occur. The Dover score is pretty good about noting these discrepancies, but it doesn’t make any note about this one. The higher version is much better for the tenors. If it’s an authorized change, I do wonder why it wasn’t incorporated into the version earlier in the show, when Sullivan was alive.

Apparently there is also some confusion about whether the lyric is“duties” and “beauties” or “duty” and “beauty”. Either is good, just don’t mix and match. Be certain your tenors sing fee-are, not feeer. It does, in fact, rhyme with we are.

The ladies vocal line here is fun, but tricky. You have to observe the staccato, and to float as much as possible that top A, which in amateur choruses runs the risk of being somewhat screechy. But the hardest part is to make the low A actually speak at the end of the passage. The alto line in “Sailors sprightly, always rightly Welcome ladies so politely” is rather unreasonable for the amateur, and will require extra care. Recordings often include a crescendo in the lines, Flags and guns and pennants, All the ladies love, Ladies who can smile, and Sailors welcome most politely, and I thought that was an effective choice. In measure 67, when the ladies parts meet the two gentlemen’s parts, it will come off best if we have already established differing character in the 3 sections. The bass part should be separated, even staccato, the women’s part light and dainty, and the tenors as full bodied as possible. If the three parts are all rather characterless, we won’t get much excitement when the parts are combined. The descending chromatic line in measures 78-83 has a potential of going flat. Be sure the half steps are small. Observe the written diminuendo and be sure to admonish your chorus to keep a strong breath support to help with tone and intonation. There are a number of ways to get the last 6 measures across. Often people come to a full stop before Sailors, then switch to 4/4 or a subdivide 2/4 in much slower tempo. Sometimes you hear a break between Ladies and Most politely. Whatever you choose, be sure you’re back in tempo when the orchestra comes in and be clear where you are cutting off. I think amateur choruses will have trouble cutting off on the and of 2 as it appears in the score. Better on 2 itself, or even the downbeat of the following measure.

8. Now Give Three Cheers

Sisters cousins aunts woodward.jpgIf you’re only working from the Schirmer Vocal Score, you may not know that there’s a traditional snare cadence after the first 6 measures and before the Vivace that acts as entrance music for Sir Joseph. It can be heard on a number of recordings. Just as No. 7 closed the loop on the first number, Joseph’s entrance music will reprise many times through the show, evidence of the determination of the authors to further integrate the musical material. Unfortunately for the sake of performance, there are several versions of the Sisters, Cousins, and Aunts refrain, and they are dissimilar in voicing and execution. You will do well to point this out early in your rehearsal process so that your cast can begin differentiating them immediately.

The closing Aunts of the chorus end on beat 4 the first two times in this iteration, and on the 3rd beat of the second measure on the final pass. You should drill in this cutoff as early as possible. It also, one hopes, goes without saying that these are Onts, not Ants. 

9. Song: When I Was A Lad

This patter song is a good deal simpler than My Name is John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer. It is, in fact, a very close cousin to When I, Good Friends Was Called To The Bar from Trial by Jury. Wells’s number was based on traditional Bel Canto patter songs, but this has the classic Gilbert and Sullivan flavor. In Pirates, they would find a way to marry the simplicity of form they explore here with the melodically complex writing of The Sorcerer. 

As with all patter numbers, the most difficult hurdle is simply remembering the words. There is a notational puzzle in the Schirmer score that is liable to confuse your chorus members who are dogmatic about stem direction. For some reason, there are always one or two chorus members in every group I direct who hold rigidly to the rule that when stems on a staff with two parts go down they are for Altos or Basses, and when stems go up, they’re for Sopranos or Tenors. When the exigencies of some passage require stems to orient based on another consideration, this causes great confusion for some people. On each page of this number in the Schirmer score, there are stems pointing up for the first time through and down for the second, to indicate different rhythms. It’s as simple as can be, but on page 49, the rhythms of the choral echo are so different that the measures look truly awful. Teach the rhythm by rote, or you’ll wind up explaining what’s going on many many times, as I did!

There are a lot of words here, many to mis-pronounce if you’re not careful. “Clerk” is pronounced “clark“. “Poss examination“, not “PAAS examination”, “so syooted me/he“, not “so soooted me/he“, “Pah-lee-uh-ment“, not “parlumint“. That’s a start.

In verse 4, Sir Joseph sings “the only ship that I ever had seen”, and the chorus echoes: “the only ship he ever had seen”, with no “that“.

It is traditional to perform the end of the 5th verse and the entire 6th verse slightly slower. Be sure when you get to “…by making me the ruler…” and “…and you all may be rulers…” that the tempo picks up again, or you’ll have a devil of a time coordinating your chorus entrance.

SIDEBAR: In May 1945, George S. Kaufman’s Hollywood Pinafore, or The Lad Who Loved A Salary opened at the Alvin Theatre. It was a spoof of Pinafore that took place in a motion picture studio. That may sound off to you, and it is a little goofy, but consider this dream team: It was written and directed by Kaufman, who had written for the Marx Brothers, the plays Merrily We Roll Along, The Man Who Came To Dinner, and would later win a Tony directing the original Guys and Dolls. Buttercup was played by Shirley Booth, who would win a Tony, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe in the 1950s. And William Gaxton and Victor Moore would play Dick Live-Eye and Joseph W. Porter, they had starred together in the original casts of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes,  Gershwin’s Let ‘Em Eat Cake and Of Thee I Sing. They were the powerhouse comic team of Broadway in the 1930s and 1940s. The story goes that Kaufman ad libbed part of Joseph Porter’s lyric for this number, and a friend suggested he write the rest of it.

My favorite parts of Kaufman’s Porter lyric run like this:

When I was a lad I tried my hand

At every business in the land

My list was most diversified-

I sold umbrellas and insecticide.

(He sold umbrellas and insecticide)

But I could not make Anything go,

So now I am the ruler of the Studio

(But he could not make anything go,

So now he is the ruler of the studio)

I drove a truck and I worked in a bank

And at both those jobs I really stank;

I also made asbestos pies

And I manufactured artificial butterflies

(He manufactured artificial butterflies)

But in all that time I never said “no”,

So now I am the ruler of the studio

(But in all that time he never said no,

So now he is the ruler of the studio)Gaxton in Hollywood Pinafore.jpg

9a: For I Hold That On The Seas

There is again a drum roll/cadence that traditionally goes between the 9 and 9a that is not in the vocal score.

This reprise of the Sisters, Cousins and Aunts is in Bb this time, so all the voicing is completely different in the chorus parts. Thanks, Sir Arthur.

10. Glee: A British Tar

This is the first of two major patriotic pieces in Pinafore. Another sidebar here: when Gilbert and Sullivan were in their first full flush of success, they made a concerted effort to consolidate their gains and push into America and the continent. In their American effort, they supervised an authorized Pinafore and gave us The Pirates of Penzance, the history of which I elaborated on last year. But their effort to connect with Germany wasn’t as successful. It did produce an 1882 German vocal score, which you can still look at on IMSLP. It’s really a wonderful translation, and there are some places where the translator is actually funnier than Gilbert! (for brief moments) I bring it up here, because in the German version Amor am Bord, the sailors are not English. And in this number, they’re just sailors:

Der Seemann

Der Seeman ist gar ein leichtes Blut

And if you were wondering how the Kaufman rewrite went, they are writers:

A writer fills the lowest niche

Of the entire human span

He is just above the rat

And should always tip his hat

When he meets the garbage man

His lips should tremble

And his face should pale

His steps should falter

And his eyes should quail

He should live somewhere

In a ‘dobe hut

And he always should be ready for a sal’ry cut.

In the Kaufman spoof, when that section is reprised in the first act finale, it really has a nice punch, because it’s reiterating how low Ralph’s position is as a writer instead of his high status as an Englishman.

If your 3 principal singers are good enough, you should let them sing the a cappella sections without you managing them from the podium. Beat the measures for the sake of the orchestra, then begin directing everyone 2 measures before the Piú vivace for the sake of the rall. and the fermata.

I’m sorry to say that I find the orchestration at the Piú vivace somewhat ineffective. It’s thinly scored at measure 21 for the strings with no double bass at a piano dynamic, which makes it difficult to use the orchestra to help establish the new tempo coming out of the a cappella section. By the time the double bass and winds join in, you have had perhaps a devil of a 4 measures trying to coordinate things. It is not at all clear in the piano vocal, but if you bring the chorus in at a real piano dynamic, they stand a fighting chance of being together with the orchestra.

It’s a testament to Sullivan’s interest in developing his material over the course of the operetta that he does not give this tune its full due here. He is saving something for later, as we shall see.

11. Duet: Refrain, Audacious Tar

Ralph and Josephine Woodward.jpgThis is one place where I most feel Pinafore is a rough draft of Pirates. Stay! Frederic Stay! follows strongly the outline of Refrain, Audacious Tar!: In both numbers an allegro chromatic opening gesture in the orchestra leads to two octaves establishing a minor key. An exciting and declamatory allegro is followed by a slower passage in 3 in the parallel major, even though it’s a melancholy sentiment. But that’s where the comparisons end. Stay! Frederic Stay! then follows with a plot-driving recitative and a thrilling Allegro vivace in the relative major. It’s very close to perfection. By comparison, Refrain… doesn’t pack as strong a punch. Without Pirates to compare it to, though, we have to marvel at how far Gilbert and Sullivan have come since The Sorcerer. The classic G&S situation for duet between the romantic principals is one in which a character is of two minds, a public and a private one. the resolution of the plot comes when the two minds are somehow reconciled. In The Sorcerer, Alexis and Aline reach their most conflicted state in Act 2 over the matter of whether Aline will take the potion as Alexis demands. His expression of his sentiment comes in an Aria, and her decision to acquiesce later also happens in a brief aria. That critical juncture between the two characters had happened in individual moments, not jointly. Here in Pinafore, the authors have finally figured out how to bring the music to bear on the dramatic situation, and how to depict the conflict using all the forces at their disposal.

You will need to make some decisions together about the way the ending works. Since the duet goes somewhat out of time, you can sing the grace note a number of ways successfully, provided you all agree on the approach.

12 Finale: Can I Survive This Overbearing

In Pinafore Gilbert and Sullivan made striking headway in writing finales, an area that has stymied composers and librettists for centuries. Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the words for Mozart’s greatest operas wrote the following in his memoirs:

“This ‘finale’, which has to be closely connected with the rest of the opera, is a sort of little comedy in itself and requires a fresh plot and a special interest of its own. This is the great occasion for showing off the genius of the composer, the ability of the singers, and the most effective ‘situation’ of the drama. Recitative is excluded from it; everything is sung, and every style of singing must find a place in it-adagio, allegro, andante, amabile, armonioso, strepitoso, arcistrpitoso, strepitosissimo, and with this the said finale generally ends. This in the musician’s slang is called the chiusa or stretta- I suppose because it generally gives not one twinge, but a hundred to the unhappy brain of the poet who writes the words. In this finale it is a dogma of theatrical theology that all the singers should appear on the stage, even if there were three hundred of them, by ones, by twos, by threes, by sixes, by tens, by sixties, to sing solos, duets, trios, sextets, sessantets; and if the plot of the play does not allow of it, in defiance of his better judgement or of his reason, or of all the Aristotles on earth; and if he then finds his play is going badly, so much the worse for him.”

Trial By Jury had the virtue of being so short as not to require a complicated Finale. After the main problem of the piece is solved, the operetta reprised a bit of the judge’s tune and we were on our way.

Act I of The Sorcerer had ended with a number of the elements DaPonte laid out in his memoir: The cast was assembled, we heard a very memorable drinking song, an ominous and brief trio, a beautiful duet, and a full ensemble of confusion, such as one might typically find in a standard Offenbach operetta. Act II began with 3 pages of a comical scene, and then an exact reprise of the song that closed Act I.

The Act I Finale of HMS Pinafore integrates solos, duets, trios, and large scale ensemble work with constant commentary by the chorus in an amazing balancing act that shows absolute mastery from composer and librettist. It incorporates declamatory solo work, moments of pathos, threats, and patriotism, a near suicide, a patter song for the chorus and principals at breakneck speed, a sea shanty, and finally, a restatement of “A British Tar” which does not merely repeat the previous iteration, but is a major expansion and rethinking complete with one of Sullivan’s delicious harmonic left turns. The fleshing out of A British Tar feels less like a reprise and more like a payoff, as though this is the way this tune was always meant to be played out, and we are only at that moment hearing it properly.

As usual, the First Act Finale is the most difficult piece to manage as a conductor. I’ll give you some tips on managing the complicated factors at play here.

Be sure your chorus is clear on the rests in their first entrance, and make sure the word “cheer” has no ‘r’ in it. There are a lot of ‘t’ cutoffs here, it’s a great place to create real precision in your chorus.

Deadeye’s part is quite rangy. Have a listen to some of the historical recordings, and you’ll hear some options of sections to potentially speak, if the notes prove impractical for your actor. Incidentally, Deadeye’s passage “You must submit, you are but slaves” is one of the handful of passages I alluded to earlier where the winds are playing opposite the strings. Deadeye tells them they are slaves to the accompaniment of clarinets, bassoons and horns, and that she is a lady to the accompaniment of strings.

When Ralph sings his “My friends, my leave of life I’m taking…”, note that the chorus echoes with slightly different words than Ralph sang. Note that “faithful” is 2 eighths, not a dotted eighth-sixteenth pattern. Also somewhat problematic is the fact that only the sopranos sing the word “that” in the last phrase. This will be super counter-intuitive for your altos, tenors, and basses.

The way the vocal score lays out the chorus passages, “Ah, stay your hand…” and “Yes, Yes, ah Yes!” is potentially confusing. The sopranos and altos are meant to sing the higher note in the normal treble clef, the tenors and basses the lower note as notated, not the octave lower as might be notated with the tenor 8va basso treble clef. I hope that makes sense. Of course, altitude challenged altos may sing the lower note with the tenors if necessary.

The Allegro vivace “Oh, joy, oh rapture…” is an extraordinary passage in a style that Sullivan had explored several times in Act II of The Sorcerer, and an orchestral texture he would return to many times again in the future. The effect is achieved with a very quiet arpeggiated accompaniment in the violins and violas activated into sixteenth notes, the 2nd violins, cellos and basses punctuating the pattern in 2 measure pizzicato phrases. Over this very exciting but very quiet texture, the winds emphasize the most beautiful parts of the melody in a subtle legato. It’s simple, but very sophisticated, worthy of Rossini or Offenbach, for sure. And when Deadeye’s material is introduced and then applied into that texture, the horns begin playing offbeat octaves as the pizzicato portion of the texture speeds up. One gets the sense that Sullivan is holding some forces in reserve; there’s more to do here, and indeed he’ll get to that later. As you’re rehearsing this passage, keep the dynamic quiet, so that you can achieve all that subtlety in executing it with the orchestra.

The passage that follows is the nail-biter for the conductor, sitting, as such passages always do near the conclusion of the First Act Finale. Choose your tempo wisely, because you’ll be stuck with it when everything is happening at once. In truth, Sullivan wants this tempo to be exactly the same as the previous tempo, so you’ll really need to be thinking very long term to get that speed just right. As the principals begin to introduce the theme, make sure you observe the rests. When the chorus is introduced, again reiterate the importance of the rests, and decide where the consonants go when a rest comes between two halves of a word. For example, I chose: “this ve- ry”, not “this ver- y” as it’s written. I think “mu-ffled” is particularly important. Incidentally, you may not know that music engravers are required by the conventions of their craft to break up words as they are broken up in a standard dictionary, not by where the consonants lie artistically for the singer. In the US in the 50s and 60s, there was a move to overthrow this convention in choral music, but the results looked preposterous, and so now we’re back to the old way. You are not breaking the composers intention by moving consonants tastefully to the next syllable.

You will probably find that the bass part in this passage lies too low for some of your singers. Truthfully the alto part is low as well, but the bass part is actually going to be out of range for some of your basses. The tenor part is available for use at that point, and some of your tenors can pop up and help those altos if necessary, although most altos I know are proud of their low Gs and will resent the offer of assistance. Honestly no one will hear any of your low basses on those E flats in context. The bassoon is perhaps going to be mistaken for a bass at that point, which is all the same, frankly.

When the meter switches to a big 3/2 and everyone is singing, I have to confess that the choral scoring is not ideal. In our production, we did it as is, but there is potentially a way to alter it to make it lie better in terms of range and balance. Let me show you what I mean:

First Act Finale Complication A.jpg

It’s clear Sullivan wants the melody to come out strong, since he’s marked it forte and all other parts pianissimo. In the autograph score and the other early sources, Deadeye sings the Boatswain’s part here and The Boatswain takes the Carpenter’s line. But let’s assume for the sake of discussion that we have a chorus of 24, and let’s assume the fantasy that there are exactly 6 on a voice part. (yes, I know this is ludicrous, but one has to start somewhere) This means that there will be 13 people singing the rather difficult melody, including Altos who will be singing a G above the staff in the measure following this excerpt. There will be 7 people on the very bottom part and 1 person on the Baritone part. (sung in the above score by the Boatswain) The finest tenor onstage, Ralph, will be singing essentially a second tenor part alone, while 6 other tenors and one principal Mezzo will sing a first tenor part just slightly higher. One mezzo alone will sing what is essentially a standard alto part. So counting from the top to the bottom, this would be the distribution of parts: 13, 1, 7, 1, 1, 7. This strikes me as kind of silly. If you have the time, you might redistribute things thus: All sopranos and Josephine on the melody, Forte. (that’s 7 people) Half the altos and Hebe on the top part, second line from the top, piano. (that’s 4  people) The other half of the altos and Buttercup on the lower note of the second line from the top, piano. (that’s also 4 people) All the tenors and Ralph on what used to be Ralph’s line, pianissimo. (that’s 7 people) The baritones, the Boatswain, and Deadeye on the Boatswain’s old line, piano. (that’s 5 people) All the 2nd basses and the Carpenter on the Carpenter’s old line mezzo piano. (that’s 4 people) This distribution is 7,4,4,7,5,4. If people are paying attention to dynamics, especially those tenors, I think this works better, and you still have a principal grounding every part. In reality, you probably don’t have as many chorus tenors anyhow.

However you manage this passage in terms of the voicing, you will need to observe some important precautions to get a good ensemble.

  1. When you teach this melody, take a lot of time clarifying the 3 versions of the descending passage slowly, or you will never ever get it in tune.
  2. In any passage like this, be very clear what each part is doing. The choral/chordal parts are not the main event, they are a texture below the melody. They should be piano, and extremely short, all rests being observed. This melody is also marked staccato, but it has no rests, so we should hear a long stream of delicate filigree. If the two parts have the same character, we lose the effect.
  3. There is a danger for each of these two musical components: The melody part has no place to breathe. If the singers try to catch a breath and jump back in, they will muddle the line and slow things down. Those singers need to drop a note or two whenever they catch a breath and sneak back in. The accompanimental part has rests. The notes after the rests will likely want to rush. Amateur singers also often breathe during each rest. In a passage like this, that’s a recipe for hyperventilation and also contributes to rushing. These tendencies lead to a strong potential for the singers falling out of sync with one another and the orchestra.
  4. Gilbert’s lyric here is wonderful, with an incredible double triple rhyme scheme: ABC ABC DEF DEF. Point that out, and drill the words without the music at half speed, a quarter speed and full speed, eliminating American Rs and clarifying plosive consonants as you go.
  5. Take a little time to get the group to watch you. I like to conduct speeding up and slowing down preposterously to get the group responsive to my beat, then I tell them to watch me as though I’m going to do that, even though I won’t. Try that, I bet it’ll work wonders. Incidentally, (and this is kind of important) it’s good to remind your singers that when they’re watching the conductor well, it will sometimes feel like the conductor is speeding up or slowing down erratically. That’s because when the conductor is trying to correct an out of control tempo, you should feel an adjustment. If you don’t feel the reins, maybe you’re not connected to the chariot.

Incidentally, the German version of this section has an impressive and difficult translation which has an easier rhyme scheme. If your German is good enough, try this on for size:

In dieser Nacht,
wenn Niemand wacht
nahn leise wir
wir sind schon hier,
Still schleicht ihr fort
zum Kirchlein dort,
sie wird als Braut
ihm angetraut!
Ihr werdet sehn,
es wird schon geh’n
und Niemand kann
sie trennen dann.

No automatic alt text available.

In dieser Nacht wenn Niemand wacht…

At the tail end of this passage are 2 problems. At the final “none, none”, the chorus will probably want to hold the second “none” as though it had a fermata. The fermata is on the rest, not the note. Then when the whole thing opens out into half notes, there is usually a tendency to rush. Try to get the chorus to feel the big 3 beat in the previous passage and maintain that throughout. There is no ritardando here.

I also feel the need to point out that the 5 measures that connect this passage to Deadeye’s final outburst are exquisite, and the chromatic descending line in the bassoon and horn combined with the chromatically altered melody would be the envy of many a Romantic composer.

Deadeye has an ominous recitative here, which is right where it would need to be to deliver a piece of information that ruins everything. In the same spot in Pirates, Ruth has a section of Recitative where she begs not to be abandoned. In Patience, this is the place where Grosvenor comes to ruin Bunthorne’s fun. There are analagous places in the First Act Finales of every subsequent Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, but probably the best of these is Katisha’s entrance in the First Act Finale of The Mikado, where she truly rains blight on our festivities. Here, I can’t help the sense that Deadeye is not much of a threat to these goings on, and one wishes Gilbert had given Deadeye the agency to insinuate he’d tell on the pair. As it stands, we simply laugh to see him ignored.

The orchestra parts have some more dynamic variety than the Vocal Score lets on in the following Allegro. When the Tra las begin, the strings drop out, and the winds are marked piano, it’s suddenly very rustic. You might instruct your chorus to drop in volume there. The strings reenter forte when the sopranos have the melody alone. The dotted half note ‘La’s in that passage in the Altos, Tenors, and Basses should be sfzps, to let the melody clear, and do be careful not to rush that passage.

The British Tar reprise that begins here is really interesting, because Sullivan has written a brand new melody on the lyric of the original Glee for the women to sing. I found it more difficult to manage the lyric in this tune at speed than the mens part is 16 measures hence. I think you will want to get that women’s part as quick as you can manage, or the following passage will feel a bit soggy and slow.

The final stretto of the Finale is brilliantly done. Again, enforce a clarity of differentiation between the principals, who are putting across a very legato line, and the chorus, who are punctuating the line with little bursts of excitement. It’s easy to miss the Stringendo at the bottom of vocal score page 92, which speeds up to the Più vivo at the top right corner of page 93. At the bottom of 93, right on time, is one of Sullivan’s signature harmonic left turns. The one near the end of Trial by Jury heads toward the key area of VI major. The WOW moment harmonically at the end of the first act of The Sorcerer is an absolute shocker, a left turn toward flat III major, from the key of B, briefly into the key of D major. Sullivan must have sensed he was onto something, because this one also points toward flat III, from an E flat major tonality into G flat major. Bel Canto composers sometimes do this trick, but Sullivan manages to make it seem effortless and inevitable. Rather than seeming like a ‘predictable surprise’, I always feel like when I get near the end of Act I, the master is going to step up the plate and is always going to hit a homer.

I don’t know why Buttercup doesn’t have a line with the principals. She might sing with Hebe if you need the line fortified. Or perhaps you could create a line that incorporates Ralph’s higher notes. Or have her sing with the chorus. Or she could hold up a sign that says, “Gilbert forgot I was on stage.”

One further thing before I conclude the first act here: Your sopranos are all going to want to pop that high B flat at the end. You really only need one or two up there. Say that in your rehearsals when you’re learning the piece, and then when you get off book and on stage, periodically remove some chorus sopranos from the high B flat. It’s like cleaning a fish tank.



The Entr’acte is really quite short! I conducted the first 5 measures in 3, including the pickup to the 6th measure. Then I switched to a beat per bar, moving back to 3 for the rall. moments.

13. Song: Fair Moon, To Thee I Sing

It’s going to take a little time to unpack this one. Rutland Barrington, the original Corcoran, disliked the song, and asked to have it replaced. It seems to have been removed and then put back. It’s rather a difficult aria to sing well. We were fortunate to cast an exceptionally good tenor, who sang it in the original key of D. You should know right off the bat that the song was originally in D, but is often performed in C. When you get your parts, check the key. A whole step makes a huge difference here.

The vocal score is also misleading in another respect. The first measure is a horn, marked mp, not p, and the f chord in measure 2 is a pizzicato pluck from the strings. Banging that staccato chord at a forte on the keyboard is not at all the effect of the string section playing it pizz. When you see the accompaniment figure that follows in the piano score, you’re liable to use pedal and pretend it’s Schubert. It isn’t. That accompaniment is also pizz, very dry, an imitation of the mandolin he’s playing onstage. Pedal from measures 14-16, when the winds come in and play chords, and pedal from the second half of measure 28 through the downbeat of 38, where the winds add warmth and pathos to Corcoran’s lament. Note also the piano marking at measure 34. (which doesn’t make it into the orchestral parts in every edition by the way) If your singer can pull off that line at a quiet dynamic, it’s exceptionally beautiful, but quite difficult in that register, which sits right in most people’s passaggio.

Singers with Bel Canto experience will recognize this type perhaps more readily than the general public. If the text were Italian, a listener would likely peg this as Donizetti or maybe Bellini. Think Quanto è bella or Spirto Gentil for example. You’ll want a somewhat flexible rubato around the important cadences, an unobtrusive accompaniment, and a long beautiful, well supported line that culminates in the final phrase. The more beautiful the singing, the funnier the goofy lyric will be. After all, the template for these pieces are very serious love songs, and Corcoran is just annoyed by his job and his daughter’s inconvenient love life.

14: Duet: Things Are Seldom What They Seem

Corcoran and ButtercupThe simple duets between secondary characters that appear in the second acts of G&S are uniformly delightful. Along the lines of Wells and Lady Sangazure’s duet in The Sorcerer is this oddball list of truisms.

In his children’s book, Gilbert writes:  “though very uneasy at her portentous utterance –– was rather disposed to pat himself on the back for having tackled her on her own ground in the matter of stringing rhymes, and (as he thought) beaten her at it. But, in this he was wrong, for if you compare her lines with his, you will see that whereas her lines dealt exclusively with people and things who were not so important as they thought themselves to be, his lines were merely chopped-up proverbs that had nothing to do with each other or with anything else.”

Performance wise there is not much to say about this duet. The verses are fun and well scored. You need to train your singers to watch for your entrances after the fermatas and to be sure the phrasing of the sections they sing together are lined up to match. The last 9 measures are marked in the full score, with a slow diminuendo to the pp in the 3rd measure from the end, but these details do not appear in the vocal score.

Gilbert has a few other wonderful and telling comments in his children’s retelling of this number.

The Captain replied:

“Yes, I know

That is so.”

Then, beginning to feel his feet, as the saying is, he ventured into deeper water:

“Though to catch your drift I’m striving,

It is shady- it is shady.”

(He repeated ‘it is shady’ to give him time to think of the next rhyme, though he pretended that the repetition was part of the structure of the verse)

The Hollywood Pinafore version of this has a funny parody lyric:

Hollywood’s a funny place

Big stars little starlets chase

Little girl Ermine wraps

Till a multitude of laps

(Very true

So they Do)

Somehow all the weekly checks

Definitely hinge on sex.

One man fills another’s shoes

Hard to tell whose baby’s whose.

(So they be


Then later:

Though I’m anything but clever,

I could talk like this forever;

Films about a Chinese sleuth

Play to millions in Duluth.

15: Scena: The Hours Creep On Apace

Corcoran and Sir JosephAfter a bit of very funny dialogue between Sir Joseph and the Captain comes Josephine’s wonderful scena, in which we catch more glimpses of G&S greatness to come. Gilbert has provided a lyric full of unselfconscious character development mixed with real pathos, and for his part Sullivan gives Josephine a real Bel Canto aria, complete with sighing motives, a declamatory recitative, and some very impressive high work near the end. This is head and shoulders above anything Sullivan has written for soprano before.

Sullivan isn’t blindingly obvious about the way he uses winds vs. strings as a metaphor, but we are clearly hearing them at the beginning being used oppositionally against one another. Just as Josephine is weighing in her mind the two warring stations available to her, should she follow her heart or her head.

The recitative section is difficult to conduct through. Give the downbeat, and beat 2, and wait to give beat 3 until the word that rhythmically allows you to set up beat 4 for the orchestra. For example, in the first fermata, Beat One and Two, she begins singing. Line up beat 3 with “armor”, and by the time she gets through ‘and old’, you’ll be right on track to get the orchestra in on ‘brasses‘ on beat 4. The trickiest one is ‘pillows‘. Make sure your singer knows not to put any pause between ‘pillows‘ and the words that follow, because the next measure comes in time hot on the heels of the one before. This difficulty may not occur to you until you bring in the orchestra, so keep your ears out for it early in the process. “Luxurious” is pronounced lugzyoorious. (as I hear it), and “papa” is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable.

Incidentally, the German version is stupendous here:

Josephine part 1Josephine part 2

I had a tendency to start the Allegro con spirito with a little too much spirito. Make sure you’re in the tempo you want the sung section to be in.

At measure 63, on the word “duty“, watch that the two half notes bear some relation to half notes, even with the rallentando and the turn involved, otherwise you’ll find it tricky to know when to resolve the chord in the next measure.

The dynamics in the number are clearly and carefully laid out in the full score, and largely absent from the piano vocal. They really help shape the number. For those of you who don’t have access, I’ll lay them out by measure from the top where they’re missing from the pv. (all dynamics in orchestra, not vocal)

m. 9 sfz m 11, sfz, m. 12 p, m. 14 f, m. 17 p, m. 23, beat 3 f, m. 24 p, m. 26 cresc. m. 28 implied mp in strings, p in winds. crescendo to f as it appears in vocal score. m. 32 p, then dynamics as they appear in piano score until m. 77 cresc. m. 80 beat 2 f, m. 82 p as written, then dynamics are correct for the rest of the number.

16: Trio: Nevermind The Why And Wherefore

If this isn’t one of the catchiest tunes ever written, I’d like to see what is. It’s also pretty shockingly chromatic! The first part of the tune hits every note except C and D as it sequences a descending turn, ratchets up by interlocking thirds and finishes off with a few descending tetrachords and a modulation to the dominant. There’s quite a lot going on there, and it’s amazing how effortlessly it plays out.

The second part of the tune reduces the melody to a simple drone, while the woodwinds pipe away at a shanty. The end of that section is an example of that motif of woodwinds alternating with strings that’s been running subtly through the operetta. As the three characters toss back and forth a list of the characters in the love triangle complete with social station, the winds and strings play their own game of back and forth. Sullivan is musicalizing the dichotomy at the center of the story. Added to that clever instrumentation is the traditional association of a highly chromatic melody with the upper class and the association of simpler music over a drone with a more modest social station. Contemporary audiences would I’m sure have recognized the two musical worlds at play here. When Mozart does these things, we write papers about them. When Sullivan does them, academia yawns….

There isn’t anything particularly difficult about performing the number if you’ve cast the right people. The vocal score doesn’t clarify whether the top or the bottom line is the Captain or Sir Joseph when the two are notated on the same staff.  In the Dover full score, the Captain takes the high part, but the other way would work as well.

17: Duet: Kind Captain, I’ve Important Information

Corcoran and Deadeye WoodwardI really envy Sullivan’s restraint. In my own writing, I tend to throw everything and the kitchen sink at every problem. (rather the same way I write these posts!) But Sullivan knows that all you need to pull off a number like this is the full string section and a piccolo.

Incidentally, the part seems to have been written for flute and then switched to piccolo at some point before the part was engraved. The little solo is somewhat tricky to get in tune on the piccolo; be wary.

This is also the spot where Deadeye actually does something to advance the plot!

This post is not aimed at directors, but if one happens to be reading, it is important to actually have a cat-o-nine-tails on stage here, so that modern audiences are aware of the instrument of discipline about which they are speaking. If you don’t, the bald-faced pun in the next number will fall somewhat flat. Fortunately the cat-o-nine-tails has been phased out of our cultural experience.

18: Soli and Chorus: Carefully on Tiptoe Stealing

This is actually the third longest passage in the opera without dialogue interrupting. It’s the meat of the second act.

Again, if you’re at all familiar with Pirates, you’ll hear this and immediately think of “With Catlike Tread”, which takes this exact joke, adds a pinch of Verdi and turns up the volume. I imagine Gilbert got a sense of how funny it was to see sailors cowering in fear at a loud noise and realized it would be even funnier if the scaredy-cats were policemen.

In the Hollywood Pinafore version, they bump into the microphone:

Goodness me!

What did we strike?

Silent be!

It was the mike!

The Dover full score indicates that the original autograph has the dynamic pp from the beginning, but a f dim. to pp over the first 2 measures marked in crayon. That’s a more effective opening, for sure. Be sure your men observe rests and staccati, and when your orchestra arrives, let them know to really bang out the fortissimo tutti chords without you having to telegraph them, so that the audience can really get a nice jolt. Also work to line up your chorus cutoffs, especially when they close on the letter ‘t’. That’s a nice moment to show choral uniformity.

The full score breaks at the Allegro before the Captain’s “Hold!” into 18a, and the orchestral parts we used broke up other numbers in yet other ways. Try to obtain the full score of the version you’re using or a first violin part at the very least and compare number by number, measure by measure to save yourself much rehearsal time. A very important error to correct in the piano score: violin and flute join Corcoran on his pickup “Pretty” on the way into the Vivace section.  This is important because without it, you’ll rehearse with Corcoran thinking he’s in charge of the entrance, which actually needs to coordinate with the orchestra.

To continue the theme of Sullivan’s use of musical motives to connect the piece, many have remarked on the fact that Josephine and Ralph are accompanied in their duet “humble, poor and lowly born” by a flute playing Corcoran’s angry melody. It’s a witty touch, perhaps depicting Corcoran’s simmering rage.

The ‘He is an Englishman’ that follows is the second and more famous patriotic moment of the piece, and although it’s customary to say that the melody is Handelian, I hear Elgar. No matter, just be sure to have long, legato lines with tall vowels. There is a canon in the clarinet at measure 109 that you will need to look up in a full score (or perhaps the clarinet book on imslp, remembering to transpose) to write into your vocal score. Much has been made of this elsewhere on the internet, and I’ll add that if your singer isn’t used to hearing the countermelody, he is liable to think he’s missed a cue and come in wrong. Your Boatswain will have to manage his breath; these are really very long phrases indeed. This may have some bearing on the speed you choose for the passage.

The captain’s sputtering reply, “In uttering a reprobation…” is a stroke of genius, and you must observe the goofy rhythms and pauses to get the full effect of his exasperation.

In Gilbert’s retelling for children, he softens Corcoran’s curse to the milder, “Hang it!”

The chord the chorus sings on “Oh!” often becomes a shout, but the chord is an effective diminished outburst. The soprano, alto, and tenor notes can be pulled from the prior melody. The bass note needs to be drilled, it’s a tritone from the F that’s so prominent around there.

Note also that the “he said Damme” passages are marked pp, which came as a shock to American audiences when the first English company brought it to the US. All the bootleg companies had been singing it in full chest voice.

There are some conducting pattern issues in the passage that follows. At the Moderato when Sir Joseph comes back in, you should really conduct in 2, despite the common time marking. The Captain’s phrase, “My Lord, one word” should really go back into 4. Then when Sir Joseph sings “I will hear of no defense”, you should go back into 2. When the chorus reenters at the bottom of Vocal Score page 142, you could be in 2 or 4 based on your own preference for that passage. I think both options are potentially effective. Thanks to Bob Binkley for pointing all that out to me early in rehearsal.

We haven’t heard the sisters-cousins-aunts thing for 86 pages, and Sullivan reverts to the original key and voicing we saw on page 44-45 of the vocal score. There is an error in the piano vocal on page 144; the cousins and sisters have been swapped on the second system. This error is perpetuated in the Dover full score. The inverted version spoils the rhyme. One further detail; the stringendo molto, the sempre stringendo, leading to the vivace of that passage are not normally observed. I don’t think it works all that well. You can try it for yourself if you want to be more authentic.

The reprise of He Is An Englishman is in a higher key now and fully harmonized. Fortunately, this harmonization is identical to the one at the very end of the opera, so you don’t have to learn this particular one twice. Choosing the places to breathe in this passage is tricky. Make a good faith effort at aligning breaths or just tell everyone to stagger their breathing and go for the longest possible legato.

The full score has 2 extra measures of the same chord at the end, which were apparently in the autograph, but have since been deleted. They are not worth reinstating. If your full score has extra, just cross them out.

19: Octet and Chorus: Farewell, My Own

The opening of this Octet comes off a little oddly, since the dialogue has gotten us to a fairly fraught state, and Ralph’s peaceful C major farewell seems really out of left field. Perhaps it’s a joke I don’t get. It leads, however to a miniature madrigal in Sullivan’s best style. How charming that there is a telephone in the lyric. At that point, the telephone was quite new.

Sir Joseph’s entry should pick up the tempo slightly, I think.

Deadeye’s part in the Quartet is hard to find and to sing at a quiet dynamic. You can perhaps add Buttercup to the part and move Deadeye to one of the two lower parts without doing violence to the score or the situation.

When the chorus enters, be certain your sopranos aren’t ‘helping’ Josephine on the high C. The chorus soprano part is low, but Josephine is all you need up there. (provided you casted well)

Someone may object that in measures 54-57 the winds play without the strings, which muddles my earlier argument, to which I point out that the strings are in some versions of the orchestration, and that the passage was not in the original production and is not in Sullivan’s handwriting.

At Sir Joseph’s entrance “my pain and my distress”, establish the new tempo with those two quarters, and conduct in 2. At the chorus entrance, be sure to trip the ‘r’ in ‘terrible’. Also, note that the last quarter in the right hand after Buttercup says, “Hold!” should really be tremolando 16ths in the right hand as in the following measure. In that tremolando measure, the left hand should have eighths, not a tremolo. If you get used to it the other way, it will strike you and the cast oddly when the orchestra joins you.

20: Song: A Many Years Ago

What a magnificent number this is! And how clever of Gilbert to bookend the entire operetta with Buttercup’s songs!

The opening orchestral introduction is about as German as you might want. It sounds like Carl Maria Von Weber to me. But you may hear Schubert’s Erlkönig as well. Whatever is about to happen, there’s Schrecklichkeit afoot.

When you rehearse your chorus, you must take great pains to observe Sullivan’s rests, which are based on the needs of the text and not an arbitrary pattern. Crystal clear diction, a slightly breathy, quiet, supported piano, and deadly serious clarity will make the choral parts very funny.

In his children’s version of the story, Gilbert hilariously makes fun of his rhyme by inverting the necessity of it. He footnotes ‘upper crust’ as follows:

“A vulgar expression intended to imply that one of them belonged to a family of some social importance. It is not an expression that I can recommend for general use, but Little Buttercup wanted a rhyme for ‘nussed‘, and there was no other word handy that would do.”

The Schirmer vocal score is missing the accompaniment in the last measure of page 153, and the first 3 measures of 154. The same passage is missing in the 2nd through 5th measures of 156. I don’t believe this error is listed in the standard errata. Both passages should be accompanied as follows:

Missing passage A Many Years Ago

Insert this missing passage into the accompaniment of your Vocal Score at measures 29-32a and 64-67a

This is also the final payoff of the winds vs. strings thread that’s been running through the show. The winds play rustically here in opposition to the string family just as Buttercup unravels the main problem of the piece.

Before I move on to the Finale Ultimo, I have to share the German version of Buttercup’s reveal, which I have to say is funnier than the original. (Please, no hate mail)

Buttercups Reveal auf Deutsch.png

Und nun, damit ihr’s wisst:

Ralph ist der kleine Feine,

Der Captain aber ist

der ganz gemiene Kleine

Which translates roughly:

So now you know:

Ralph is the little fine one.

But the Captain is

the very common little one.

The rhyme and the wordplay there are ganz und gar fantastisch.

There is a cut recitative that goes between 20 and 21. It’s fine, but it’s just as good spoken. The Dover score has reconstructed it should you want to use it.

21: Finale: Oh, Joy, Oh Rapture Unforeseen

The Finale Ultimo is less ambitious than the first Finale, but as if to hammer home the point of thematic unity of the operetta, the closing number of Pinafore includes no fewer than 4 reprises of previous numbers. It is what we might call a ‘megamix’ in today’s parlance, one final chance to catch these melodies before leaving.

There is an error in the Schirmer vocal score in measure 26, where the Captain should have “For he” with two E flat sixteenths and “is” in the following measure on the downbeat. The Autograph full score, and all the early Vocal scores have it that way.

Again, alter the chorus echo cutoffs here and on the next page so that they match the earlier versions as they appeared in the first act. There is no conceivable value in arbitrarily changing these note values for the end of the show simply to remain true to what was probably a memory lapse.

Traditionally there is a pause after “But wherever I may go”

The final version of sisters-cousins-aunts is harmonized differently than any of the other versions. You’ll have to learn and probably drill each individual version to keep them straight.

At the very end of the show, there is a rather ineffective original ending that appears in the Schirmer score. It is likely not the version your orchestra parts will have, and it’s not the version commonly used. The ending used since, apparently 1914 goes like so:

Traditional Pinafore Ending

There is one other ending with Rule Britannia which was added in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It was not in use at D’Oyly Carte by 1924, when I believe it had fallen out of fashion.

A hand copied conductors score from this time period was recently given to me by a dear friend. It includes the Rule Britannia ending (and no other).

Rule Brittania

Rule Brittania 2.jpgShould you require music for Bows, I suggest beginning the Overture at the Allegro Vivace, measure 72 and playing to the very end.

Your Pit Orchestra:

With regular musicals I sometimes counsel music directors not to hire all the players, but with G&S, you’re dealing with a true orchestral color, so I think it best to hire as much of the orchestra as you can afford with good players. The original orchestrations are available from Tams, but I can’t imagine why you’d use that when there are available here at a reasonable price or here for free. Reductions can be found here, or here or here for example. (incidentally I think we can now stop reducing this one, fellas)

Better that you do G&S than that you ignore it, but do try and do it properly if at all possible, with Sullivan’s magnificent orchestration in full color! Have fun with your production of Pinafore! I will be including more G&S as I music direct them!


Little Women: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

June 6, 2017

Image result for villanova little women

Little Women is perfect for professional and college productions, and might also suit a small high school, particularly a girls school. The show has 6 strong female roles and 4 for men, a great cast breakdown for organizations looking for lots of roles for young women. Cross-generational audiences enjoy the piece and it’s easy to market. The only drawback is the lack of a large chorus, (or indeed much of a chorus at all) which is a deal breaker for a lot of high schools or community theatre groups.


1) Read the original book. You may have read the book as a child. Read it again. It’s the kind of book one mis-remembers, or that one reads very differently as an adult than one does as a child. I’m not linking here to a particular edition. There are many, and lots of places to read it for free. Most of these versions include both “Little Women” and “Good Wives” together as “Little Women”.

2) Listen to the Original Broadway Cast Recording

3) You may want to watch one or more of the film versions, but this is by no means necessary (and may actually cloud the waters a little):

There were 1917 and 1918 silent versions that are now lost.

1933 version starring Katherine Hepburn as Jo. This was the first version with sound.

1949 version starring June Allyson as Jo. This version uses a script based on the 1933 version. Janet Leigh (yes, the one from Psycho) plays Meg.

There is a 1950 and another 1970 miniseries from the BBC. The 1970 version runs 3-4 hours and is apparently okay, with Laurie and Bhaer as real standouts. The 1950 one was live, and is lost.

There’s also an hour long 1958 TV musical adaptation with Joel Grey as Laurie, Florence Henderson as Meg, and operatic Mezzo Risë Stevens as Marmee. The score was written by Richard Adler, of Adler and Ross. Jerry Ross had died 2 years earlier at the age of 29, and this was the first work Adler attempted after that tragic loss. Because this version only adapts what we now think of as the first half of Little Women, Beth lives. (oh, that should have had a spoiler alert…)

There is a 1978 Television Miniseries version with Susan Dey (Laurie from the Partridge Family) as Jo, Meredith Baxter Birney as Meg and William Shatner as Bhaer which is currently on Youtube. Greer Garson plays Aunt March.

And then there’s the one you probably already saw: the 1994 version with Winona Ryder. When I see Winona Ryder now, I just keep flashing back to her faces at the SAG awards, which kind of takes me out of the film, but this is the closest film to the vision of the story that we see in the musical, and it holds up well.

Evidently there’s a new film version in the works with Lea Thompson as Marmee and Lucas Grabeel as Laurie, a new miniseries from PBS and the BBC, there are anime versions, a nice opera, there are comic books… If you go that far, you’re not really preparing to work on a musical, you’ve found a new hobby.

The Authors

Composer Jason Howland’s professional reputation is based on this show and on his work music directing Frank Wildhorn’s shows and Boy George’s Taboo. He won a Grammy in 2015 for producing the cast recording of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. He was born in Concord Massachusetts. He claims as his strongest influences Rodgers, Sondheim, Bernstein, and Menken. I do hear those influences in his music, far more than I hear Wildhorn, even though he is professionally associated with those scores.

I know Mindi Dickstein from my grad work at NYU, where she teaches. She’s had great success writing for Theatreworks USA and Disney. She’s won a Jonathan Larson Foundation Award, among many other laurels and honors. She also grew up in Massachusetts.

Bookwriter Allan Knee had written the book for a short lived Broadway musical Late Night Comic in 1987, but is probably better known for writing the play that would become the movie, and then the musical Finding Neverland. He had also had experience adapting Victorian writing when he adapted The Scarlet Letter for a 1979 miniseries on WGBH.

The Genesis of the Broadway Musical

Right after the Winona Rider movie came out in 1994, Knee, who had toured a straight play version in 1993 and 1994, was tapped to write a musical version for TheatreWorksUSA. They had a reading in 1998, and then TheatreWorksUSA dropped the project. But the show won a Richard Rodgers award, and Jason Howland and (the woman he would later marry) Dani Davis picked it up. After three weeks, the original composer and lyricist (also a husband and wife team) were released, and Howland stepped down as a producer and started rewriting the score. They retained Alan Knee’s work on the book, who revised heavily, and then the production team looked for a new lyricist. Dickstein was tapped to redo the lyrics, having written Astonishing as a kind of audition. After a workshop, the director Nick Corley was also let go. According to Corley, the producers were going for something like Wicked, and according to Knee, he was giving them something like Our Town. They replaced Corley with Susan Schulman, who was a natural choice, because of her experience directing The Secret Garden. Sutton Foster was hired to play Jo, fresh from Thoroughly Modern Millie. 

That seems like a lot of unimportant detail, but let me unpack this briefly, because the climate of the decade the piece was written and the turnover in personnel reveal a lot about the intended character of the musical itself. I have no idea what the discarded score sounded like, but the producers claimed the songs didn’t take the kind of emotional journey they wanted for the characters, and Howland and Dickstein’s score strongly leans in the direction of emotional journey. I think the shows that heavily influenced the tone of Little Women are 1991’s The Secret Garden, 1998’s Ragtime, and 2003’s Wicked. I’ll point out the areas of convergence as I go through the show, but I think the show is meant to have the family friendly warmth of The Secret Garden, the scope, emotional journey and timescale of Ragtime, and the feminism and power-ballad writing of Wicked (which must have been fresh in everybody’s mind when Susan Schulman’s 2004 reading was underway)

There are some interesting technical and storytelling problems in adapting a well known classic to the Broadway climate of the mid ’00s. The tagline of the Broadway production was: “Six generations have read the story. This one will sing it.” This slogan makes the goals of the marketing creative team clear: This is a classic, and we’re going to infuse new life into it. You are connected to generations of women as you watch this show. But it isn’t as easy as that. Today’s younger feminist audiences would probably prefer to see Jo simply pursue her writing, without a romantic interest. In fact, Alcott didn’t originally want Jo to marry; Bhaer is a compromise with Alcott’s fans. But adaptations of the musical can’t cut Bhaer out without angering people who know the original novel. The feminist relationship with Little Women is complicated. Google around and you’ll see what I mean. When I read the book, I was struck by how each chapter seemed to be providing a context and often a moral for young 19th Century women, offering life lessons for girls who want to live the life of the mind, and also for those who want to follow the norms their society laid out for them.  The book is long enough that any adaptation would necessarily need cutting; even an extremely faithful retelling would involve a significant alteration to the totality of Alcott’s vision. The authors of this musical chose to emphasize a version of the story in which Jo realizes that the relationships and memories of sisterhood are the life’s blood of her work, and that finding the potential of her gift means that she will need to lean into those relationships for her strength. It’s a beautiful picture, and that story arc is well told near the end of the musical.

Technically, though, the intersection of this vision of the story with the conventions of the theatre and the requirements of the audience make for a slightly stilted beginning and ending. Theatrical convention requires that we see our heroine with her intended love interest first, because the audience reads that first meeting as a promise. Convention also requires that we end with the romantic resolution. So the musical is book-ended with a flash forward and a proposal, both of which would be unnecessary if the source material didn’t require it.  Your audience probably won’t mind this at all; the show runs very well as written.

Musically, Little Women has a similar problem. In a ‘Defying Gravity‘ world, a musically subtle chamber piece on nascent feminist themes is not going to really fly. Wicked takes place in a kind of fantasy universe, so the musical landscape was up to the writers to establish. Here, the writers needed to touch on a sound palate that calls up the 19th century in reader’s mind, while still allowing occasional flights into modern power ballad.

Jason Howland said in an interview for BostonGuide.com:

“The novel is a classic, so we felt we should score the piece like a classic musical. To write some sort of modern pop score would have been a disaster-that wasn’t the world these characters lived in.”

I’ll say Howland was mainly very successful at this goal, although in the strongest narrative parts of the show, we are squarely in the world of the modern pop mega-musical.

Writing a show is in some ways about trying to strike a balance between often conflicting market requirements. Considering the complicated parameters that constrained the musical, the creative team chose excellent solutions, which I will try to elucidate as we go.


Sutton Foster is, naturally, the type for this part. Needs a strong belt, and a strong personality. Vocally the thing to worry about is the end of Astonishing. (more on that later) It’s quite difficult. But don’t just cast a super-belter either. The part also requires some quality legit singing. It goes without saying, Jo carries the show.


Bhaer has a difficult job: He hardly has any stage time, and has to convey somehow a German stodginess and an endearing personality that will convince us that Jo should wind up with him. He also has some tricky vocal spots to manage, particularly in the final duet in the show. There are some options in terms of dialect. Be sure the dialect isn’t a caricature and that it doesn’t make the lyric unintelligible.


Beth is a legit soprano. She should have a Gb above the staff for the end of Delighted, but in a pinch, Marmee could do that. The G natural at the end of Off To Massachusetts is unavoidable. It helps if she can play the piano a little, although that presents a staging issue I’ll go over when we get there. She needs to be able to play sickly without overplaying it, and to be a fairly subtle actress with a good sense of timing.


The trickiest thing for Amy is that she should be able to play an annoying younger sister and an annoying young adult without becoming annoying to the audience. Not necessarily a belter, although the part doesn’t go terribly high.


Meg is the top voice when the sisters sing together, so she should properly have the high Bb you’ll need at the end of Delighted. You should definitely choose a legit soprano, her voice lies that way in More Than I Am as well. Meg is a traditional ingenue.


Marmee needs to be a very strong singer with maternal warmth and a strong stage presence. Her presence grounds the show, she is the only really benevolent adult in the story. At the end, her guidance helps Jo see a way forward from her loss. She must have a strong E flat below the staff and an E flat above treble C. If you have options, also be thinking about someone who has experience negotiating their break.


Laurie’s part is too high. I’m just going to put that out there. Needs a more than serviceable sustained high A. He ages during the piece, so you should get someone who can play young and slightly older. He needs to be a strong match for Jo so that we really feel conflicted at the end of Act I, and he needs to have something of a sensitive side so that we believe he fits into the imaginative world of the sisters as he must in Act I.

Aunt March:

Aunt March has one of the unreasonable ranges in this show. Her low note is A D# below middle C and her top note is an F# a little over 2 octaves higher in the same number. The part isn’t enormous, but does require a very strong character actress, because her presence grounds a number of critical decisions in other characters.

Mr. Brooke

Brooke doesn’t sing much, but he does need a solid F#. It helps if he’s handsome and able to play slightly awkward well.

Mrs. Kirk

Originally doubled with Aunt March. If she doesn’t double Aunt March, she doesn’t need to be a singer.


If you’re trying to beef up the role of the chorus, you could un-double some of these cast doublings. I should say though, that it’s a neat effect that in the play-within-the-play, the characters are playing the literary versions of themselves, which underscores one of the themes of the play: Jo’s inspiration comes from her family and friends.


This was a double for Mr. Brooke in the original production. If you’re looking to expand the chorus, you can cast another actor here. There is some sword-play involved.


This was a double for the actor who played Laurie. Later Rodrigo is played by Beth. I believe sword-play is involved for both. Laurie Rodrigo needs the high A. Beth Rodrigo doesn’t really sing, except as part of an ensemble.


Clarissa was doubled in the original production by the actress who played Meg. Like Meg, should be cast with a very competent soprano (the part contains a high B, but that could be assigned elsewhere if necessary). There is sword play involved.


This was a double with Amy in the original production. It goes to the F below middle C.


This was a double with Marmee in the original production. In our production, we doubled Aunt March. Moderate mid-range, not particularly challenging.


The Knight was originally a double with Mr. Laurence. Very small part, not at all difficult.

Trolls, Hags, Monks:

These mini-chorus parts in Weekly Volcano press are marked as optional, in case you’re doing a super stripped down version. As far as I can see, they would work equally well cast as girls or as boys, and I suppose you could include nuns with the monks.

A few things to note about the Music Director’s Materials:

For the most part, the vocal score is very poorly cued. You’re going to want to take all the parts and mark your score up so you know who is doing what, particularly if you’re leading the show from the piano. The music of this show is built around the sound of the piano, but there are a number of places in the show where if you’ve hired the complete band, the piano shouldn’t play at all. Budget a lot of time to go through parts and add pertinent info to your score. It’s kind of a shame that there isn’t a proper piano/conductor score, with every note the MD needs to play and the others cued clearly, but that’s life. The pit books are mostly good, although there’s a 4 measure passage in the English Horn that’s in the wrong transposition and I can’t for the life of me remember where it is. When you hear something really odd, you’ll know you’ve found it. Most of the errors we found were in the Oboe/English Horn book.

Digging into the show:

This score is super interesting to work through. There are clear motives that run throughout, (which I’ll try and point out) and some of these motives are really clever and help the storytelling immensely. Other times I feel the use of the motives actually undercuts the large scale storytelling. The end of the show seems ‘rushed to press’ to me. There are places where you can tell the thing was done in a hurry. How I Am, near the top of the second act is the last number to have a metronome marking, and The Most Amazing Thing is the last number in the score to have any kind of initial tempo marking at all. None of the scene changes has an initial tempo marking, which is mostly not a problem, except in a few places, where several tempi make sense. I will cover some of the rough spots as we go. Writing fast and getting something up quickly is the nature of Broadway, but as an MD, you’ll have to burnish some things that would probably have been burnished for you had they been in the writer’s shop a little longer. There are three cuts or rewrites in the show, among what I assume were many rewrites, that break some beautiful thematic continuities in the show. I will rely on a video of the pre-opening Broadway production here and there to help make my case. Hopefully the video doesn’t get pulled, so you can see what I’m talking about. There are shadows of other shows hiding in the wings, never to the point where things feel stolen, but more an acknowledgment of the Authors’ influences. These are also interesting and may help your performers lock into the right style.

00. Overture

This Overture is really more of a prelude. It introduces the Lydian #4 scale degree (D# in the key of A) that Howland associates with Jo.

Howland said in an interview with Playbill in 2005, 

“One of the things you hear in the score a lot is a “sharp four” relationship – a note that doesn’t fit the key of the scale it’s in. You know “Maria” from West Side Story? “Ma-REE-uh.” That “ree” note? That relationship is something Menken uses all the time, that Bernstein used all the time, and that I have picked up. And it’s all over Little Women. It’s all over Little Women when it’s about Jo. These things probably mean nothing to anybody else but mean something to me.”

Musicians have spent a lot of time poking around West Side Story looking for this interval, the tritone. The most famous example of Menken using it is the sharp four in the accompaniment figure and the opening melody at the beginning of Part of Your World. It’s also famously in the Back To The Future score main title theme and the Simpsons Theme. There was briefly a kind of vogue recently for this kind of sound in musical theatre. Andrew Lippa’s John and Jen (1995) also has this kind of sound throughout. The sharping of the fourth scale degree makes a dissonant interval against the tonic note, which is kind of spicy, but it also gives the scale a kind of ‘lift’,  and points the harmony toward the dominant key, which is why composers like to use it to describe aspirational situations or to describe something quirky and delightful. Jo is all that. The musical material of the Overture comes from Our Finest Dreams and Delighted, and hearing them at the top of the show like this calls attention to the ‘sharp four’ note that both pieces share. For the sake of our discussion here, I’m going to call these ‘Lydian’ moments, because the Lydian mode features this interval prominently.

Here’s the ‘Finest Dreams’ Lydian idea, as it appears in the overture:

Lydian 1

And this is the ‘Delighted‘ version of the same idea, also from the Overture (I have corrected some spelling here):

Lydian 2

The dominant pedal (E) in both cases obscures slightly the fact that we’re in A major, and that the D# is higher than it would normally be. I’ll keep pointing these Lydian things out as we go.

1. An Operatic Tragedy

It’s super fun to begin the show basically in Jo’s imagination. Whoever came up with that idea deserves a gold star.

I found the right hand octave pattern a little tricky, and I regret that I allowed myself to be lazy in rehearsal. The top note locks in with the left hand patterns, and when the left hand is less active, it goes back to a squarer pattern. Well, mostly. Have a look, and don’t cheat.

This is a kind of draft of the much longer sequence at the top of Act II. I’ll get into much greater detail there. The opening figure I mentioned earlier, slightly modified, will also start the next song, Better, and very similar material is found in Astonishing and Take a Chance on Me. 

In the parts, measure 58 is marked With Incredible Fanfare, Molto Heroic. The piano vocal does not have that marking. Getting out of measure 32 is tricky because the strings have a flourish on the way into 33 that’s not indicated in the Piano Vocal. If you’re conducting, it’s not so bad. If you’re playing, you’ll have to finesse that.

2. Better

The bright, energetic, percussive accompaniment contrasts nicely with the written-out backphrases of the vocal. The rhythm of measure 40 in the vocal part is a little awkward. In the Original Broadway Cast Recording, Sutton Foster doesn’t sing the 8ths, only quarters. There is a fermata in the parts in measure 73 that’s not in the Piano Vocal.

It’s hard to know if this is Howland’s detail or orchestrator Kim Scharnberg’s, but the figure in 28 and 30 is the first appearance of a version of the Astonishing motive rhythm (but not the intervals). The fact that it’s cued in the piano score makes me think this song reached its current form earlier in the show’s development.

3. Our Finest Dreams

Howland mentions Menken as an influence in the Playbill interview I reference above. Our Finest Dreams shows that influence most strongly, along the lines of Menken’s opening village scene of Beauty and the Beast, or several passages in his Christmas Carol.

The accompaniment figure is built around that Lydian idea, which is really effective.

There is a slide whistle in the percussion book in beats 2&3 of measure 17 that didn’t make it into the piano vocal. The figure in the right hand in measure 54 is pizz and glock cues. (which is delightful!) It continues a little past the cued passage.

Again, the number has a few cues in it, which makes me think it arrived earlier in the show’s genesis. If I can be a super musical theatre nerd and nitpick here for a moment, this number is also an example of a lyric that rhymes, but the musical setting makes it appear not to rhyme. The first few times I heard it, I thought the rhyme was plead/dreams and bleed/dreams. (which may qualify as a near rhyme, but is not really a true rhyme) Then I thought that maybe the plead and bleed are the rhyme and the title of the song is a kind of tag repeating idea. Then I figured it out. Here’s the way the lyric must have scanned on the page:

We’ll dim  the lights, the crowd will hush.

We’ll start the overture and Beth will surely blush

And when Clarissa starts to plead

Christmas will exceed

Our finest dreams!

That scanning of the line would only work if the note on the second syllable of exceed were long, the way it is near the end of the number, in measure 123, where exceed really does sound like it rhymes with guaranteed

Mindi Dickstein does clearly know how to rhyme ‘dreams‘ though, because at the end she runs 3 in a row: beams/screams/gleams/dreams

3A. Transition to March Parlor

I suspect these scene changes were written by the orchestrator fairly late in the game. That’s standard procedure, anyway. Almost all the scene change music doesn’t need a piano. That’s lovely, if you’ve hired the whole band. The show has a little much piano in it as it stands, and these moments without a keyboard are nice.

4. Here Alone

If we had to point to the influence of Frank Wildhorn, I think it reveals itself in Marmee’s two extraordinary ballads. A wildhornian sense of what a powerhouse female voice can do is put here in the service of a very good lyric. (something Wildhorn doesn’t always get) This song really deepens our understanding of Marmee as a character, and this glimpse into her private world characterizes her far better than she is in other adaptations.

There’s another dynamic at play here; the presence of Maureen McGovern. She’s a big name, and people want to see her sing. I’m speculating that she needed to have 2 songs, because, dangit, Maureen McGovern gets 2 songs. And because the audience doesn’t really want to see this character or the actress playing the character singing a big flashy uptempo, we end up with two rather similar downtempo songs. Because the two songs are so similar, they have to be placed as far away from one another as possible, the first near the very beginning of the show, and the second near the end. The one at the end is somewhat problematic from the point of view of pacing, and I’ll get into that later.

The first 8 measures of intro are a reprise of a portion of Our Finest Dreams that got cut. You can hear them in this video from the rehearsal process, at about the 1 minute mark:

Those opening measures do not appear in the vocal selections. Incidentally, the vocal selections for this number aren’t a good substitute for the PV version. “Tell” in “tell you everything is fine” is a different pitch. The piano vocal has Eb. The same for the second A section “I can’t talk about the war” and in the third A section “at this hour.” The rhythm on “remind you” is different in the PV, as well as the rhythms for “I don’t know which part is harder”,“Counting days”, “Do you know”, “manage four young women, I’m not certain”, “…wish that you were with me..”, “I could bring you home”, and “so much longer”. The accompaniment interludes between vocal phrases have all been simplified in ways that I think are unfortunate.

But even though the Piano Vocal version is better, there are some funny spellings that can trip you up. For example, in measure 49, the left hand is playing an E major figure, while the right hand is spelled in F flat major. (well, kinda.) Interestingly, the same funny spelling will happen in a similar moment in her other big song.

Measure 74 presents a challenge negotiating the fermata. The band lands beat 4, and the singer leads out into the next measure. Experiment and find an approach that works best for singer and musicians. The parts have a rit. in measure 82 that isn’t in the piano vocal, and they don’t have the fermata that the piano vocal has in 83.

If you’ve cast a strong singer (and I sure hope you have!) in the part, you should find working on this piece extremely rewarding. It is a challenge to find a placement that keeps the bridge exciting, while leaving room to mix the two Ebs.

4a. Transition to Aunt March

At about 17:30 in this video, you can hear an older version of Here Alone, which was rewritten to get the current iteration:

Measures 1-8 are identical, as is the lyric, but the melody is very different. The scene change 4A Transition to Aunt March is the old melody for “every word should bring you closer”  The new version of Here Alone is a more compelling melodic statement, and I like it. But the ghosts of the old version throughout the show used to pack a punch, and now they dangle tantalizingly in the air, as for example in this scene change, which refers to the old version.

Without the old version to ground us, the first 3 notes sound like the opening of the melody of Here Alone, but then seem to become the music for I won’t let this defeat you in Marmee’s other song. (Marmee’s second act song was originally related thematically to the first one) Then we hear the theme which underpins Could You. Nerd alert: The “…won’t let this defeat you” as stated here is an inversion of “…be there when they need me” in the previous number, and is also related to the motive in Could You, as I hope you can see below. The family resemblances remain, but the tunes are cousins now, not sisters.

Little Women Example 4

Little Women Example 3

Little Women Example 5

5. Could You

To my ear, this number is also in Menken’s world. The number can be done very broadly or more subtly. There’s a musical joke in having Aunt March belting part of the song coarsely, and operatically singing the higher part legit. The most clear spot for this is the indication from 66-68: (belted!), It isn’t very hard, then (in head voice) for someone full of dreams like you… I found that a little over the top, we went for a subtler take. I imagine there’s a whole spectrum of ways to play it. Embedded in this musical joke is the idea that Aunt March is at heart perhaps a little coarse herself, and that Jo is ultimately a pretty good sparring partner in this game of who-can-be-more-posh.  If you’ve chosen an Aunt March that can’t sing the lowest notes, you should bump the notes from the second half of measure 56 through 58 up an octave. Your Jo may also find the two Es in 157 too low. You can alter those up an octave or substitute a G# if those low notes don’t speak.

Work the ritardando in 91 carefully; it’s a bit tricky to conduct through. In the similar spot at 107 and 108, if you’re conducting from the piano, let the first violin take the phrase and head nod or conduct through it rather than trying to coordinate the ritardando playing the top line together; you’ll probably wind up off from one another.

I found the rhythm in 96 and 97 very awkward. I think Sutton Foster’s alteration on the cast recording makes more sense. 2 eighths for “donkey“, 2 sixteenths on “for a“, a dotted eighth for “chance“, and three sixteenths for “to see the“. This is incidentally, what the Vocal Selections version has. Normally I advocate singing the ink on the Piano Vocal Score page, at least to start, but the rhythm as notated makes that line just unsingable.

There’s some deft musical storytelling here. We find a lovely interplay in the orchestration between winds and strings in the waltz section. (notated in 6/8) Aunt March and her upper class world is represented by strings, Jo by winds and percussion. The tonal difference between those worlds is amusingly depicted here.

The detail of who sings first is also well managed here. Note that in measure 59, Aunt March begins, “You could be beguiling”, and Jo answers each of her phrases.

In measure 76, Jo begins negotiating, and Aunt March answers.

In measure 92, they’ve swapped. Jo is now singing “I could be beguiling”, and instigates the new section. But Aunt March then leads the charge by beginning the coloratura call and response. In measure 100, the tables are turning, Jo begins the coloratura, and by 105, Jo has synthesized the winds and strings and commands them both. Aunt March begins again at the Coda: “Change how you walk…”, but the anything-you-can-sing-I-can-sing-higher contest that follows is ultimately won by Jo, who sings her highest and lowest notes within 3 beats.

If the number is well staged, it’s a great burst of energy after the ballad we just left, and inaugurates a string of several uptempos that drive the storytelling forward.

5A. Could You- Playoff Transition

As with most of the other Scene Changes, you can conduct the scene change without playing the piano.

6. Delighted 

Again, this number shows a strong influence of Menken, in the best way. The melody keeps wavering between “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Bananas in Pajamas”, which is a cute place to be.

I wish they’d spelled the first figure correctly, with F double sharps, but I’m probably in the minority there. It’s also pretty near impossible to conduct the figure truly colla voce, because the pit players have to play with the singers.

The dance break, clearly a later addition (as witnessed by the measure numbers) is pretty awkward to play, and irregularly phrased, which may annoy your choreographer. The pit piano book polka is much easier to play, you’ll be relieved when you can switch over. Do yourself a favor and put aside some extra time to practice 38H.

Have fun with the polka accel. in measure 40.

7. Delighted Reprise

The top of this number underscores Amy throwing Jo’s pages into the fire. Originally Amy actually had a tiny bit of a song here, which was awesome, and fleshed out her character. The underscore here from measures 3-8 was part of the accompaniment.  You can hear it at about the 33 minute mark.

If you were trying to bring more of a chorus into the piece, this is a place to add dancers to the party.

I found this underscore pretty difficult to time out, and the page layout makes it more confusing. It looks like the dialogue is supposed to line up roughly with the scoring, but that just can’t be the case. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me. The last 2 measures are clearly meant to land the sight gag of Jo sitting on Laurie. But that’s just too much time not to have any safeties! The dimensions of your stage and the idea the director has for the scene will give you your marching orders. Because the waltz is built on 2, 4, and 8 bar phrases, you can build in some repeats to get the job done. But do be careful that you’re aware of the tonality of the waltz. Don’t repeat from G major to F#, for example. And try not to simply repeat the same 2 measures 100 times. That’ll destroy the important scene it plays under.

The waltz is scored beautifully for the string quintet, you will have fun conducting it. There is an error in the double bass book in measures 7 and 8. Compare to your piano vocal score and adjust the bass book accordingly.

7A Moffat Underscore

More of the same, in both the positive and the negative. The underscore is beautifully scored, and ideally the fermata would land perfectly on Laurie’s interrupted line. In reality, it won’t time out that perfectly. Either build in some repeats or be satisfied with ending early.

8. Take A Chance On Me

I have a lot to say about this number, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

We find ourselves in Stephen Schwartz‘s world, and Howland uses a chord that Schwartz brought into popularity in Wicked. In this interview, Schwartz credits Laura Nyro‘s music with turning him on to that chord, and he used it as far back as Godspell, his first successful show. It’s sometimes called the Wicked Chord, because of its prominence in that score. Here are three examples as they appear in Wicked:

Wicked Chord 1Wicked Chord 2Wicked Chord 3

One way to think of this chord is a bass note with a major triad superimposed a 5th higher. It tends to work well when it acts like a IV chord leading to V, and if you play it, you’ll notice it feels like a Major 9 chord, except that there’s never a third in the chord, so in a way, you’re feeling the top part of the chord as a tonic chord. Schwartz doesn’t just use this chord as a passing chord between other things, he sometimes elevates it to places of real importance. (like the third example above)

Here’s a prominent, and very similar use of that chord in the accompaniment of Take A Chance on Me:

Wicked Chord Take A Chance

It’s interesting that Howland is using the chord a little differently here. It’s not implying IV7-V-I, but flat III7-IV-I. I like this sense of using a flat III chord to make the IV chord feel like a dominant. But let’s not get bogged down there.

When the title is most clearly stated, we hear two different Wicked Chords in the same measure, and both are being used differently than Schwartz used them:

Wicked Chord Take A Chance 2

At the beginning of the number, we also hear another Lydian idea, related to Jo’s motive, which we heard at the very beginning of the Overture:

Lydian 3

This is clearly meant to be Laurie’s motive. It’s sensitive and wistful and endearing.

Laurie’s verse here works well in the situation, and the time signature changes show clearly how uncomfortable he is. Because the motive at the beginning of the song has the same notes as Laurie’s melody, your singer will probably be tempted to sing the rhythm as 16th notes instead of 8ths. Make sure Laurie sings the rhythms on the page. There is some freedom available here, but remember as you rehearse that you’ll need to bring the band in and have some semblance of those measures passing. Don’t let it get too fast and loose in rehearsal or you’ll never be able to convey to the musicians where you are on the page.

The number then slips into a driving modern musical theatre uptempo, with another Lydian touch:

Lydian 4.jpg

All the D#s in this passage and elsewhere are #4 in the key of A, and they give the section a bright, propulsive, aspirational quality. As in Somethings Coming from West Side Story, the triplet figure above the metrically regular Lydian accompaniment gives the audience clues that Laurie is a dreamer and a protagonist.

Take a Chance, like Astonishing, ends on notes that are in a dangerous spot for your average musical theatre singer. In a professional setting, you will find tenors who can sing it, but in most other settings, the number ends unreasonably high. I moved the number down a step. Sometimes when I say on this blog that I’ve done something like that, I’m inundated with requests for copies my materials. I’m not going to do that for you for a number of reasons. If you choose to transpose it, be careful that you don’t move it so far that the beginning goes out of range, and obviously transpose the band’s parts too.

I hope I’ve made it clear that I like this number a lot. But I do think it’s problematic in terms of storytelling. In a post-Sondheim world, the savvy musical theatre listener has come to expect that musical material shared between characters will have a dramatic meaning. When we listen to Into The Woods, we hear Rapunzel’s Ahh theme in  the Witch’s Stay With Me, and we know that it indicates thematic and dramatic unity. It means something. In Lloyd Webber’s musicals, that kind of musical storytelling is not in play. Reprises happen without regard to what the tune ‘means’. It’s simply a nice tune that bears repeating. This is one of the reasons Lloyd Webber shows, for all their beauty, often do not hold up as well as pieces of theatre.

I think an audience member listening carefully will hear in the unity between Jo and Laurie’s musical material that they are meant to be together and that they share an aspirational world view. Laurie says in this lyric that he wants to travel, and that he is a reader, as we know Jo to be. We believe him because his music is grounded in the world of truth for this show. So when he appears in the second act and claims to be interested in the more mundane life his grandfather had planned out for him, we have some difficulty believing he is telling the truth. And because we suspect he was musically a good match for Jo, (Bhaer is not) we have a greater difficulty in believing her eventual match with Bhaer.

But that’s some pretty deep nitpicking. In your production, the number will go off like gangbusters, provided the tenor can sing it.

9. Take A Chance- Transition

I also transposed this down a major 2nd. (again, no I will not send you my parts) Think of measure 10 as a blank measure to establish the new tempo in 3, then cue the pickup measure (11) into the new section.

10. Better- Reprise

There is a long dialogue scene between 9 and 10. A good chance to stand up and stretch, if you aren’t visible from the stage. The beautiful English Horn solo at the beginning comes from the phrase “…or raising little women when I am here alone” from the original version of Here Alone. Because we never really heard that tune before, we don’t have that association, so the sense of Marmee’s love for her children isn’t hanging in the background as she leaves and the scene switches to Jo. I’m not crazy about the lyric here, but the music does something cool, and I credit Kim Scharnberg, the orchestrator. In the pit, the Euphonium is associated with Bhaer. After the sung portion at the top of the reprise, we hear a flute playing the melody for Better, and when the melody gets to the part where the original lyric says “better than what’s already here”,  the euphonium sneaks in, as if to say, “Bhaer is better than what’s already here!” On what would be the word “here” in the tune, we segue to the Concord Transition, (10A) and Laurie appears to ask her to skate with him. So ‘what’s already here’ is Laurie. No audience member will ever hear that, but I think it’s neat.

10A. Concord Transition

You don’t need my help negotiating this, except to say that since there’s no tempo indication, you have some leeway tempo-wise. It sure feels like it should be in 2 to me. Again, Howland or Scharnberg or whomever is responsible for this passage, has really done a nice job of combining the musical motives of Jo and Laurie under this cute exchange. The last section of the number is the beginning of Off to Massachusetts, which I’ll go over below. The Oboe book doesn’t change key in measure 16 as it should. Make sure you mark the book there to be in A.

11. Off To Massachusetts

In addition to helping flesh out the relationship between Beth and Mr. Laurence, this number serves the purpose of grounding the show in the historical period. Similar examples might include the “Sweet Polly Plunkett” scene in Sweeney Todd, or the many ragtime piano passages in Ragtime. It has a trick lyric that gives a little of the same zing as the speed test from Millie. It’s a parlor tune, and it’s designed to be pre-recorded, beginning with the end of Concord Transition 10A. You can have the actress play the piano, but if you’re going for an authentic looking Victorian piano, you’ll want to build a shell around an electronic keyboard; the real thing would be way too heavy to move, (and it does have to move) and it would sound dreadful. A spinet is probably not far from the sound you’d get from an old parlor piano. For our production, we recorded the bad piano as heard here on the worst upright in the building, and I detuned one of the unisons to make it sound really bad for the underscore. Then I retuned it so it wouldn’t be distracting for the recording that accompanies the two of them. The one in the second act I recorded on a better piano, to match the piano Mr. Laurence gives her. We placed speakers inside the set behind a decorative Victorian air vent near the piano so the sound would be localized on the set.

Getting the timing right bringing the sound in for the underscore takes some doing unless you’re triggering it from the keyboard book. However you’re doing it, you need to make sure your tempo with the band locks in with what the recording has or you won’t sync up.

The vocal books have a rit. in measure 5 that is not in the Piano Vocal. The orchestra comes in at 24, which is really great, but you’ll be disappointed to learn that the orchestra doesn’t help you at all in measure 34 and 35. You’re on your own, get to practicing.

12. Five Forever

Again, I feel like this number is in Menken’s musical language. Howland even manages to work in that sharp 4 scale degree, even though we’re in minor, which isn’t even compatible with the Lydian mode.

Five Forever Example

Five Forever #4

The resulting ambiguity is neat. Are we headed into D major? No, it turns out we’re headed to the relative major E for the chorus, which turns out to have a kind of Western adventure Aaron Copland vibe. When, following the chorus, we head back into the verse at measure 29, Howland plays the same mode mixture game in Major, with the progression E / C7 / E / C7.

Whenever I got to the dance break, I got a deja vu about The Music Man for some reason. I think it’s a reel, although some person with greater knowledge of dance forms will perhaps correct me. Laurence Rosenthal, the guy who wrote the dance arrangements for The Music Man put similar reels into the dance breaks for Seventy Six Trombones and Shipoopi.

76 Trombones dance break:

Music Man Dance Break

Five Forever Dance Break:

Dance Break FIve Forever

That dance break is one of the places where we really miss the inclusion of the pit piano information in the Piano Vocal score. The piano is really part of the rhythm section, but none of that information is in there. In the downbeat of measure 65 there is an error in the English Horn book. There’s another in measure 74. (I don’t remember what the first error was, but the downbeat of 74 should be a written E, concert A)

The other place where the Piano Vocal score really lets you down is the way Laurie’s part is notated. His first entrance in measure 17 is written the traditional way, the first note being the B below middle C on the piano. But the next time he comes in, that should be an octave higher than notated, or in the women’s clef, beginning on the F# above middle C. The next entrance in measure 35 is mislabeled. Laurie should be on the bottom staff, notated the way tenors normally are. Amy, Meg, and Laurie should be on the top staff. The cast recording does not have the lower part at 39-40. It should be Laurie if you use it. Laurie’s part is again at the bottom at 42, although you could add one of the girls for balance. Laurie’s part at 53 is different in the cast recording and in the vocal selections. (I mention this in case your actor is learning from the OBC and not from the score) The dialogue at 71 times out perfectly if your Jo doesn’t hold the note out too long, and Meg begins immediately.

At the end of the number, there’s some funky rhythmic notation that isn’t explained. It’s a knee slap from the original choreography. Your choreographer wouldn’t know this from the cast recording, where it sounds kind of rim-shotty, so you’ll have to explain what it means. It is not cued in the percussion book.

13. Transition

Doesn’t need much explanation, except that measure 7 and after should really be in 4, not in cut time, and the musician’s parts do not say Slower as the PV does.

The melody at 9 is, I believe, the phrase “In the past, when you were gone, the hardest part was missing you” from the old version of Here Alone, which is particularly poignant, given the action onstage. The actor and the audience don’t really feel that, since the underscore calls back to a tune that’s no longer in the show.

14. More Than I Am

This is a lovely little song, and it’s Mr. Brooke’s only real moment.

Meg’s last note in measure 30 should be a C#. (as it appears in the vocal selections) The page turn from 91 to 92 is extremely unfortunate. Mark the heck out of the E sharps. The chord on the downbeat of 41 is supposed to be rolled down, not up. (it’s in the part, not in the PV)

A funny thing about the lyric: “Wait for your return? Wait while you’re at war?”

Question lyrics with no interrogatives are impossible to set to music so that they sound like questions. Howland has done his level best here, but the phrases will always sound like statements. I’m a composer, and If I ever figure out how to set things like this to music, I’ll post it here.

One further gripe: Why is Meg’s part on the bottom and Mr. Brooke’s on the top?

14A. Transition to Attic

This number starts with the same cut portion of Our Finest Dreams that we heard at the top of Here Alone. Originally that would have recalled the fun of their time together playing their mock adventures, but now it’s just a pretty tune, since we don’t know what it’s calling back to. We have a transition at 11 that’s a little tricky. The accel. in measure 5 leads us to a cut time at 11. Neither the cut time, nor the new tempo marking is in any of the parts. If you don’t tell the band about it, they’ll be really confused.

15. Take a Chance- Reprise

This is some really great musical storytelling here that will pay off in Act II well. Laurie is, of course, reprising his melody from before. He doesn’t know this isn’t going to work well. The orchestra does, however. This accompanying music is a little like the opening phrase of Sunday in the Park with George, or Back To Before from Ragtime, only with some mild dissonance that reveals something is wrong.

The oboe player actually completes the phrase in measure 16. None of the other players even has a measure 16. So I suppose you have a choice of whether to leave the phrase hanging or complete it.

16. Astonishing

I’m not the first person to call attention to the similarities between Astonishing and Defying Gravity. That similarity is no knock on its effectiveness, but rather to say that Little Women exists in the same millennial musical theatre language of other shows of its time. Someday Musical Theatre scholars will remark about the importance of the bravura number with multiple sections for the heroine at the end of Act I in turn-of-the-century American Musicals, and they’ll point to these two pieces as exhibits A and B.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I go into far too much detail and that I probably need an editor to separate the boring from the interesting. But I’m going to hit a lot of points here and deconstruct this number pretty heavily. Apologies in advance for the length. Some nerd out there will enjoy it.

Some perspective:

Defying Gravity is a sprawling Verse Chorus number with a clever Bridge that calls back to Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It clocks in at about 6 minutes. Jimmy from Thoroughly Modern Millie is a similar, but less ambitious number that caps the first act of another female centered musical, which features a rather fractured flapper verse and a standard 32 bar AABA form with an instrumental break and a repeat of the B and final A sections. It’s only 3 and a half minutes The other number people are likely to know that lives in this family of pieces is Let It Go from Frozen. Like Defying Gravity, Let it Go is a large scale Verse Chorus number with an exciting bridge. It’s a little under 4 minutes. Let It Go doesn’t modulate at all. The others modulate regularly.

What sets Astonishing apart isn’t the length. (it’s about 4.5 minutes) What sets it apart is the structure. It opens with a machine gun kind of verse, which repeats itself AABB style, but with lots of twist and turns and modulations. Then the mood shifts, and we build from a piano accompaniment rather like the opening of the second half of Jimmy. But where Jimmy ran a very standard 32 measure AABA form, this form is so expansive and irregular that it barely feels like AABA form at all. It’s more than double the normal length of an AABA. With the coda it’s a full 72 measures in 4/4 time. And although the complete product sounds very finished and crafted, the irregularity of it makes us feel as though the song is being formed in some way on the spot, which is really wonderful, given that Jo is discovering a drive to discover her own terms of success, breaking boundaries along the way.

The opening accompaniment figure is pretty great, with its Db minor 6/9 chopping away into a kind of Phrygian flat ii chord.  Rhythmically, it’s nearly identical to the accompaniment of Laurie’s number.

Take a Chance On Me:Astonishing Accompaniment.jpg


Take A Chance Accompaniment.jpg

If I’m trying to think creatively, it’s possible to imagine that Jo is repurposing Laurie’s accompaniment in a pretty dark tonality to reject his advances. But I think in practice, it’s another example of the problematic similarity between Laurie’s and Jo’s musical languages. The audience reads that they belong together musically, here at the very moment where they mustn’t.

But coming back to what’s working extremely well: Howland’s melody here at the top of Astonishing is positively Sondheimian. It begins with a rising cell of three notes, which is then extended in retrograde with extra pitches at the end, then sequenced in augmentation.

Astonishing Melody Deconstructed.jpg

The game extends through some Ahrens and Flaherty style key changes (as they did, for example, at the top of Journey To The Past in Anastasia) with a wonderful economy of material. A lot of people these days are writing Sondheim style accompaniments. Not very many people are deploying the rigor of a Sondheim melody. For those of you not familiar with how Sondheim uses these same techniques, have a look at the opening melody of On The Steps of The Palace. I’m hoping to do a video breakdown of that sometime this summer.

The opening, which was originally longer and more involved, began with a nervous pattern of rising sixteenths. The section culminates in a decisive pattern of descending quarters. Great musical storytelling: Jo has moved from confusion to a turning-point kind of question. And as a composer, I’m envious of that rising scale in the left hand that goes all the way up the C flat Major scale subdividing 3 measures by a beat and a half per note. It’s very cool:

Astonishing Bassline.jpg

In the interest of turning over every little stone on the beach:

Astonishing Descending 4 note pattern.jpgWicked Descending 4 note pattern

The next section of the song, beginning in measure 38, is brand new, in a mammoth AABA form. There’s a callback to the first part, with the rising set of three notes that starts the melody. If you look at the measure numbers in the PV, you’ll see that there were 5 measures cut between “I don’t know how to proceed” and “I only know I’m meant for something more” You can hear the cut measures here, at the 3:14 mark.

This seemingly inconsequential cut destabilizes the already sprawling form, which works in a fascinating way. I’ll lay out that form below:

First A Section, Truncated in Previews to 14 measures. 

I thought home was all I’d ever want: My attic all I’d ever need

Now nothing feels the way it was before, And I don’t know how to proceed

{CUT LINE USED TO BE HERE, see video above}

I only know I’m meant for something more, I’ve got to know if I can be Astonishing


Second A Section, Complete 19 measures

There’s a life that I am meant to lead, alive like nothing I have known

I can feel it, and it’s far from here, I’ve got to find it on my own

Even now I feel it’s heat upon my skin, A life of passion that pulls me from within,

A life that I am aching to begin.

There must be somewhere I can be Astonishing. Astonishing.

B Section (Bridge) 10 Measures

I’ll find my way, I’ll find it far away

I’ll find it in the unexpected and unknown

I’ll find my life in my own way, today.

Third A Section 14 Measures (lyrically same as other As, musically new in the first 2 lines)

Here I go, and there’s no turning back. My great adventure has begun

I may be small, but I’ve got giant plans to shine as brightly as the sun

I will blaze until I find my time and place,

I will be fearless, surrendering modesty and grace.

I will not disappear without a trace (would normally be something that scans like “There must be somewhere I can be Astonishing”)

A Section extension 14 measures

I’ll shout and start a riot, be anything but quiet

Christopher Columbus, I’ll be Astonishing, Astonishing, Astonishing at last.

The sections of a normal AABA song are not normally this large, and the established pattern for AABA form songs is 1) that we want to really recognize the tune in each A section, and 2) that we clearly associate the title with a really memorable tune. We do associate the title Astonishing with an important three note motive, extended creatively as shown below:

Astonishing motive.jpg

These A sections do repeat musical ideas, but are unusually irregular. Howland varies them quite a bit, we modulate several times, and because of the cut, we don’t even hear the full A section until we’re well into the form, so any sense of predictability evaporates. The 10 measure B section is short in relation to the 14 and 19 measure As, so we don’t even have the satisfaction of knowing when we’re going to get back to the final A. When we do hit the last A, the melody is inverted, and we hear Mi Re Do instead of Do Re Mi, so you have a real sense of arrival, but no melodic familiarity. Because we are unable to ground the melody in a traditional understanding of form, we are forced to hear the repeating parts of the melody when they return as an exploration of melodic ideas working with some logic we simply have to trust. This seems to dovetail well with the idea of Jo ‘finding her own way.’ Whether the manipulation of form was intended by the authors to convey this effect, or whether it was simply the byproduct of the process of trying to tame the sheer length of the piece, it hits the mark as an excellent act closer, just as Defying Gravity does in Wicked.

Now that I’ve cracked the song open, let’s get to the performance issues.

Measure 35 is in 2/4 in the PV and in the parts. In the Broadway production, in the Vocal Selections, and in the Musical Theatre Anthology, this is another 4/4 measure, with half notes in the melody and a whole note in the accompaniment. I would go ahead and change it back. Your singer has likely learned it the other way, and it works better this way anyway. Be sure to tell your pit players about the change.

I think the ending of this song is too high, and that unless you’ve cast somebody really unusual, it’s going to be difficult to get a belted ending that’s consistent from night to night. I dare say even Sutton must have struggled with it. The trouble is that the beginning of the song is fairly low, and if you bump the whole number down even a half step, the first notes may not speak the way you want them to. I have a neat solution to this double problem which I’ll lay out for you now in case you want to use it. Again, no, I will not e-mail you my version for lots of reasons.

At measure 54, the first time the word Astonishing appears,  there is a modulation from Ab Major to B major that takes 2 measures. 2 further measures were cut at this point, you can tell from the measuring in the PV. Play the original key all the way up to the first two beats of measure 57. Then, instead of playing the chords Fb/Gb and Gb major, play Eb/F and F instead. Then from 58 on, play the whole thing a half step lower, starting in Bb major. This makes the long high note a manageable D instead of the frightening E flat. I was worried that my seam might show, but the modulation as written goes to so foreign a key that the standard modulation up the whole step to Bb actually sounds very natural, and I venture to say that only somebody with perfect pitch would even catch the change.

Somehow I stumbled on a copy of the entire number transposed down the half step. (no, I won’t e-mail it to you) At the end, in measure 110, it says in the piano part: vocal first. That does not appear in the Piano Vocal or in the Vocal Selections, although it is the way the cast recording goes, and I think it’s a good choice. Let her land “last“, then come in with the last chords.

Act II

17. Entr’acte

To everyone’s surprise, I have nothing to say.

18 The Weekly Volcano Press

The opening of Act 2 takes a little practice, particularly in transitions. Fortunately for you, in the rehearsal process you will play this piece 10,000 times. This will give you plenty of time to get your act together. The number is a sure fire winner, maybe one of the best Act II openers I’ve ever come across.

To clarify the idea I laid out earlier about this number: The characters in Jo’s story are played by the people who inspired the story in her life. The character Clarissa and real life Meg are models of feminine virtue. Rodrigo is a hero type, so is Laurie. Mr. Brooke is Braxton, both are masculine figures who in Jo’s mind are trying to remove her sister. Amy is a troll in Jo’s mind, both are obstacles to her travel, both love glittering jewels. Mr. Laurence is the Knight, who is lonely, but has a sword to pass on. Mr. Laurence will pass along his piano later in the play. Marmee and the Hag is the only comparison that doesn’t quite ring right, until you see that the hag is wise, and that she perhaps represents a vision of adulthood that Jo doesn’t aspire to. (at least not earlier in the play). Taken in this light, the Weekly Volcano Press sequence is an Allegory about a woman on a journey. She finds she needs to reject the advances of men, even the ones who, like Laurie (Rodrigo), mean well. She also must reject the example of the older women in her life and the temptations of materialism. In the end, we discover that the hero was not Laurie/Rodrigo, but rather Beth/Rodrigo, which is the true arc of Act II. Hence the opening of Act II becomes an allegory for the entire show.

An important musical theme is introduced in this number, and it’s in a family of Jo’s tunes.

Astonishing Motive Relationships

The Astonishing motive is hinted at here and there in Act I, but it doesn’t appear in this set of intervals before the end of the Act. The motive is activated, if you will, during Astonishing, and it continues to formulate for the rest of the show, particularly when Jo is grappling with the actualization of her dreams. All 3 of these important melodic ideas center around a half step and a major 6th in various orderings. I’ll mention this again briefly later.

Now to the practical elements:

There is a fermata on the first measure in the parts, but not in the PV.

In measure 29 and elsewhere, the cello and marimba have the repeated 8th note pattern. I found it was easier to play it on the piano to keep us together and to keep the ensemble clean. At 59, the feel is the same as at 29, but the time signature has changed, so everything looks different. Your players may have trouble figuring that out at first unless you’re conducting and not playing. Measure 46 and other similar spots like 124-125 do sound like Castle in a Cloud, but whatever you do, don’t mention that in rehearsal. At measure 83, all the strings gliss up. It’s a really cool effect. There is a caesura (railroad tracks) at the end of measure 92 before Clarissa comes back in in the parts, but not in the PV. We didn’t use it. Either mark it into your part or cross it out of the players parts. In measure 153, I think not all the orchestra players begin their run on the same note of the scale, which may lead to confusion coming out of the fermata.

If you’re looking for a spot to open out your chorus, you can cast more than 3 Hags and more than 2 trolls, and if you look at the piano part in the troll section, you can see an easy third middle note to add to their exclamations. In measure 120, there is a caesura before Clarissa’s entrance that’s in some of the pit books, but not in the piano vocal score. Use it if you want to. The prosody in 123 is pretty poor, and the Chorus of Hags in measure 91 and 92 are inexplicably saying the opposite of what the main Hag is saying. In 136, the 1st Violin A harmonic is not printed properly in the book. The parts have a fermata at the end of measures 145 and 147 that are not in the Piano score. Measures 160-163 don’t time out very well against the dialogue. I’ll bet there was some business there originally. Measure 161 can disappear without damage to the musical sense.

When you’re teaching the lowest part in the All Sing section at 173, make particular note of measure 176. It is not exactly the same as the other versions of that tune. There are lots of options for parts here: you can assign them different ways depending on the singers you have at your disposal.

I think in the original production, there must have been some clever staging to get all these characters off stage. If your production is simpler, you may need a playoff to get the imaginary people off before the continuation of the scene. If so, you can use 128 through the third beat of 130 as a playoff.

18A NYC to Concord- Transition

Another gem of underscoring that begins with Five Forever, and then manages to fold in Weekly Volcano Press, ending on a great chord that sounds like we’re headed into a commercial break in an ABC family movie. (I mean that as a compliment)

18B. Beth Plays Piano

Before you and the sound guy go off and record this one, you might want to talk to your director. Beth is pretty weak here, and the scene may need a particular kind of way of playing that the cast can react to.

19. Off to Massachusetts Reprise

This is very similar to the original version of the number, except that it’s supposed to be four hands, and it segues into the scene change. If you’ve recorded the earlier versions, you’ll obviously need to record this one too, and you may want to overdub a more full left hand with octaves so that the 4-hands reads better.

19A. Jo to Professor Bhaer Transition

In your piano vocal score, (and I believe in the parts as well) there is something funky in the transition from 19 to 19A. The last measure of 19 is the pickup measure to 19A. That’s potentially pretty confusing.  

20. How I Am

This number is Bhaer’s first chance to establish his musical voice. It’s a lovely song, and it does the job well, although it’s inexplicably in somewhat the same mold as Mr. Brooke’s number in Act I, and I’m not sure how I’m meant to interpret that. There were also some growing pains in the process of bringing the song to the stage; 20 measures are cut after the first A. They can be heard at the 1 hour 39 minute mark in the early video. Bhaer is talking about the weather. We don’t miss this cut.

The Euphonium is featured prominently here: it’s associated with Bhaer in the show. We also get a good sense of Bhaer’s German fastidiousness with this fussy staccato accompaniment figure. In the first two A sections, Bhaer’s melody is repetitive and carefully delineates a descending scale pattern. In the second A section, as he talks about the uneasiness he feels, measure 45 slips into 6/8, and by the time Measure 50 rolls around, Bhaer’s orderly world has been disrupted. We modulate to a pretty foreign tonality, and the orderly 12/8 slips into all manner of compound triple meters. This portion is tricky to learn for the actor, particularly in how long to wait before the beginning of new phrases. The whole central passage modulates 4 times and changes time signatures 18 times.

The lyric is very clever in the way that it reframes the central question: She asks how I am? By the time the central, freeform section ends, he’s asked a question:

“Who asked her to change how I live, how I think, how I am?”

When we return to the relative simplicity of the last A section, Bhaer’s attitude toward his life has changed. The house is far too quiet now. An echo of the Astonishing motive appears as he remembers her.

Have a good look at the piano pit book. You’ll see measure 42 in the Piano Vocal really needs a left hand. The parts in measure 101 have a rall. at the beginning of the measure and a fermata on the half note. The PV does not. In Violins 1 and 2, the harmonics for A and D are oddly misprinted. Block out some time to spend with Bhaer to figure out how to negotiate the pattery portions, and if you’re using a dialect, to figure out how to be convincing as a German and still intelligible.

20A. To The Beach

Again, I believe this is the remains of another song that is no longer in the show.

21. Some Things Are Meant to Be

I don’t know Jason Howland’s other music, but if I had to take a guess, I’d speculate that this song comes closest to his own original voice. In the show, it is strikingly moving, and out of context, it has become a go-to song for voice teachers working on mix.

I’m not going to go into detail about the content or structure of the song, because it’s so simple and direct that my commentary will only blunt the force of the expression. But do note that while the devastating “let me go now” is what squeezes the tears out of the listener, Mindi Dickstein’s previous lyric has laid the groundwork for the ending of the show: “Some things will never die/The promise of who you are/Your memories when I am far/from you.”

For those of you just looking for tips on this song, be careful as you’re learning the song to differentiate between the timing of “the world at our command” and “sail on with windy ease” the second time through has an extension.

The piano part is not particularly difficult, but do challenge yourself to keep the sixteenth pattern as even as possible. The string writing is exquisite in this orchestration, you’ll really enjoy playing and conducting it. In measure 48, the parts have a quarter rest at the end of the measure. For some reason, the vocal score has a fermata. For our staging, we found the passage from 48A-48D wasn’t long enough. (48A-C are also not labeled, by the way) You can repeat 48A and 48B if you’re looking for more time there. In measure 48D, the caesura comes after the half note in the books.

As heartbreaking as the number is, the reprise of “Off to Massachusetts” in measures 74-77 really twists the knife. Measures 81-82 subtly prefigure the very end of Days of Plenty. 

22. The Most Amazing Thing

This is another piece in the Menken mold. The show really needs a frothy uptempo after the saddest moment since Sweeney recognized the Beggar Woman, and we are about to tackle 2 more very broad songs immediately after, so this is the last island of comic relief in the musical. The opening motive is another transformation of earlier ideas:

Our Finest Dreams:

16th motive 1

Could You?

16th motive 2

Take A Chance:

16th motive 3

Most Amazing Thing:

16th motive 4

As presented here, the motive most resembles Take A Chance, and it’s clearly meant to bring Amy into Laurie’s world for the audience. If Amy’s original tune in Act I hadn’t been cut, the main melody here would have developed it; the two tunes are related. There isn’t anything particularly challenging here, for singer or for accompaniment. The number works very well.

22A. To The Attic

Another great scene change. The cello solo at the end is particularly wonderful.

23. Days of Plenty

Frank Wildhorn’s lyricism and sense of the power of a woman singing well is once again present here, but Howland again deploys those resources with a great deal more taste and restraint than Wildhorn generally does, and this lyric is excellent. The vocal writing is as good (and as potentially difficult) as Mother’s music near the end of Ragtime, and the strings in the orchestration are also extremely well deployed. This is a great number.

If the next 10 minutes of the show doesn’t really land, we’re in some slow territory for the show, pacing wise, because the number that follows is also a long ballad.

The form is another very long AABA form. The A sections are exquisitely paced, an almost completely pentatonic melody topping off on Middle C for 8 measures before reaching Eb, then F, then G, then A flat and then settling down on the Supertonic again. This slow expansion of a generally low range perfectly matches the sentiment of Marmee’s grounded optimism in the face of sadness.

The B section releases all the energy of the A sections into a dogged exploration of Bb, Ab, and C, the money notes for Maureen McGovern, (and, one hopes, your singer) as Marmee underscores the necessity of moving forward in the face of tragedy. The inverted chords rocking back and forth around the Subdominant Chord gives us a sense of forward momentum while leaving room for the song to continue to grow beyond the B section.

The final A has the melodic shape of the first 2 As, but this time we’re an octave higher, and the extension of Db (on days) is a terrific payoff.  The number concludes with a beautifully paced descent to the lower register again, so that musically we have taken a journey from grounded aspiration to hope to the assurance that the ones we love will always be a part of who we are even after they pass. It is the true message of this telling of the story, given to the wisest woman in the piece.

Now, for some practical things:

The opening 3 note phrase is for cello and alto flute. You will find this difficult to tune. The figure at 74 is again strangely written in Fb major in the right hand and E major in the left. In the orchestra parts there is a caesura midway through measure 80. Your Piano Vocal score doesn’t have it. In the last 2 measures, the English Horn has the G-Eb, and you should cue him/her.

There are some singers for whom this will be a walk in the park, but I would hazard a guess that most women will need to figure out how to get that middle section belting open and relaxed, and perhaps more importantly, how to land the last “She’ll be there” in such a way that the next phrase is set up correctly. But that’s part of the fun of working a number like this.

24. The Fire Within Me

At the end of the first act, Jo had held the stage for a tour-de-force number, and it stands to reason she needs an 11:00 number to match it. Days of Plenty was a similar number, so the show has a real potential to bog down under the weight of big important songs. It’s important to find lots of energy and drive for Jo’s last big moment, to counteract the natural heaviness of this part of the show. Having said that, this is a well executed piece of writing. It has a tough job to do: it needs to bring the major storyline to its conclusion, and it needs to be more than Jo simply agreeing with what Marmee just sang about, but an actual exploration of the ideas.

The opening verse originally had 8 more measures, (according to the numbering) and it’s rather along the lines of the scattered opening of Astonishing, except that as Jo grapples with the way forward, she cleverly inverts the motive we heard in Aunt March’s number:

16th motive 2


Fire Within Me

As I hinted at earlier in The Most Amazing Thing, this motive of 4 16ths followed by 1 or 2 longer notes is an idea we’ve heard throughout. If I want to freight this music with some major storytelling duties, I can make a case that Jo is trying to reclaim the motive she established in Our Finest Dreams from its other iterations as altered by Aunt March, Laurie, and Amy.

Following this fragmented opening verse, Jo embarks on another expansive AABA song. This song is the final step in the evolution of the Astonishing motive, and also utilizes a new motive that does the heavy lifting in the rest of the show.

The fully transformed old motive comes from the most easily identifiable shape in our old friend Astonishing, but two of the notes have been switched:

Fire Within Me Transformed Old Motive.jpg

The other motive grows out of a thought we first heard in measures 71-74 in Days of Plenty, where it underscores the word “life” in the line “She will live as you carry on your life.” We might consider this chain of rising thirds as representing Jo’s self realization and her integration of her memories and her network of family and friends into her work:

Fire Within Me New Motive

That figure underscores each time she sings “the fire within me”.

Incidentally, the accompaniment figure that appears at 19 is also a callback to the accompaniment for the cut version of Here Alone, which is another musical way of showing that Jo’s newfound strength is grounded in her mother’s centered presence.

Throughout the song, Howland uses G flat (F#) very expressively. Sometimes, as in measures 24, 34, 36, 46, and 52, the G flat is a melancholy flat 6 scale degree. Elsewhere, as in 26, 29, 38, 41, and 60, the same pitch spelled F# is a sharp 5 scale degree that leads up to tonicize the vi chord. It’s a lovely effect, and though Howland may not have been thinking of it this way, it’s also an excellent metaphor: sometimes the very things that are painful to us can also lead us in new directions.

At the end of this formal centerpiece of the number, Howland uses a telescoping scale idea that also cribs from the climax of Days of Plenty:

As it appears in Days of Plenty:Telescoping Days of Plenty.jpg

As it appears in Fire Within Me:

Telescoping Fire Within Me.jpg

From 67 through 88, there is an extended underscored scena that incorporates nearly all the major motives of the score, including, in measures 84-87, the cut section of Our Finest Dreams.

A repeat of the B section (everything I promised them is here) culminates in a reprise of the end of Astonishing, in the lower key, and in a movingly subdued tone. But we do need to applaud after the 11:00 number, so we get a 2.5 measure tag that includes one final Wicked Chord.

There have been lots of 11:00 numbers over the years that quote and reassemble themes from earlier in their respective shows. Cabaret ends with a montage like that; Follies and Gypsy are other examples. In most cases this memory-lane device is used to depict a sense of tragic loss or a character becoming mentally unhinged and losing a grip on what is reality and what is memory. But here, the time honored device is being used to another end, as Jo is using the fragments to assemble a new identity as a writer. It’s an ambitious number that manages to hit all its marks and still let the singer really sing.

Onward to practical matters:

There are a lot of dynamic changes in the accompaniment part that are expressive and important, and can get lost. Keeping these dynamic changes in mind should help keep shape the arc of the song and keep it from simply getting bombastic.

When the middle section is blocked, you simply must be in the room. The music times out to cues on stage and vice versa, and you need to be involved in those choices. None of the stage directions you see in your score are in the script, and the director usually works from that. So you should stop reading this right now and type an e-mail to your director telling him or her there’s business here. You can cue the band members for the individual call outs there; just be sure to mark in your score who has what.

There’s an error in measure 34 and 43. The melody should not drop down to the F in either place.

24A. After Fire Within Me

Very basic transition between the previous number and The Most Amazing Thing, to get us into the world of the wedding.

The orchestral parts at measure 11 read Faster, in 2, FYI

24 B. Professor Bhaer Entrance

Again, Kim Scharnberg is using the Euphonium to represent Bhaer, and the tune is, aptly: “Sometimes when you dream, your dreams come true”. It ends on “And someone else feels the flame you always knew was there.” In my mind it goes, “You always knew was Bhaer.”

But before we tackle that number, let me double back to something I said up top:

Modern audiences, myself included, rather feel like the show could end at Fire Within Me and be very satisfying. The main problem of the story has been resolved, and the previous action did not make Jo’s marriage necessary. So Bhaer and the last song here are pulling a lot of weight, maybe more than they can bear. We have to quickly pay off whatever romance we’ve managed to establish between Jo and Bhaer, and we need to somehow create the need for Jo to marry and satisfy that need at a lightning pace. The constraints of the source material make this approach mandatory, but if the show falters, it’s here.

25. Small Umbrella In The Rain

This number works as well as possible, given its impossible task, but I have to say that it seems the most unfinished number in the score. I had my private reservations about whether the number worked until I got the orchestra in. When the orchestration is played, the song really does its job.

Let’s start with what is really smart about this number:

The opening phrase in the piano is the related to the Take a Chance Reprise, in which Laurie proposes and fails.

Take a Chance Reprise opening accompaniment:Take A Chance Reprise Opening Phrase

Small Umbrella opening accompaniment:

Small Umbrella Opening Phrase

But where Laurie’s accompaniment during the failed proposal had become more and more dissonant, Bhaer’s accompaniment follows a progression that suits the melody. (with one exception I’ll get to in a moment)

When the number proper begins in measure 15, the melody is operating on the same 2-tier shapes as Jo used in the main melody of Fire Within Me, low notes alternating with high notes in a kind of double pattern. The accompaniment contains the rising idea Marmee introduced in Days of Plenty, and that underscored a lot of Fire Within Me. It’s played by the Euphonium, Bhaer’s signature instrument. Musically, we really need something like this, to connect Bhaer with Jo in terms of style.

The chorus, beginning at measure 31 is really lovely, simple, and apt. The bridge is even better, and it lets Bhaer show some of the romantic side we started to see in How I Am. 

If you wondered if I was perhaps stretching things by calling the opening theme proposal music, note how it underscores the tentative proposal at measure 61. Measure 65 is a repeat of the earlier section, except that now Jo begins, and the two trade phrases at a much quicker pace, essentially negotiating the terms of their relationship as equals. If you recall the musical storytelling in Could You?, Aunt March and Jo were negotiating to see how much Jo would need to change in order to merit a trip to Europe. When Jo began the echoing phrases, she had been putting on a show, playing someone opposite her true self. But here,  Jo and Bhaer are acknowledging their differences and calling them an assets.

And now for the negative: some of this number seems rushed to press.

As in More Than I Am, we again have the male part above the female part in the score, which is awkward to read.

In measure 9, I think the chord intended is an EbMaj7, which makes a lot of sense with the melody. But there’s a slightly-too-clever A natural in the chord, and no G. This is a nice touch from the angle of bringing the Lydian idea back one more time, but in practice, it makes it very hard for the singer to catch the opening pitch of his phrase. If you want to perhaps change the A to a G, or at the very least add a G to the lick, your singer may have better luck.

Then in measure 15, the rising figure I like so much seems not to be connecting properly to the melody I like so much. When the vocal drops to the C in measures 14 and 17, it fights the right hand B and D, and in measure 20, the D in the melody fights the C in the accompaniment, and two beats later, B in the vocal fights the C in the accompaniment. It feels like the marriage of these two motives was as rushed as the establishment of this character relationship.

The part writing in measure 83 is just not very good for Bhaer. In beat 3, the voices are suggesting C major, but the accompaniment is suggesting B minor. You could leave it as is, add a middle C to the 3rd beat in the right hand, or change the last 4 notes for Bhaer in the measure to E E D G.

In measure 89, Jo’s part is odd; their vocal line sounds like A minor, or maybe C6. But there’s no A anywhere in the piano part, so, Jo’s part sounds like a wrong note. Now, I suppose it’s possible that the ‘wrong-note-ness’ of it is intentional, but I still added an A to the downbeat of my right hand so it sounded more harmonically intentional. The other ‘fix’ would be to have Jo sing a C instead.

Bhaer’s opening phrase lies awkwardly and is difficult to sing. If this proves problematic, I suggest shortening the last notes of the phrases. I think you’ll want to change the rhythm in Jo’s part at 11. …called a sun-shower sounds much better with eighth-eighth quarter, Half. In measure 40, and again in 91, I think you’ll want to get rid of the sixteenth rest and change the three 16ths at the end into an eighth note triplet.

26. Volcano Reprise

This little songlet also has a lot of weight to pull in the storytelling of the piece. The best moment is the final “Astonishing” played (but not sung) by the orchestra. It’s always nice to force an audience to complete a phrase in their minds. One wishes the chorus were involved some way; this moment blunts the message of the show somewhat. Our Astonishing moments do not come alone, they come in relationship to our past and our people.

27. Bows

The bows in the Piano Vocal are a hot mess. Measure 22 was a pain in the earlier key. Now you have to learn a totally different fingering. Play the piano version instead, unless you didn’t hire most of the pit.

28. Exit Music

Very standard exit music.

The Pit Orchestra:

The score is very well orchestrated for a mid sized ensemble, driven by the piano.

Bare minimum (1-6 players) :

This is a piano driven score, so the piano is a necessity. The bass player is also necessary. Oddly, I think the drummer is not necessarily critical. There is very little set playing, most of the book is mallets and the occasional cymbal roll, bells or added color. Very helpful, but not necessary. The backbone of the ensemble is the string compliment. If you can hire more than piano and bass, hire the 2 violins and the 2 reeds.

If you have more money (7-9 players), add (in this order I think): cello and viola, then french horn. If you have the whole string compliment and the reeds, you have a very full sounding pit, which is really breathtaking in the ballads.

If you have more money than that, (10-12 players), hire (in this order): trumpet, trombone and percussion.  The trombone book has the Euphonium, which is a nice touch. The rest of the brass don’t play all that much, and when the trombone player isn’t playing Euphonium, it’s silly without the trumpet.  The trumpet adds some fun fanfare moments in the fantasy sections. The one place in the score where all the brass is really nice is the top of Five Forever, where the first 8 bars are a brass section feature.

Best of luck with your production of Little Women! I really enjoyed ours!