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!

One comment

  1. Fantastic as always! However, I disagree with your assessment of the original ending of Pinafore as being ineffective; I think Sullivan’s decision to close the opera with Sir Joseph’s little vamp, majestically scored for full orchestra, is quite witty and fitting 🙂 Please keep the G&S coming!

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