seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Arthur Seymour Sullivan, Composer

arthur-seymour-sullivanSir Arthur Seymour Sullivan, English composer and the son of an Irish musician, is born in Lambeth, London, England on May 13, 1842. He is best known for 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. His works include 24 operas, 11 major orchestral works, ten choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous church pieces, songs, and piano and chamber pieces. His hymns and songs include “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “The Lost Chord.”

The son of a military bandmaster, Sullivan composes his first anthem at the age of eight and is later a soloist in the boys’ choir of the Chapel Royal. In 1856, at 14, he is awarded the first Mendelssohn Scholarship by the Royal Academy of Music, which allows him to study at the academy and then at the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig in Germany. His graduation piece, incidental music to William Shakespeare‘s The Tempest (1861), is received with acclaim on its first performance in London. Among his early major works are a ballet, L’Île Enchantée (1864), Symphony in E, Cello Concerto in D Major (both 1866) and his Overture di Ballo (1870). To supplement the income from his concert works he writes hymns, parlour music and other light pieces, and works as a church organist and music teacher.

In 1866 Sullivan composes a one-act comic opera, Cox and Box, which is still widely performed. He writes his first opera with W. S. Gilbert, Thespis, in 1871. Four years later, the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte engages Gilbert and Sullivan to create a one-act piece, Trial by Jury (1875). Its box office success leads to a series of twelve full-length comic operas by the collaborators. After the extraordinary success of H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) and The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Carte uses his profits from the partnership to build the Savoy Theatre in 1881, and their joint works become known as the Savoy operas. Among the best known of the later operas are The Mikado (1885) and The Gondoliers (1889). Gilbert breaks from Sullivan and Carte in 1890, after a quarrel over expenses at the Savoy. They reunite in the 1890s for two more operas, but these do not achieve the popularity of their earlier works.

Sullivan’s infrequent serious pieces during the 1880s included two cantatas, The Martyr of Antioch (1880) and The Golden Legend (1886), his most popular choral work. He also writes incidental music for West End productions of several Shakespeare plays and holds conducting and academic appointments. Sullivan’s only grand opera, Ivanhoe, though initially successful in 1891, has rarely been revived. In his last decade Sullivan continues to compose comic operas with various librettists and writes other major and minor works.

Sullivan’s health is never robust. From his thirties kidney disease obliges him to conduct sitting down. He dies at the age of 58 of heart failure, following an attack of bronchitis, at his flat in London on November 22, 1900. Sullivan’s wishes are to be buried in Brompton Cemetery with his parents and brother, but by order of the Queen he is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Arthur Sullivan is regarded as Britain’s foremost composer. His comic opera style serves as a model for generations of musical theatre composers that follow, and his music is still frequently performed, recorded and pastiched.

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Birth of Opera Singer Margaret Burke Sheridan

Irish opera singer Margaret Burke Sheridan is born in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 15, 1889. She is known as Maggie from Mayo and is regarded as Ireland’s second prima donna, after Catherine Hayes (1818–1861).

Sheridan has her early vocal training while at school at the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street, Dublin, with additional lessons from Vincent O’Brien. In 1908, she wins a gold medal at the Feis Ceoil. From 1909 to 1911 she studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, during which time she is introduced to the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who is instrumental in arranging further studies for her in opera in Rome.

With Marconi’s help Sheridan auditions in 1916 for Alfredo Martino, a prominent singing teacher attached to the Teatro Costanzi, and she makes her début there in January 1918 in Giacomo Puccini‘s La bohème. In July 1919 she appears at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in the title role in Iris by Pietro Mascagni.

Sheridan returns to Italy, where her career continues to grow, with performances at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan and at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, primarily in Puccini roles. In 1922 she first sings at La Scala, Milan, in La Wally by Alfredo Catalani under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. For the next few years she sings at La Scala with great success. Perhaps her greatest role is Madama Butterfly, which she sings extensively in Italy and at Covent Garden. When she plays the part of Madama Butterfly, Puccini is said to be spellbound.

Despite her successes, Sheridan’s career is short. Suffering vocal difficulties she goes into retirement around 1930 except for a few concerts. Bríd Mahon, in her 1998 book While Green Grass Grows, states that “It was rumoured that an Italian whose overtures she had rejected had blown his brains out in a box in La Scala, Milan, while she was on stage and that after the tragedy she never sang in public again.”

Margaret Sheridan dies in relative obscurity on April 16, 1958, having lived in Dublin for many years, and her remains are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Pianist Charles Lynch

charles-lynchCharles Edgeworth Cagney Lynch, Irish pianist who premiers works by several important 20th-century composers, is born in Parkgariff, County Cork, on October 22, 1906.

Lynch’s father is a British army colonel and his mother comes from a well-known Cork business dynasty, the Suttons. While still a young boy, the family moves to Greenock in western Scotland and it is there, at the Tontine Hotel, that the young pianist gives his first public recital at the age of nine. When he is fifteen, he wins a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studies under York Bowen and, later, Egon Petri.

Lynch becomes a popular recitalist in London during the 1920s and 1930s. He gives the first performance in England of Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, having been coached beforehand by the composer. Sir Arnold Bax‘s Fourth Piano Sonata (1932) is dedicated to the 26-year-old Lynch, whom Bax later describes as “Ireland’s most imaginative pianist.” In addition to concert recitals he broadcasts regularly with the BBC and, in 1937, acts as assistant to Sir Thomas Beecham at Covent Garden. Lynch is the Ballet Rambert‘s pianist for many years, having helped Marie Rambert form the company.

A pacifist, Lynch returns to Ireland following the outbreak of World War II, where he becomes the country’s premier concert pianist. During this phase of his career he premiers a number of works by leading Irish composers, including Brian Boydell‘s Sonata for Cello and Piano (1945) and Sean Ó Riada‘s Nomos No. 4 (1959). Lynch also performs in the world première of English composer Ernest John Moeran‘s Cello Sonata in A minor, given in Dublin in May 1947. He is joined by the composer’s wife, cellist Peers Coetmore.

In February 1971 at Trinity College, Dublin, he plays the entire set of Franz Liszt‘s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies over four successive Saturday evenings.

Lynch continues to give public recitals throughout Ireland until shortly before his death at the age of 77. He also lectures in music at University College Cork and gives masterclasses at the Cork School of Music. In 1982, Lynch receives a doctorate in music from the National University of Ireland.

Lynch’s technique is remarkable for the stillness with which he sits, making the most difficult of music seem almost technically unremarkable. His recorded legacy is small, but includes music by Samuel Barber, Ernest John Moeran‘s Violin Sonata (with Geraldine O’Grady, violin) as well as music by Irish composers such as Aloys Fleischmann.

Toward the end of his life he lives in very reduced circumstances. He dies in Cork on September 15, 1984 at St. Finbarr’s Hospital and is buried near Sir Arnold Bax in St. Finbarrs Cemetery, Glasheen Road, Cork.