W S Gilbert
Born on 18th of November 1836
Died in Harrow, London
Died on 29th of May 1911
Quotes from W S Gilbert
'Deer hunting would be a fine s'... More
Forever linked in the British mind now with his comic opera collaborator Sir Arthur Sullivan , W.S. Gilbert had many more strings to his artistic bow.
Born in the Strand on November 18 1836, but spending much of his childhood travelling Europe with his parents – his father a naval surgeon – he gained a rather un- Victorian outlook early in life. Nevertheless his early career was conventional: study at University College London ; an early fire to enter the army; four years as a civil servant; and then a short and failed career at the bar.
That failure forced him to earn his living by writing from 1861 onwards, initially to supplement his sparse legal work, but soon on full-time.
Gilbert was a gifted poet, and had success with short pieces in the magazine Fun; he also wrote for The Cornhill Magazine, was drama critic for The Illustrated London Times and even a war correspondent for The Observer.
In the 1860s he penned pantomimes, satires, drama, and comedies. He also directed, and had a passion for detail – many of his comic operas had costumes he designed.
Brought together with Arthur Sullivan to write Thespis in 1871, the pair worked well enough, but no great partnership was foreseen. It was Richard D’Oyly Carte who revived the pairing, needing a one act operetta: they created Trial by Jury, a massive success that saw their collaboration last until an argument over Carte’s probable defrauding of Gilbert and Sullivan split them. Their Savoy Operas including The Mikado, The Gondoliers, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Yeomen of the Guard were commercially successful and produced a whole new style of English light opera, noted more for the word play and topsy-turvy logic of Gilbert than Sullivan’s music, which the latter resented.
The partnership was never easy, partly thanks to Gilbert’s abrasive temper and their different social outlooks: Gilbert saw the foolish and the hypocritical in Victorian society; Sullivan preferred to close his eyes and consort with the wealthy. Sullivan was knighted many years before his librettist. Gilbert died in 1911, suffering a heart attack while rescuing a swimmer at his home Grim’s Dyke near Harrow.
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