Discography of Sir Arthur Sullivan
Large-Scale Choral Works

The Masque at Kenilworth (1864)
The Prodigal Son, oratorio (1869)
On Shore and Sea, dramatic cantata (1871)
Festival Te Deum, litugical setting (1872)
The Light of the World, oratorio (1873)
The Martyr of Antioch, sacred musical drama (1880)
Ode for the Opening of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition (1886)
The Golden Legend (1886)
Ode for the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the Imperial Institute (1887)
Te Deum Laudamus — A Thanksgiving for Victory (1902, posthumous)

Kenilworth (1864)


First Performed at the Birmingham Festival, 1864.

Sir Michael Costa, musical director of the Birmingham Festival, arranged for the young Sullivan to receive the commission for this work. It was, perhaps, a kind of "consolation prize" after Sullivan's opera, The Sapphire Necklace, failed to win acceptance at Covent Garden (and, in fact, was never performed anywhere).

The theme of the work is Queen Elizabeth's 1575 visit to Kenilworth Castle, which she had given to one of her subjects several years earlier. In tribute, lavish spectacles were put on for the Queen's benefit, the atmosphere of which this piece attempts to recapture. It is a work of slender pretensions, although Sullivan's potential as a setter of thematic music is much in evidence. After two performances, it was never again played in public.


  1. The entire work was recorded on The Masque at Kenilworth: Music for Royal and National Occasions
  2. Jeffrey Benton ("In Doughty Deeds") recorded "I am a Ruler on the Sea."
  3. The Band of the Irish Guards recorded "Three Sketches from 'Kenilworth'" (arr. Herman Finck).

The Prodigal Son (1869)


First Performed at the Three Choirs Festival, Worcester, 1869.

In Sullivan's lifetime, large-scale choral works, with orchestra, were a staple of the nation's musical culture. Except for theater pieces, this was the only genre in which the composer continued to turn out major works throughout his lifetime. The Prodigal Son was the earliest of these.

The Biblical tale of the Return of the Prodigal served Sullivan well, and the oratorio enjoyed numerous revivals in the first few years after its premiere. Arthur Jacobs says that "vigorous musical strokes illustrate the sudden changes of the Prodigal's fate, and the composer's Chapel Royal training emerges in the solidly wroght choruses." However Sullivan had composed the work in but three weeks, a fact that did not escape his old teacher John Goss:

All you have done is most masterly—your orchestration superb, and your effects many of them original and first-rate . . . . Some day you will, I hope, try another oratorio, putting out all your strength, but not the strength of a few weeks or months, whatever your immediate friends may say . . . . Only don't do anything so pretentious as an oratorio or even a symphony without all your power, which seldom comes in one fit.


  1. Imperial Opera, Robert Dean, cond.
    This is a complete recording, with orchestra. The performance is extremely well done, providing a solid account of the score. This is probably the best recording I've heard of a Sullivan liturgical work.
    Issue History, see:
    Imperial Ode / King Arthur / The Prodigal Son [SASS]
  2. New London Orchestra, New London Chorus, Ronald Corp, cond.
    This is the only complete professional recording.
    Issue History, see:
    The Prodigal Son/Boer War Te Deum
  3. "Love not the world" (Edna Thornton) and "How many hired servants" (Evan Williams), both recorded in 1908, were included on the Pearl Opal LP, Sullivan Without Gilbert.
  4. "How many hired servants," sung by Evan Williams, was issued as part of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Sesquicentennial Commemorative Issue
  5. "Thou, O Lord, art our Father" can be found on the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society's That Glorious Song of Old.

On Shore And Sea (1871)


First Performed at the Albert Hall, 1 May 1871

Sullivan composed this work to open the Albert Hall in May, 1871. London had been hosting an exhibition of international art and industry. The concert was connected with the exhibition and featured works commissioned from Italy, France, Germany, and Great Britain. (Charles Gounod was the French representative.)

Sullivan's "dramatic cantata," with words by Tom Taylor, has a suitably international flavor, telling of war and reunion, based on a conflict between Christians and Moors. The central characters are a sailor and his bride, who are separated when he goes to battle, and later reunited. The final chorus, "Sink and Scatter, Clouds of War," was renamed "The Song of Peace" and was apparently somewhat successful as a concert item.

I saw a performance of this work some years ago and found it extremely tedious, but it probably required larger forces and greater skill in interpretation than it received on that occasion. Jacobs says merely that it was "a serviceable piece for an inaugural occasion."


  1. "Sink and Scatter, Clouds of War" appeared on That Glorious Song of Old.

Festival Te Deum (1872)


First Performed at the Crystal Palace, 1 May 1872

From early in his adult life, Sullivan was the favorite composer of royalty. When, in 1872, the Prince of Wales recovered from a life-threatening bout with typhoid, Sullivan was the logical choice to compose a work celebrating the Prince's recovery. The Festival Te Deum was the result, performed a soprano soloist, organ, choir, orchestra, and military band totaling over 2000, and witnessed by 26,000. Although set to a sacred text, the tone is understandably cheerful and upbeat, with at one point a jaunty march set for military band.


  1. The work was published on Rare Recorded Editions SRRE 164. [Details to be added.] Chris Webster said that it is a very listenable recording, better than many of the other issues on that label.
  2. A very strong amateur recording was issued by the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, coupled with Puccini's Messa di Gloria.
  3. That Glorious Song of Old, a CD of vocal music sponsored by the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, has three numbers from the Festival Te Deum: "The Glorious Company of the Apostles," "When Thou Tookest Upon Thee," and "Vouchsafe, O Lord."
  4. The March 2001 BBC Music Magazine CD offered a very fine complete recording (lacking only the military band) first broadcast on the BBC in 1988.

The Light of the World (1873)


First Performed at the Birmingham Festival, August, 1873

The Light of the World tells the story of the whole life of Christ. Sullivan selected the words himself from the scripture. Inevitably, it does not bear favorable comparison to that other famous oratorio on the same subject, Handel's Messiah, but it was widely performed throughout Britain in Sullivan's lifetime.


  1. There is a complete recording that was issued in the 1970s on the Rare Recorded Editions label.
  2. A second complete recording made by amateur forces at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral was privately issued in 2001.
  3. Vintage recordings of the "Andante Pastorale," "Yea, Though I walk," and "God Shall Wipe Away All tears" were issued on Sir Arthur Sullivan: Sacred and Secular Music
  4. That Glorious Song of Old has three numbers from The Light of the World: "In Rama was there a Voice heard," "Yea, Though I Walk," and "The Lord is Risen."
  5. The Church Music of Sir Arthur Sullivan has two numbers from The Light of the World: "Yea, though I walk" and "O hearken thou" (adapted from by Frederick Bridge for the Coronation service, 1902).

The Martyr of Antioch (1880)


First Performed at the Leeds Festival, 1880

In 1880, Sullivan began a long relationship with the triennial Leeds Festival, which he directed through 1989. For his first Festival at the helm, he composed this "sacred musical drama," which was based on the martyrdom of St. Margaret of Antioch in the 3rd century. Many of Sullivan's large-scale choral works are theatrical in conception, and The Martyr of Antioch was even presented as an opera by the Carl Rosa Opera Company, in 1898. It is also the least-known collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan, librettist having adapted the lyrics from a "poetic drama" originally written by Henry Hart Milman in 1822.

Critics agreed that the work had much to admire, but failed to achieve the necessary dramatic effect. Said Joseph Bennett, one of Sullivan's most ardent supporters:

Taking The Martyr of Antioch as a whole, I do not question its chance of the popularity for which Mr. Sullivan has striven. It is a work that no one, be he musician or not, can hear without interest and admiration. At the same time criticism will always point to the fact that the drama is treated substantially as a pretext for charming choruses and aires . . . .

Similarly, in The Athenæum:

It might be wished that in some portions Mr Sullivan had taken a loftier view of his theme, but at any rate he has written some most charming music, and orchestration equal, if not superior, to any that has ever proceded from the pen of an English musician. And, further, it is an advantage to have the composer of HMS Pinafore occupying himself with a worthier form of art.


  1. A complete recording from the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in 2000, with professional orchestra and soloists. One hesitates to use the word "definitive," but this outstanding recording could be the best we'll see in our lifetimes.
  2. A complete recording Issued by The Sir Arthur Sullivan Society in the 1980s. It is an adequate reading of the score, by amateur forces.
  3. "Come, Margarita, Come," a song in which the Roman Prefect calls on the Christian heroine to lead the people in pagan worship, was issued as part of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Sesquicentennial Commemorative Issue, sung by Edward Lloyd, who created the role.
  4. "Now glory to the god" and "Io Paean" were recorded on Sullivan & Co.: The Operas that Got Away.
  5. "Brother, thou art gone before us" and the organ solo from Scene II were recorded on The Church Music of Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Ode for the Opening of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition (1886)


This slight and unimpressive work was composed, at the Prince of Wales's request, for the opening of an exhibition. Sullivan was hard at work on The Golden Legend, which he rightly viewed as a considerably more important assignment, and he completed the score for this ode just two weeks before the first (and only) performance.


  1. The work was included on The Masque at Kenilworth — Music for Royal and National Occasions.

The Golden Legend (1886)


First Performed at the Leeds Festival, 1886

The Golden Legend was Sullivan's crowning achievement in the genre of large-scale choral works, and arguably the most successful of his "serious" compositions. According to Stephen Turnbull of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, it was for many years second in popularity only to Handel's Messiah among oratorios, and it continued to be regularly performed until the second world war. However, like most of Sullivan's non-operatic music, it has fallen into disfavor, and performances nowadays are practically non-existent.

The story, based on a poem by Longfellow, is operatic in its proportions. A certain Prince Henry suffers from a mysterious illness that can only be cured if "some maiden of her own accord | Offers her life for that of her lord." A pious girl, Elsie, agrees to do this. She and the prince travel to meet a doctor who is actually the devil disguised, but Lucifer is defeated by the powers of faith and love (although exactly how this happens is never made clear). In the epilogue, the text predicts that her sacrifice will shine into the future "written in characters of gold" — hence the title.

The Golden Legend was an immediate success, with both the critics and the public. The Leeds Mercury reported, "Never was a more heartfelt ovation. Ovation! nay, it was a greater triumph, one such as acclaimed the successful soldiers of Rome." Stanford, writing in the National Review, said that it deserved a place "even on the shelves of the classics."

The work enjoyed at least seventeen performances during the season immediately after its premiere. It also travelled successfully to the United States. But, as Arthur Jacobs observes, "no work more cruelly illustrates the posthumous decline in Sullivan's reputation as a 'serious' composer," adding that this golden work "was exposed as baser metal."


  1. The only complete recording to have been commercially issued came out in 2001 on the Hyperion label.
  2. Coincidentally, also in 2001, a fine pro-am performance by the Edinburgh Savoyards was privately issued.
  3. Seven selections from the 1908 Gramophone Company recording were included on the 1986 Pearl Opal LP, Sullivan Without Gilbert.
  4. Vintage recordings of "O Gladsome Light" and "The Night is Calm and Cloudless" were included on Sir Arthur Sullivan: Sacred and Secular Music.
  5. "The night is calm" (sung by Carrie Tubb) and "Virgin who lovest" (sung by Edna Thornton) were issued as part of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Sesquicentennial Commemorative Issue
  6. "O Gladsome Light," "The Night is Calm and Cloudless," and "God Sent His Messenger, the Rain" were issued on the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society's CD, That Glorious Song of Old (Kate Flowers, soprano, with the Choir of Ely Cathedral and the Britten-Pears Chamber Choir).
  7. "O Gladsome Light" was recorded by The Band of the Irish Guards (2002).

Ode for the Laying of the Foundation Stone
of the Imperial Institute


This work was one of many pièces d'occasion that Sullivan was called on to write during his career. Although the music is up to his usual high standard, the text is a paean of praise to Britain's imperial power and would seem dated today. Luckily, there are two strong recordings.


  1. Imperial Opera; Michael Withers, conductor.

    This recording, issued by the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, also includes the incidental music to King Arthur and The Prodigal Son. It is extremely well performed, giving as good an account of the score as we are likely to hear in our lifetimes.

    Issue History, see:
    The Masque at Kenilworth — Music for Royal and National Occasions.
  2. Oxford Pro Musica Singers et al; Michael Smedley, conductor.

    I thought that the Withers recording could not be improved upon, but then a newer recording came along that is also quite strong. This will be the recording of choice, given that several other compelling items are included on the same CD.

    Issue History, see:
    Imperial Ode / King Arthur / The Prodigal Son [SASS]

Thanksgiving Te Deum


First performed at St. Paul's Cathedral, June 1902

Sullivan's last substantial composition, this Te Deum was composed to celebrate British victory in the Boer War—even though that war was far from over yet. Performance didn't come until June 1902, eighteen months after the composer's death.


  1. The entire work appears on That Glorious Song of Old, but without a full orchestra.
  2. A complete recording with full orchestra appears on The Masque at Kenilworth — Music for Royal and National Occasions.
  3. A second complete recording, with full orchestra conducted by Ronald Corp, was issued on CD by Hyperion.