Sir Arthur Sullivan has a hallowed place in the history of classical music for his work in setting the librettos of W.S. Gilbert to music, resulting in the enduring operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, which are probably the greatest musical achievement of Victorian England. Sullivan didn’t just write operettas, however. He was a prolific composer who wrote a number of operas, oratorios, various orchestral works, and this single symphony, which he considered titling “the Irish Symphony”. He didn’t officially choose that title, and in fact it didn’t end up being attached to the work on a de facto basis until after his passing.
The symphony is a youthful work and as such it is uneven and in places clearly inspired by Sullivan’s musical models — in this case, Mendelssohn and Schumann. Nevertheless, the piece is an engaging listen. I’m not familiar enough with Sullivan’s more mature work to know if and where you can hear in his Symphony hints of what is to come later on when he writes, say, The Mikado or Iolanthe, but Sullivan’s Symphony is a pleasantly typical Romatic-era symphony, with some moments of pleasing lyricism — particularly in the opening, when a portentous opening in the low brass yields to an almost ethereal chord in the strings.
Here is Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Symphony in E Major, the “Irish”.