Musical Heritage

I was sinking into the armchair after an honest day’s work, earlier, when Sir Arthur Sullivan’s overture to Iolanthe came down the radio waves into my living room. It’s a typical Savoy farrago — a favorite of my late and ex husband, who always wanted to hear me sing the Fairy Queen — featuring lots of romance, class consciousness, satire, and Peers of the Realm. Sullivan tended to get his overtures in under the wire, pretty much cobbled together, but he wandered into what was generally acknowledged as Wagnerian territory with Iolanthe, and made a careful job of its opening music. Check out the first forty seconds or so here.

Richard Strauss premiered Elektra nearly thirty years later — an opera with nothing remotely like fairies anywhere near it, though a lot of Wagnerian sonority. Ghosts, murdered father, avenging son, embittered daughter with a heart full of death, you know the story. Here, about 1:02.

Am I just imagining this?


5 thoughts on “Musical Heritage

  1. What got in amongst me was the four-note figure, parallel in rhythm and melody, that you hear in the treble of the Sullivan overture, sung by Elektra. Sullivan’s melody is the return of the prodigal fairy from her exile, sung by the chorus — “Welcome to our hearts again, I-O-LAN-THE!” (Descending fifth, rising octave, descending fourth). Elektra sings “A-GA-MEM-NON” on a descending fourth, rising minor sixth, descending minor third in virtually the same rhythm. The “ground” in both cases has a reasonably similar sonority, too.

    It would hardly be the world first wildly incongruous melodic rip-off.

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