The Martyr of Antioch


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Gilbertís Contribution to the Libretto

In his preface to The Martyr of Antioch, Sullivan wrote: "To his friend, Mr. W. S. Gilbert, is due the change which in one or two cases (marked with an asterisk) has been necessary from blank verse to rhyme; and for these and many valuable suggestions, he returns Mr. Gilbert his warm acknowledgements." The numbers so indicated were numbers 2, 8, and 10.

Derrick McClure has compared Milmanís original poem with the libretto as set by Sullivan. He notes:

"Julia" is not named as a character in Milmanís original poem.

1. CHORUS OF SUN-WORSHIPPERS
This is straight from Milman, though shortened by the omission of three verses for the "Chorus of Youths". Julia's solo verse is one of a sequence of three for the "Chorus of Maidens".
2. SOLO (Callias) & ARIA (Olybius)
As printed in the libretto, the lines follow the musical phrasing; as printed in the poem, they are in iambic pentameter. That is the only difference: the actual words are the same. (This is true throughout the libretto.)
Olybius's two lines are condensed from a sequence of speeches in praise of Margarita. The words "the crown and palm-like grace of all" are in the original. The song "Come, Margarita, come" is pieced together from a much longer speech in blank verse. The words are a combination of Milman and Gilbert: "take thine appointed place, and strike thy holy lyre of silver string" - "Even as a late long-looked-for-flower in spring" - "living lyre" - "breathless as the listening walls" - "themselves seem touched" - these are Gilbert's words. This is one of the very few lyrics where Gilbert has actually done more than re-arrange the words of the original.
3. DUET (Olybius & Callias)
4. CHORUS
This section is taken straight from Milman, although in the original the chorus does not immediately follow the speech.
5. FUNERAL ANTHEM
6. SOLO (Fabius)
7. RECIT. & HYMN (Margarita)
These numbers are all taken verbatim from Milman. Gilbert has carefully trimmed and re-ordered the original. Margarita's song "For thou didst die for me" comes somewhat later and was originally nine verses long.
8. DUET (Margarita & Callias)
Mostly from Milman, but Gilbert has added some short lines and some of the rhymes.
9. EVENING SONG OF THE MAIDENS
All by Milman.
10. RECIT. & AIR (Olybius)
The original is in blank verse. Gilbert has re-written it as rhyming couplets. Most of the words are in the original.
11. DUET (Margarita & Olybius)
12. CHORUS
All from Milman, though originally much longer.
13. SOLO (Julia) & CHORUS
"The maids lift up their hymn around the temple", spoken by a character called Macer in the original, is immediately followed by the chorus "Io Paean", and then Olybius says "Now lead the captives forth to hear their doom, to worship at this sumptuous shrine or die."
14. SCENE (Margarita, Julia, Olybius, Callias & Chorus)
This is pieced together out of lines and scenes from various points in the original, not all spoken by the characters they're assigned to here. The line "Olybius's throne, or a blasphemer's fate is thine" appears to be by Gilbert.
"Make thou thy choice" - "'Tis made: the funeral pyre" is by Milman, but from an earlier scene.
"She doth profane our faith" is a shortened paraphrase of a speech beginning: "She doth profane Great Phoebus's raptures: tear her off!"
Margarita's solo "God, at whose word the vast creation sprang" is made up out of lines from a speech by Fabius in an earlier scene. Her verse "The Lord my God is with me" is from a chorus, originally straight after "Io Paean".
Olybius's "How doth the rapture of her speech" is in the original, but not at this point.
15. QUARTET (Margarita, Julia, Olybius & Callias)
These verses appear to be by Gilbert: they're in keeping with the original, but I can't find the actual words, even in a different arrangement, anywhere in Milman.
16. CHORUS: FINALE.
Gilbert has added "What means she?" and changed "Why dost thou look" to "Why does she look". Margarita's verses are from Milman, but the short verses "Glory, glory, glory!" appear to be by Gilbert. The final "Sing to the Lord!", not included in the 1880 vocal score but part of the extended chorus for use when the piece is performed as an opera, is by Milman.
In conclusion, it appears that Gilbert has done a very good scissors and paste job on Milmanís poem, adding just a few touches of his own.
The silver cup given by Sullivan to Gibert.
Silver cup
For his help in preparing the libretto of The Martyr of Antioch, Sullivan gave Gilbert a silver cup inscribed "W.S. Gilbert from his friend Arthur Sullivan. Leeds Festival 1880. The Martyr of Antioch." In return, Gilbert wrote to Sullivan on 3rd December:
Dear Sullivan,

It always seemed to me that my particularly humble services in connection with the Leeds Festival had received far more than their meed of acknowledgement in your preamble to the libretti - and it most certainly never occured to me to look for any other reward than the honour of being associated, however remotely and unworthily, in a success which, I suppose, will endure until music itself shall die. Pray believe that of the many substantial advantages that have resulted to me from our association, this last is, and always will be,the most highly prized.

Very truly yours,

W. S. Gilbert.

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