26 Of Your Favorite G&S Classics, by Gilbert & Sullivan
I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about best of compilations that deal with classical music. Like many people I am fond of Gilbert & Sullivan, at least those works of the duo that I happen to be familiar with. There are usually songs with a high degree of light-hearted humor at British navalism and imperialism as well as gentle pokes at authority and somewhat melodramatic treatments of love and relationship. In my enjoyment of this sort of art and music I appreciate that I am a part of the audience, albeit temporally distinct, that the two were aiming at pretty squarely. I consider the musical to be an opera-adjacent art that involves elements of music as well as theater and that frequently plays to historically significant themes as well. At any rate, listening to a cd like this reminds me that the compilation is made up by breaking up a coherent body of work to create a selection that simply wants to encourage you to listen to more material or, when circumstances permit, to go watch these musicals live or on film, so as to get the full picture and not a very inadequate sample of it.
This particular work is made up of twenty-six tracks that are taken from seven Gilbert & Sullivan works. The first five works come from Pirates of Penzance, and they include: Oh, better far to live and die (1), Poor wandering one (2), I am the very model of a British major general (3), When a felon’s not engaged in his employment (4), and With cat-like tread (5). After that there are four selections from HMS Pinafore, including: I am the monarch of the sea (6), When I was a lad I served a term (7), Never mind the why and wherefore (8), and Oh joy, oh rapture unforseen (9). This is followed by four tracks from The Mikado, including: A wand’ring minstrel I (10), Behold the Lord High Executioner (11), Three little maids from school (12), and A more humane Mikado (13). The second half of the disk begins with three songs from Iolanthe: When Britain really ruled the waves (14), If you go in (15), and If we’re weak enough to tarry (16). This is followed by five songs from The Gondoliers: In enterprise of martial kind (17), When a merry maiden marries (18), Then one of us will be a queen (19), Take a pair of sparkling eyes (20), and Dance a cachucha, fandango, bolero (21). After this comes three tracks from Patience: When I first put this uniform on (22), A magnet hung in a hardware shop (23), and So go to him and say to him (24). Finally, the last two songs come from The Yoeman Of The Guard: When a maiden loves she sits and sighs (25) and I have a song to sing, Oi (26). Altogether the collection is just over 73 minutes long.
Overall, this selection does demonstrate that Gilbert & Sullivan kept up their general approach to music throughout their entire career. If the disc itself is somewhat frontloaded to their best known works, such that those listeners who listen to the first half year the material that is likely to be familiar with them and then after that hear material that they are likely not to know at all, there are some generally consistent themes that are covered in these excerpts. There are quite a few songs that muse on love and marriage, a few that wrestle with the way that one obtains and holds on to power institutionally as well as some pro-imperial reflections that have a high degree of nostalgia even in the 19th century regarding British naval power as well as the pride of being in uniform. This is the sort of collection that reminds the listener of the enduring values of the middle classes to seek professional jobs, a high degree of respect, and success in love and relationships and enough money to live reasonably well. It is little surprise that musicals aimed at the middle class should be broadly favorable to middle class interests or that middle class people later on should still find such things enjoyable. There are many mysteries in the world, but the continuing appeal of Gilbert & Sullivan is not one of them.