An examination of Gilbert and Sullivan's contribution to the emerging common culture of Victorian England, 1871-1896
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 02:54 by Christopher Vivian Ayers
The thesis examines the light operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and argues that their popularity depended upon their being a part of an emerging common culture. This common culture was the product of social and economic change which had created the circumstances whereby people of all classes were permitted to share in the process of cultural selection. This replaced the earlier system where the socially dominant class directed cultural activities. In Victorian England, the influence of middle class values was nevertheless particularly evident on music. The preference for choral music of a religious nature and of German orchestral music reflected these values. However, the light operas succeeded in attracting a new audience of people from all social levels. Thus a new market for light musical entertainment had emerged and it was the successful exploitation of this market which suggests that the operas were the products rather than the initiators of change. Because of this, both the preferences of the audience and the opinions of the critics in newspapers and journals strongly influenced both artists. Sullivan's choice of musical idiom was directed by social attitudes towards music, whilst Gilbert's satirical comments reflected contemporary social values. Consequently, the operas indicate a dramatic change in the cultural pattern and provide a record or documentary of Victorian society.