Prof finds lost Gilbert and Sullivan tune

Monday, June 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) — The melody and the bass harmony remains a mystery, but a Holy Cross music professor has unearthed at least a hint of music by Gilbert and Sullivan long presumed lost.

A part of the score — which was scrapped either because of political skittishness of the times or for its very length — was found amid old band parts in a collection from a London-based opera company.

Bruce I. Miller discovered the first violin part to ``The De Belville Song,'' from the opera ``Iolanthe,'' in a well-thumbed collection of 19th century music scores. The pages of the score had been glued together.

Miller found it among some old band parts that were in a private collection of papers originally belonging to the D'Oyly Carte Opera Co. of London. Those papers also yielded ``Reflect, My Child,'' a long-lost song from ``H.M.S. Pinafore'' whose discovery Miller disclosed in 1999.

Miller, who is choral director at the Worcester college, and collaborator Helga J. Perry will present a paper on the ``De Belville Song'' later this month at a conference on 19th century music in London.

``The De Belville Song,'' a sharp-tongued satire on the British House of Lords, was scrapped from the script of the opera ``Iolanthe'' soon after the opera opened in New York and London in 1882. Miller said the song was cut because the second act of ``Iolanthe'' ran too long.

While the words to the song have long been known — they were printed in the libretto sold to opera patrons — the score disappeared when the song was deleted. By the time the score of ``Iolanthe'' was published, the music had disappeared.

``Most people assumed it was lost for good,'' Miller said last week.

Miller said the first violin part does not provide enough information to recreate the music in full. The part does not carry the melody or the bass harmony of the song and, Miller said, that missing detail would make a full reconstruction ``very tentative.''

However, he explained, other details in the part, such as the rhythm and the placement of pauses, allowed him to match the words to the first violin part. That, he explained, confirmed the part was from ``The De Belville Song.''

``You can fit the words into the rhythmic pattern, and the pauses link with points in the song,'' Miller said.

The piece is sung by the character Lord Mount Ararat, as a musical answer to a question about membership in the House of Lords. Using the example of a fictional peer named De Belville as an example, Lord Mount Ararat explains membership is based on wealth, heredity and connections, not merit.

``The De Belville Song'' has been a mystery since ``Iolanthe'' opened, Miller said. The opera's New York premiere included the song. But in the London premiere, the words were spoken, and the music left out.

The reasons for that and for why the music disappeared without a trace have long been debated among Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts, Miller said.

The song is not critical to the plot, Miller said, and might have been seen as a gratuitous slap at the House of Lords.

The way the song was found hints at more clues about its disappearance, Miller said.

``The fact that it was glued together was probably the only reason it survived. ... It is entirely likely someone went through and removed all traces of the song.''