29th April 1909. Monckton’s Arcadia.
The 1890.s in Britain was the decade of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley’s risque art, society scandal and the rise of the ‘new girl’: ‘The Naughty Nineties’.
It was also the decade which saw the rise of a new British musical theatre composer in Lionel Monckton ((1861-1924) and a new style of ‘frothy’ comedic, entertainment with female dancers, The Gaiety Girls with many having the ‘Girl’ theme: Gaiety Girl (1893) the first hit musical, Shop Girl (1894) followed by My Girl and Circus Girl (1896) and Runaway Girl of 1898.
People looked for something new in the ‘Belle Epoque’ and by the time of Gilbert & Sullivan’s (G&S) 1893 ‘Utopia’, a new breed of managers such as George Edwardes at the Gaiety Theatre had arrived, having worked under D’Oyley Carte running the Savoy Operas of G&S.(1)
Then Geisha Girl (1896) was to effectively close the era of that previously dominated by Gilbert’s lyrics and the music of Arthur Sullivan, whose successes in the likes of HMS Pinafore (1878) and The Mikado (1885), had ended with the flops of the last two productions, Utopia Ltd (1893) and The Grand Duke 1896.
Post card for The Arcadians which ran for 809 performances the 3rd longest then for the musical theatre.
The ‘Girl’ Theme continued in the 1899 Floradora with the hit, ‘Tell me Pretty Maiden’. (2)
The Edwardian Age saw the old Gaiety Theatre demolished in 1903 for the Aldwych road widening with a new Gaiety opening nearby with ‘The Orchid’ (1903).
Then came Monckton’s ‘Quaker Girl’ and ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ 1909, the same year that saw his ‘Arcadians’ open Today at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, with its memorable song, ‘The Merry, Merry Pipes of Pan’, with an idealistic rustic theme worthy of G&S’s ‘Iolanthe’.
However popular musical taste was to change again this time to the American syncopated dance rhythms and ragtime and ‘other noisy numbers’, which was to dominate the post-war world.
However the notable songs of Monckton were to become part of the British musical heritage well into the 1960.s, and in truth, for melodic tone, will hardly be bettered.
(1) Operetta: music is supported by the spoken word, as opposed to opera where even the recitative is accompanied by music which is the main component.
(2) Michael Balfe had led the way in 1843 with his Bohemian Girl with the song ‘I dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls’ which ran for 100 performances at Drury Lane.