The man famous as half of the opera-writing duo Gilbert and Sullivan was a gifted composer and musician in his own right. He was born on May 13th 1842 into a very encouraging musical family - by the time he was eight the young Sullivan had written his own anthem, and by ten he had mastered all the wind instruments in his father's Royal Military College band. He won scholarships for several conservatories and academies, and when he had finished at the last in Germany, he returned to England, wrote incidental music for 'The Tempest' and became famous - at age 20. He was professor of composition at the Royal Academy and conducted the Royal Philharmonic between 1885 and 1887, and was quite a society man, friends with monarchs across Europe.
In 1867 he collaborated on Cox and the Box and The Contrabandista with the writer F C Brunand, revealing a talent for comic opera. And in 1871 to 1896 he worked with W S Gilbert on fourteen comic operas, including Trial by Jury (1875), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), The Mikado (1885), The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), and The Gondoliers (1889). Sullivan had a gift for writing great melodies and for musical parody of traditional types of song, and he invented too new forms of comic song, such as the patter song - a long, rapidly delivered text to a light tune of restricted vocal range.
Some of Sullivan's most beautiful music was composed while he was in intense pain from the kidney stones that plagued him for the 28 years before his death on 22nd November 1900. His later works include the grand opera Ivanhoe (1891), Onward Christian Soldiers (1872) and a Te Deum (1897).