I was happy to receive in the mail the CD A Society Clown: the Songs of George Grossmith featuring Leon Berger (baritone) and Selwyn Tillett (piano), issued by the Divine Art Record company in association with the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society. At the risk of offending the person who usually writes reviews around here, I will blunder ahead and render my review – I don’t want to give this enjoyable CD away just so someone else can review it!
George Grossmith (1847-1912), I must admit, was not a name in our household. I was interested to learn in the liner notes that he was the creator of the chief comedy parts in Gilbert & Sullivan operas, to include Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore and Ko-Ko in The Mikado. He was also the author of 18 operettas and 600 songs and piano pieces. When Sir William Gilbert temporarily split away from Sir Arthur Sullivan, Grossmith was selected to write the music for several songs by Gilbert. Grossmith was also well known for “humorous and musical recitals” and toured the US. I have to wonder listening to the songs and looking at the liner note illustrations if he was the inventor of a genre of performer that is still with us, the wit at the piano, carried on by Tom Lehrer and more recently Mark Russell.
If you like Gilbert & Sullivan, you will most likely enjoy the songs of George Grossmith. The songs are indeed witty and stand up well today. The Lost Key, his parody of Sullivan’s The Lost Chord, should make any highbrow laugh. My personal favorite is He was a Careless Man, a song about a man whose name is always found in a list of patrons, but who forgets to send the check. I had to chuckle at sir William Gilbert’s lyrics in If you value a Peaceable Life, “If you value a peaceable life, this maxim will teach you to get it. In all things give way to your wife, I didn’t and learned to regret it”.
The music is well recorded and well performed.”