Alfred Cellier (1 December 1844 – 28 December 1891) was an English composer, orchestrator and conductor.
In addition to conducting and music directing the original productions of several of the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan works and writing the overtures to some of them, Cellier conducted at many theatres in London, New York and on tour in Britain, America and Australia. He composed over a dozen operas and other works for the theatre, as well as for orchestra, but his 1886 comic opera, Dorothy, was by far his most successful work. It became the longest-running piece of musical theatre in the nineteenth century.
Cellier was born in South Hackney, London, the second child and eldest son of Arsène Cellier, a language teacher from France, and his wife Mary Ann Peterine, formerly Peacock, née Thomsett. He was educated at the grammar school in Hackney. From 1855 to 1860, he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, St. James's, under the Rev. Thomas Helmore, where Arthur Sullivan was one of his schoolmates. Cellier later married Harriet Emily. Cellier's brother, François, also became a conductor.
Cellier's first appointments were as organist at All Saints' Church, Blackheath and as conductor of the Belfast Philharmonic Society (both in 1862). In 1866 he succeeded Dr. Chipp as organist and director of the Ulster Hall concerts, Belfast, at the same time acting as conductor of the Belfast Philharmonic Society. In 1868 he returned to London as organist of St Alban's Church, Holborn. In January 1871, Cellier became the first conductor and music director at the Royal Court Theatre in London. From 1871 to 1875 he was conductor and musical director at the Prince's Theatre in Manchester.
During this period he composed many comic operas and operettas, the first of which was Charity Begins at Home (1872 at the Gallery of Illustration), with the librettist B. C. Stephenson.[n 1] The piece was a success and played more than 200 times. A reviewer in the London and Provincial Entr'Acte wrote that the music "is unexpectedly apropos and pretty ... and we have no hesitation in saying that Mr. Alfred Cellier's melodies will live even after the long life [of the production] shall have come to an end." He achieved a favourable outcome with The Sultan of Mocha, produced at Prince's Theatre, Manchester, in 1874 and revived in London in 1876 and 1887 (with a new libretto) and in New York in 1880, among others. Most of his early works for the theatre, including Dora's Dream (1873), Topsyturveydom (1874, with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert), The Tower of London (1875, Manchester), Nell Gwynne (1876), Two Foster Brothers (1877, St. George's Hall, with a libretto by Gilbert Arthur à Beckett), and Bella Donna (1878), had only modest success. Cellier also wrote numerous separate songs and composed for orchestra (including his Suite Symphonique (1978)) and the piano; his Danse pompadour achieved particular popularity.
In December 1877 Cellier joined the D'Oyly Carte company as musical director at the Opera Comique in London. There he conducted The Sorcerer (1877), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878, for which he wrote the overture, based on themes from the opera), Trial by Jury (1878), George Grossmith's Cups and Saucers (1878–79), and three of his own one-act works: Dora's Dream (1877–78 revival), The Spectre Knight (1878), and After All! (1878–79). Cellier was conducting the performance of Pinafore during which the partners of The Comedy Opera Company attempted to repossess the set, and he was noted for his attempts to calm the audience during the fracas. His brother, François, succeeded him as musical director at the Opera Comique in 1879. Alfred Cellier was a conductor of a series of promenade concerts at the Queen's Theatre, Long Acre and, in 1878–1879 he was joint conductor, with Sullivan, of the Covent Garden Promenade Concerts.
In 1879, he travelled with Gilbert, Sullivan, and Carte to America, where he acted as conductor for Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, with Carte's first American touring company. Cellier prepared the overture to Pirates using Sullivan's music from the rest of the score. Back in London in July 1880, he directed the music at the Opera Comique for Pirates and another of his own pieces with Desprez, In the Sulks. In April 1881, he left the D'Oyly Carte company, ceding the baton to his brother. Cellier composed a three-act grand opera, Pandora, a version of Longfellow's The Masque of Pandora (with a libretto by B. C. Stephenson) that was presented in Boston in 1881. He returned to America later that year as music director of D'Oyly Carte's New York and touring productions of Billee Taylor (1882), Les Manteaux Noirs and Rip Van Winkle (both in the fall of 1882), and Iolanthe (1882–83), for the latter of which he prepared the New York overture.
In 1883, Cellier's setting of Gray's Elegy, in the form of a cantata, was produced at the Leeds music festival. In 1883, Cellier left the D'Oyly Carte company, but he was back for brief periods as music director with D'Oyly Carte's touring companies for Princess Ida (1884) and The Mikado (1885). In 1885, also, Cellier composed incidental music for a production of As You Like It. He composed two more companion pieces that had Savoy Theatre premieres, both with libretti by Desprez: The Carp (performed with The Mikado and Ruddigore in 1886–87), and Mrs. Jarramie's Genie (composed together with his brother François, which played together with several different operas at the Savoy between 1887 and 1889.
While in London, Cellier conducted at several London theatres, including the Criterion, the St James's, and the Savoy. Later, as a result of ill health, he resided mostly in America, where he was at times a representative for the D'Oyly Carte company, and Australia, where he conducted for the J. C. Williamson organization.
In 1885, Cellier composed a song, "There once was a time, my darling", for a piece produced by George Edwardes, Little Jack Sheppard (1885). Meanwhile he had composed what would become his greatest success, the comic opera Dorothy, with a libretto by B. C. Stephenson. To create the score, Cellier repurposed some of his music from his 1876 failure, Nell Gwynne, which had, nevertheless, received praise for its music. Dorothy had been announced for production at the Royalty Theatre in 1884, but ultimately Edwardes mounted it at his Gaiety Theatre on 25 September 1886. Cellier was in Australia from February 1886 to February 1887, conducting The Mikado and other Gilbert and Sullivan operas for J. C. Williamson and was absent from London during the productions of The Carp, at the Savoy, and Dorothy. Neither the music nor the libretto of Dorothy initially attracted critical praise. The Times wrote, "Gentility reigns supreme, and with it unfortunately also a good deal of the refined feebleness and the ineptitude which are the defects of that quality." Stephenson rewrote the lyrics of one of Cellier's old songs, "Old Dreams" as "Queen of My Heart"; this helped the work to find success after it transferred in December to the Prince of Wales Theatre. The following year H. J. Leslie took over the production from Edwardes and introduced new stars, including Marie Tempest and Ben Davies, who made Dorothy an even greater success at the box office. It transferred in December 1888 to the Lyric Theatre, built using the profits from the production, where it ran into 1889. Its initial run of a total of 931 performances was the longest of any piece of musical theatre up to that time, considerably longer than even The Mikado, a fact that caused consternation to Cellier's friend Arthur Sullivan. Some critics reconsidered their earlier condemnation, the work became regarded as a classic Victorian piece, and the initially despised plot was traced seriously back to the Restoration playwrights David Garrick and Aphra Behn, and to Oliver Goldsmith and even Shakespeare. Its success led to revivals of some of Cellier's earlier works.
Cellier returned to Australia in 1888 to conduct Dorothy and a revival of his earlier work, Charity Begins at Home, and made a final brief visit there for health reasons in early 1891, together with Stephenson. His last comic operas, Doris (1889, with Stephenson) and The Mountebanks (with Gilbert, produced in January 1892, a few days after the composer's death), were both modestly successful. Also after Cellier's death, Rutland Barrington used some of his music in his 1902 adaptation of Water Babies. Often in ill health throughout his life, Cellier was unable to finish The Mountebanks, and Ivan Caryll completed the score. A reviewer of the 2018 recording of The Mountebanks commented: "There is a free-flowing style to Cellier’s compositions, with fine lyrical detail and sumptuous orchestration with which he provides a wide variety of musical effects."
Cellier owed much to the influence of Sullivan. He was a fertile melodist, and his writing exhibited elegance and refinement, although he was not able to infuse his music with humour in the way that Sullivan did.
Cellier died at his home in Bloomsbury, London, at the age of 47. He was buried in West Norwood Cemetery.
|Title||Acts||Premiered at||Premiered on||Librettist||Notes|
|Charity Begins at Home (a musical proverb)||1 act||Gallery of Illustration, London||7 February 1872||Bolton Rowe (B.C. Stephenson)|
|Dora's Dream (operetta)||1 act||Gallery of Illustration||3 July 1873||Arthur Cecil|
|Topsyturveydom (musical extravanza)||2 scenes||Criterion Theatre, London||21 March 1874||W. S. Gilbert|
|The Sultan of Mocha (comic opera)||3 acts||Prince's Theatre, Manchester||16 November 1874||Albert Jarret|
|The Tower of London (comic opera)||3 acts||Prince's||4 October 1875||Anonymous|
|Nell Gwynne (comic opera)||3 acts||Prince's||17 October 1876||H. B. Farnie after W. T. Moncrieff's Rochester (1818)||Revised as Dorothy, 1886|
|Two Foster Brothers (operetta)||1 act||St George's Hall, London||12 March 1877||Gilbert à Beckett|
|The Spectre Knight (fanciful operetta)||1 act||Opera Comique, London||9 February 1878||James Albery|
|Belladonna, or The Little Beauty and the Great Beast (comic opera)||3 acts||Prince's||27 April 1878||Alfred Thompson|
|After All (vaudeville)||1 act||Opera Comique||23 December 1878||Frank Desprez|
|In the Sulks||1 act||Opera Comique||21 February 1880||Desprez|
|The Masque of Pandora (grand opera)||3 acts||Boston Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts||10 January 1881||Rowe, after Longfellow|
|The Carp (a whimsicality)||1 act||Savoy Theatre||13 February 1886||Desprez|
|Dorothy (comedy opera)||3 acts||Gaiety Theatre, London||25 September 1886||Stephenson||Revised version of Nell Gwynne|
|The Sultan of Mocha (revised version)||3 acts||Strand Theatre, London||21 September 1887||William Lestocq|
|Mrs Jarramie's Genie (operetta)||1 act||Savoy||14 February 1888||Desprez||Collaboration with François Cellier|
|Doris (comedy opera)||3 acts||Lyric Theatre, London||20 April 1889||Stephenson||Revised version of The Tower of London|
|The Mountebanks (comic opera)||2 acts||Lyric||4 January 1892||Gilbert||Music completed by Ivan Caryll|