Arthur Sullivan

St. Gertrude ("Onward, Christian soldiers"), hymn for chorus

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    On April 12, 1854, Arthur Sullivan became a chorister of the Chapel Royal, whose obligation was to sing Sundays and holidays at services at St. James Palace and to receive, in return, an exactingly thorough education. In May the following year, the precocious 12 year old had the satisfaction of hearing an anthem of his own composition, Sing Unto the Lord and Bless His Name, sung at services by his fellow choristers. Issued later that year by the prestigious firm of Novello, it was Sullivan's first published work. Thus, for better or worse, Sullivan was inured from the first to producing music for religious use.

    Sullivan early on moved easily from royal salons to the concert hall, and from the theater to the dim purlieus where stupendously popular (and highly remunerative) hymnals were compiled. In the upshot, he produced something in the neighborhood of 100 hymns, anthems, and sacred part-songs, a number of which still linger in Protestant hymnals. Of these, Onward, Christian Soldiers is far and away the best-known and musically the most compelling, its banal phrases marshaled stirringly with complete conviction to the strident words of Sabine Baring-Gould. Sullivan facetiously named the tune "St. Gertrude," after the wife of his friend Ernest Clay Ker Seymer. It is one of those droll coincidences that Onward, Christian Soldiers should have appeared as part of an advertisement in The Musical Times for Novello's latest collection, The Hymnary, in December 1871, at just the moment that Sullivan's first collaboration with W.S. Gilbert reached the stage of London's Gaiety Theatre. Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old, was hissed at its opening night, December 23, and had but a short run, while Onward, Christian Soldiers was an immediate and enduring success. Apart from two songs and some ballet music, the score of Thespis has completely vanished, while Onward, Christian Soldiers is still being heard throughout the world.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2012 Lifestyles 46033
    2011 EMI / EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099994830
    2011 EMI / EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099994847
    2009 Sony Classical 7532472
    2007 Doug Gefvert 2007
    2007 London / Universal Classics & Jazz
    2007 Doyen 41
    2006 Priory Records 5018
    2006 Sony Music Distribution 80316
    2006 London/Decca / Decca 000664702
    2006 Decca 475 7498DX2
    2004 Griffin / Griffin GCCD-4047
    2004 Lifestyles 216001
    2004 Chandos 24117
    2004 Priory Records 715
    2003 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) / BCI-Eclipse Distribution 40400
    2003 Hyperion CDP 12104
    2003 Platinum Entertainment / Sony Music Distribution 1801
    2002 Sony Music Distribution 87750
    2001 Lifestyles 160022
    2001 Romophone 81030
    2001 Decca 000199802
    2000 Prism Entertainment / Prism Leisure 616
    2000 Platinum Disc / Platinum Entertainment 14712
    2000 Bandleader BNA 5161
    1999 Pearl 9970
    1998 MCI / Music Club Records MCCD 259
    1996 Decca 452252
    1996 London/Decca / Decca / London 4522122
    1996 Madacy / Sound Exchange 9977
    1995 Sony Classical SMK-61984
    1993 Pearl 9494
    1992 Chandos Brass / Chandos CHAN 4515
    1990 Chandos Collect / Chandos CHAN 6516
    Pearl 9990
    Conifer 502
    Bandleader 5008
    Sony Music Distribution 48293
    The Gift of Music 511
    Bandleader 5067
    North Star Music 0017
    Virgin 59031