Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gilbert and Sullivan - I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General

The duo of Gilbert and Sullivan was bade up of plain old W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan.  And therein lies the tale.Gilbert was already a noted playwright when they formed the team, and Sullivan was a noted composer of light popular works.    Their first joint works were wildly successful (particularly H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates Of Penzance, from which this song comes).  However, Her Imperial Majesty thought that a Knighthood might cause Sir Arthur to return to composing "respectable" music.

It didn't, but he did at least have the decency of feeling guilty about it in the finest Victorian tradition.

But Gilbert was never considered for the Honours List, because he was the one that wrote lyrics like this:
I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;a
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news, (bothered for a rhyme)
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore, (bothered for a rhyme)b
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform:c
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a Javelin,d
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery –
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy – (bothered for a rhyme)
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.e

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
It was satire sharp as the finest English cheddar, mocking the new fangled tendency to educate military officers in everything but in matters military.  No Honours List for Gilbert.

Yes, that's Linda Ronstadt in the 1982 revival that was made into a film.  More than a couple of you will recognize this tune in a different form.


libertyman said...

I love good musicals, and that is an impressive performance on that tune!

I think I will show The Elements in my manufacturing class tomorrow night -- also an amazing exercise in diction.

What fun it would have been to have Tom Lehrer as your professor!

armedlaughing said...

Classic! Both!
And Ms. Ronstadt (in spite of her vile politics) has an amazing voice!



deadmandance said...

Don't forget the Animaniacs version!

Dave H said...

And the Mass Effect 2 version:

Overload in Colorado said...

My favorite Tom Lehrer quote is, "If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while."