Editor’s Note: Arthur Sullivan began writing what would be his only symphony when he was twenty-one years old, on a trip to Ireland, the native land of his father. “The other night as I was jolting home,” he wrote to his mother from Belfast, “through the wind and rain on an open jaunting car, the whole first movement of a symphony came into my head with a real fresh flavour about it.” The Symphony in E major—later nicknamed the “Irish”—was first performed on March 10, 1866, and it shows the influence of Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Schumann on the composer, though Sullivan brings his own distinctive voice to the music. The Irish Symphony experienced initial success, but it was largely forgotten for the next century, in favor of the composer’s operettas. It was rediscovered in the late twentieth century, with four recordings of the piece being set down, though only one is readily available today.
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