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The Lost Chord

Autograph manuscript of The Lost Chord


by Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)

The Musicians' Company Archive Project

In January, 1877 Sir Arthur Sullivan composed this famous ballad whilst keeping vigil at the bedside of his elder brother Frederic, who lay dying, aged only 39. It is set to words by Adelaide Procter (1825-1864), an author well-known in her own day for her output of sentimental verse. In spite of the circumstances of its composition, The Lost Chord became a great favourite, played and sung in parlours and ballad concerts, the epitome of popular Victorian song. It was dedicated to the memory of Frederic.

One of the first singers to perform it regularly was the beautiful American socialite Mrs Fanny Ronalds (1839-1916), pictured right, who was for many years Sullivan’s close companion. The composer often accompanied her on the piano when she sang the song at fashionable society soirées and her recording of it was one of the earliest phonograph cylinders ever made. King Edward VII remarked on one occasion that he would travel the length of his kingdom to hear her sing The Lost Chord.

The Musicians' Company Archive Project
The Musicians' Company Archive Project

Sullivan was mentioned a number of times in the series of Lectures organised by the Company at Fishmongers' Hall in 1904 as part of the Loan Exhibition (Click Here). Those lectures were published in a book called English Music, which can be viewed by Clicking Here. A picture taken from that book is shown left (Click to expand).

He died of heart failure in London on 22 November 1900. In his will, Sullivan left the manuscript of The Lost Chord to Mrs Ronalds. It has been alleged that on her own death the score was buried with her, but the present evidence surely indicates that, if so, that must have been another copy as she, in turn, gave this one to the English contralto Dame Clara Butt (1872-1936), pictured

right, who had received the Musicians’ Company’s Silver Medal while a student at the Royal College of Music in 1894. Miss Butt's nomination for the award (by Sir George Grove, no less), as "...the most distinguished pupil in the College", is recorded in Court Minute Book 7, page 176.

Sullivan himself heard Butt singing The Lost Chord early in her career and is quoted as telling her “That is how I always meant it to be sung”. Butt included the song in many recitals and it often featured in her concert performances for Queen Victoria and other European royalty.

The Musicians' Company Archive Project

She recorded it several times, perhaps most famously on 7 August 1930 in Westminster Central Hall, and for years her richly individual interpretation was the favourite version of her many admirers.


Click below to hear this particular performance (taken from the original 1930 Columbia 78rpm recording):

The Lost Chord (Sullivan) - Performed by Clara Butt - 1930
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Butt’s husband, the baritone Robert Kennerley Rumford (1870 - 1957), was Master of the Musicians’ Company in 1933-4; in 1950 he gave the manuscript to the Company, which it counts amongst its most treasured possessions. The Gift was recorded at a Court Meeting of 18th April - the page from the Minute Book is shown right - click to expand.

The Musicians' Company Archive Project
The Musicians' Company Archive Project

Here is a 1968 photograph of HRH the Duchess of Kent, reviewing the above score of The Lost Chord - looking most likely at Sullivan's signature on the final page (shown as No.7 above). The Master, John Iles and Clerk, Richard Crewdson are with her. The Duchess graciously accepted the Honorary Freedom of the Company in 1993.

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