Sullivan - The Policeman’s Song

Interpreting the Music

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Sullivan: The Policeman’s Song

• D major
• Humorous, theatrical (pantomime style)
• Plenty of variety of touch
• Both hands get the tune
• Flexible, dramatic tempo changes
• Octaves in LH

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas have been perennial favourites on the British theatrical scene since they were first produced 140 years ago. Much of their success comes from their catchy tunes and funny or satirical lyrics. This arrangement of one of their most popular songs will be familiar to many adult listeners, certainly in the UK, but perhaps not to so many children.

However, apart from some LH octaves which may challenge the smallest hands, there is no technical barrier to anybody attempting this piece. The most successful performers will be those students who can get well beyond the notes and have the confidence and aplomb to project the music’s humorous character.

An essential first step before learning this arrangement will be to hear it in its original song format:

Once the lyrics have been matched with the musical ideas, it is much easier to give an entertaining performance. And entertainment is certainly the priority for any player choosing this piece. Showmanship, play-acting and humour must all play their part as the performer enters into the spirit of the song. The best performance will be as exaggerated and theatrical as stage make-up, with every contrast and effect fully exploited, and a mischievous wit underlying it all. For although the song is sung by a rather sorrowful policemen about his onerous duty, the setting is intended to poke fun at the whole situation.

The next thing to notice from the recording is how the solo singer is backed by a chorus of hard-pressed constables echoing their spokesman.

There is plenty of contrast in articulation, dynamics and indeed tempo, all of which build the effectiveness of the performance. At bar 5, where the singer begins, the pesante marking should suggest a rather heavy and unfit policeman who needs to catch his breath between the lines he sings. This approach will make the pulse a little uneven at phrase ends, and that is fine as part of the song’s character.

In bar 11 it is not possible to play the RH fully legato. However, this can be turned to advantage by slightly detaching each note as if for emphasis, since the words of the punch line (“A policeman’s lot is not a happy one”) would be sung to this melody. In bar 12 there is no need to use finger 5 on the tenuto E’s, as long as the notes are played at a caressing piano dynamic level.

Bars 12 to 20 provide a contrasting section, with a light and lyrical tone being humorously interrupted by forceful left hand notes. This corresponds to the singer reflecting on the innocent pleasures of life which the criminals may also enjoy. The markings at bar 12-13 for a singing and expressive style should be fully implemented! The policeman is (hilariously for the audience) indulging a little poetic flight of fancy which is quite unsuited to the situation. The long-held arpeggiated chord in bar 20 represents the policeman gathering himself for the unpleasant job to be done. It should be given its full length for dramatic effect, followed by a return to the heavy style of bars 5-12 that represents plodding off to do his duty.

At bars 24-26, the staccato scherzando interjection, using material from the introduction, is another dramatic device, put in by the composer to show that we are not to take any of this too seriously. The ending is pure parody of the “full weight of the law”, gathering up the elements of duty, weariness, authority and the task ahead.

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