Tune of the Day: Major-General's Song
This popular patter song is taken from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. It is perhaps the most famous song in Gilbert and Sullivan's operas. It is sung by Major-General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I. The song satirizes the idea of the “modern” educated British Army officer of the late 19th century.
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
It is one of the most difficult patter songs to sing, due to the fast pace and tongue-twisting nature of the lyrics, but playing it on a flute poses no real problem.
The song is often used in film and on television, unchanged in many instances, as a character's audition piece, or seen in a “school play” scene. It is also frequently parodied, and its challenging patter has proved interesting to comics, notable examples being Tom Lehrer's song “The Elements” and David Hyde Pierce's monologue, as host of Saturday Night Live.