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Thomas Augustine Arne

Thomas Augustine Arne

At a time when musical life of England was dominated by foreign music and musicians, Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-1778) was the most successful and popular native composer, keeping alive and advancing the traditions of the English baroque school.

Thomas Arne was born in London on March 12, 1710, the son of an upholsterer and coffin-maker. Educated at Eton, he spent 3 years apprenticed to an attorney before his obvious talents in music persuaded his father to allow him to pursue a career in this field. Arne's first major composition was a setting of Joseph Addison's Rosamond (1733). Arne's sister Susannah Maria, 4 years his junior, sang a leading role; later, as Mrs. Cibber, she was a famous dramatic actress and singer. In 1736 Arne married Cecelia Young, a soprano who later gave remarkable performances of music by her husband and by George Frederick Handel.

Arne quickly established himself as a major talent with music to three masques done at the Drury Lane Theatre: Comus (1738), adapted from John Milton by John Dalton; The Judgment of Paris (1740), by William Congreve; and The Masque of Alfred (1740), to a libretto by James Thomson and David Mallet, which concludes with an "Ode in Honour of Great Britain," known now as "Rule, Britannia," Arne's most persistently popular invention. Drury Lane launched a series of revivals of some Shakespearean plays, commissioning Arne to write music to some of the lyrics. As You Like It (1740) was followed by Twelfth Night (1741), The Merchant of Venice (1742), The Tempest (1746), and Love's Labour's Lost (1747). Many of Arne's most enduring songs, such as "Under the Greenwood Tree," "When Daisies Pied," and "Where the Bee Sucks," were written for these productions.

Arne spent the years 1742-1744 in Dublin, where he composed his first oratorio, The Death of Abel. On his return to London, he became the leader of the orchestra at Drury Lane, and in 1745 he was also appointed official composer for Vauxahll Garden. The music he wrote here, and later for Mary-le-bone and Ranelagh gardens, became extremely popular and was printed in such collections as Lyric Harmony and The Vocal Grove, then reprinted and rearranged in other publications for many decades in England and the American colonies.

In 1759 Oxford University awarded Arne the degree of doctor of music. Soon he left Drury Lane for Covent Garden, where he wrote operas in a wide range of styles. Love in a Village (1762) was a ballad opera, with spoken dialogue alternating with songs, some his own and some arrangements of popular airs of the day. Thomas and Sally, or the Sailor's Return (1780) is a true comic opera, with all original music and dialogue set as recitative. His most ambitious work was Artaxerxes (1762), an opera seria with a libretto adapted and translated by Arne himself from a play by the Italian dramatist Metastasio. It is the only example of a full-length opera in English for a period of many decades. Despite some contradictions in style, it had immediate success and held the stage for many years. A less successful piece was Olimpiade (1764), also from Metastasio, in Italian and completely in the Italian style.

Arne's catches and glees, written for the Madrigal Club, have proved to be durable works for social and school singing groups. His second oratorio, Judith (1761), is considered by some to be one of his finest works, and his setting of Libera me for solo voices and five-part chorus is an interesting and rare example of a setting of a Latin text from this period in England.

Arne also wrote concertos for keyboard, overtures for orchestra, lessons (or sonatas) for harpsichord, and trio sonatas, but this instrumental music has received little attention. He died in London on March 5, 1778.

Arne's dramatic and vocal works are his best; his greatest talent was for graceful, expressive, and memorable melodic lines. His contemporary Charles Burney offers this opinion in A General History of Music: "From the death of Purcell to that of Arne, a period of more than fourscore years, no candidate for musical fame among our countrymen had appeared, who was equally admired by the nation at large…In secular music, he must be allowed to have surpassed him [Purcell] in ease, grace, and variety."

Further Reading

Brief biographies of Arne are Burnham W. Horner, Life and Works of Dr. Arne, 1710-1778 (1893), and Hubert Langley, Doctor Arne (1938), neither of which is scholarly. Arne's place in the history of music in England is noted in Frank Howes, The English Musical Renaissance (1966). There is a discussion of some aspects of Arne's life and works in Charles Burney, A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (4 vols., 1786-1789; new ed., with notes by Frank Mercer, 1957).

Additional Sources

Burden, Michael, Garrick, Arne, and the masque of Alfred: a case study in national, theatrical, and musical politics, Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1994. □

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Arne, Thomas (Augustine)

Arne, Thomas (Augustine) (b London, 1710; d London, 1778). The leading Brit. composer of his day, notable for incidental music to plays, incl. Shakespeare's. His masque Alfred (1740) incl. song ‘Rule, Britannia!’ Operas incl. Artaxerxes (1761), Love in a Village (1762), The Guardian Outwitted (1764), The Fairy Prince (1771), and The Cooper (1772). Wrote 2 oratorios, The Death of Abel (1743) and Judith (1760); 6 cantatas (1755); several kbd. concs. (1750–70); syms.; sonatas for 2 vns. and continuo (1757); 8 kbd. sonatas (1756); and many songs incl. The British Grenadiers.

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Arne, Thomas Augustine

Thomas Augustine Arne (ärn), 1710–78, English composer. Arne composed the song Rule, Britannia, based on an ode by James Thomson. He composed new music for an adaptation of Milton's masque Comus (1738) and for some of the songs in Shakespeare's plays. He also wrote operas, oratorios, including Judith (1761), instrumental music, and incidental music for plays.

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Arne, Thomas Augustine

Arne, Thomas Augustine

Arne, Thomas Augustine, famous English composer, natural father of Michael Arne and brother of Susanna Maria Cibber; b. London, March 12, 1710; d. there, March 5, 1778. His father, an upholsterer and undertaker, sent him to Eton to study law, but also permitted him to take violin lessons from Michael Festing. Arne’s love for music eventually prevailed. With Henry Carey and J. E Lampe, he organized a theater company in London in 1732 to present in English operas “after the Italian manner” Their company broke up later that same year, and Arne then founded his own enterprise at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. On March 7, 1733, his company staged the premiere there of his opera Rosamond with his sister in the title role. His company soon merged with Theophilus Cibber ’s company at the New Theatre, Haymarket, where Arne scored a notable success with the premiere of The Opera of Operas, or Tom Thumb the Great on Oct. 29, 1733. In 1737 Arne married the singer cecilia young. On March 4, 1738, his music for Milton’s masque Comus was first performed at Drury Lane and secured his reputation as one of the leading English composers of his time. A commission from Frederick, Prince of Wales, led to the composition of music for James Thomson’s patriotic masque Alfred, which received its premiere in an open-air theater at the Prince’s home in Cliveden on Aug. 1, 1740. The final chorus, Rule Britannia, became Arne’s most celebrated work. In 1742 Arne and his wife visited Dublin, where she sang in the premiere of his oratorio The Death of Abel on Feb. 18, 1744. From 1744 to 1749 Arne composed several works for Drury Lane, and thereafter for Covent Garden. In 1755 Arne, his wife, and his gifted pupil, Charlotte Brent, visited Dublin. Arne’s marriage had become tempestuous, and in 1756 he and Brent returned to London alone. In 1759 Arne was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Music at Oxford. On Oct. 10, 1759, his setting of The Beggar’s Opera, with Brent as a leading singer, scored a great success at its first performance at Covent Garden. Success continued there with the premiere of his comic opera Thomas and Sally, or The Sailor’s Return on Nov. 28, 1760. His greatest triumph followed there on Feb. 2, 1762, with the first performance of his opera Artaxerxes. His pasticcio, Love in a Village, also proved highly popular at its premiere there on Dec. 8, 1762. However, his subsequent works were failures. Ill health and the loss of Brent in marriage to the violinist Thomas Pinto in 1766 added to his woes. However, his fortunes rebounded when Garrick asked him to compose an ode for the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford in 1769. On Nov. 21, 1772, his opera Elfrida was premiered at Covent Garden with much success. Shortly before he died, Arne and his wife were reconciled.

Arne composed some 90 works for the stage, including operas, masques, pantomimes, and incidental music. Although his output is uneven, he was without

question one of the major English dramatic composers of his time. He also wrote a number of fine instrumental pieces.

Works

DRAMATIC: (all 1st perf. in London unless otherwise given): Rosamund (March 7, 1733); The Opera of Operas, or Tom Thumb the Great (Oct. 29, 1733); Dido and Aeneas (Jan. 12, 1734); Love and Glory (March 21, 1734); Harlequin Orpheus, or The Magical Pipe (March 3, 1735); Harlequin Restor’d, or The Country Revels (Oct. 18, 1735); Zara (Jan. 12, 1736); The Fall of Phaeton (Feb. 28, 1736); Comus (March 4, 1738); An Hospital for Fools (Nov. 15, 1739); Don John, or The Libertine Destroy ’d (Feb. 13, 1740); Alfred (Cliveden, Aug. 1, 1740; expanded version, London, March 20, 1745); The Judgment of Paris (Cliveden, Aug. 1, 1740; rev. version, London, April 3, 1759); Oedipus, King of Thebes (Nov. 19, 1740); The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (April 3, 1741); Miss Lucy in Town (May 6, 1742); The Temple of Dullness (Jan. 17, 1745); The Picture, or The Cuckold in Conceit (Feb. 11, 1745); King Pepin’s Campaign (April 15, 1745); Harlequin Incendiary, or Columbine Cameron (March 3, 1746); Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades (Jan. 18, 1749); The Triumph of Peace (Feb. 21, 1749); The Muses’ Looking Glass (March 9, 1749); Henry and Emma, or The Nut-brown Maid (March 31, 1749); Don Saverio (Feb. 15, 1750); Harlequin Sorcerer (Feb. 11, 1752); The Drummer, or The Haunted House (Dec. 8, 1752); The Sheep-shearing, or Florizel and Perdita (March 25, 1754); Eliza (May 29, 1754); Britannia (May 9, 1755); Injured Honour, or The Earl of Westmoreland (Dublin, March 8, 1756); The Pincushion (Dublin, March 20, 1756); Mercury Harlequin (Dec. 27, 1756); The Sultan, or Solyman and Zayde (Nov. 23, 1758); The Beggar’s Opera (Oct. 10, 1759); The Jovial Crew (Feb. 14, 1760); Thomas and Sally, or The Sailor’s Return (Nov. 28, 1760); Artaxerxes (Feb. 2, 1762); Love in a Village (Dec. 8, 1762); The Arcadian Nuptials (Jan. 19, 1764); The Guardian Outwitted (Dec. 12, 1764); L’Olimpiade (April 27, 1765); King Arthur, or The British Worthy (Dec. 13, 1770); The Fairy Prince (Nov. 12, 1771); Squire Badger (March 16, 1772); The Cooper (June 10, 1772); Elfrida (Nov. 21, 1772); The Rose (Dec. 2, 1772); Alzuma (Feb. 23, 1773); Achules in Petticoats (Dec. 16, 1773); May-day, or The Little Gipsy (Oct. 28, 1775); Phoebe at Court (Feb. 22, 1776); Caractacus (Dec. 6, 1776). Also contributions to various other works. ORCH.: 8 overtures (1751); Four New Overtures or Symphonies (1767); Six Favourite Concertos (c. 1787). CHAMBER: VIII Sonatas or Lessons for Harpsichord (1756); VII Sonatas for 2 Violins and Basso Continuo (1757). VOCAL: 2 oratorios: The Death of Abel (Dublin, Feb. 18, 1744) and Judith (London, Feb. 27, 1761); 2 masses; Six English Cantatas (1755); odes, including An Ode upon dedicating a Building to Shakespeare (1769); various song collections (1745–77); catches, canons, and glees.

Bibliography

B. Homer, Life and Works of Dr. A. (London, 1893); W. Cummings, Dr. A. and Rule Britannia (London, 1912); J. Parkinson, An Index to the Vocal Works of T. A. A. and Michael Ame (Detroit, 1972).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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