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Thomas Augustine Arne

1710 - 1778

Thomas Augustine Arne (/ɑːrn/; 12 March 1710, London – 5 March 1778, London) was an English composer, best known for the patriotic song Rule Britannia. He also wrote a version of God Save the King, which became the British national anthem, and the song A-Hunting We Will Go. Arne was the leading British theatre composer of the 18th century, working at Drury Lane and Covent Garden.

(b. London, March 12, 1710; d. London, March 5, 1778)

English composer. The scope and quality of his output (roughly 90 stage works, including operas and incidental music for plays and masques) made him the leading theatrical composer of mid-18th-cen-tury London. Of his many scores the finest were probably those for the masque of Comus (1738; based on Milton) and the serious opera Artaxerxes (1762). Arne is best known for the song “Rule, Britannia,” which appeared as the final chorus in the masque of Alfred (1740), and for the anthem “God Save the King,” which he was the first to arrange for public performance (1745). His symphonies are lively and elegant, though harmonically unadventurous and rather formulaic in their melodic content.

Key Works

Eight Sonatas of Lessons for the Harpsichord

Keyboard Sonata No. 1 in F major

Keyboard Sonata No. 2 in E minor     6:26

Keyboard Sonata No. 3 in G major     15:09

Keyboard Sonata No. 4 in D minor     23:01

Keyboard Sonata No. 5 in B flat major     36:18

Keyboard Sonata No. 6 in G minor     42:01

Keyboard Sonata No. 7 in A major     47:44

Keyboard Sonata No. 8 in G major     54:10

Lithograph caricature of Arne, from a painting by Francesco Bartolozzi

Between 1733 and 1776, Arne wrote music for about 90 stage works, including plays, masques, pantomimes, and opera. Many of his dramatic scores are now lost, probably in the disastrous fire at Covent Garden in 1808. Arne's sister, Susannah Maria Arne, was a famous contralto, who performed in some of his works, including his first opera, Rosamund. (With her marriage to the Drury Lane actor Theophilus Cibber she became known professionally as "Mrs Cibber".) With their brother Richard, they would often perform Arne's works together.

Arne was a Freemason and active in the organisation, which has long been centred in the Covent Garden area of London, where Arne lived for many years.

Arne's Catholicism meant that he never composed music for the Church of England, unlike most other leading English composers of his time.

On 15 March 1737, Arne married singer Cecilia Young, whose sister, Isabella was the wife of John Frederick Lampe. During this period Arne's operas and masques became increasingly popular, and he received the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, at whose country home, Cliveden, the Masque of Alfred, featuring "Rule Britannia", was debuted in 1740.

In 1741, Arne filed a complaint in Chancery pertaining to a breach of musical copyright and claimed that some of his theatrical songs had been printed and sold by Henry Roberts and John Johnson, the London booksellers and music distributors. The matter was settled out of court. Arne was certainly one of the very first composers to have appealed to the law over copyright issues.

In 1750, after an argument with David Garrick, Susannah left Drury Lane for Covent Garden Theatre, and Arne followed. In 1755 during a period spent in Dublin, he separated from Cecilia, who, he alleged, was mentally ill. He began a relationship with one of his pupils, Charlotte Brent, a soprano and former child prodigy. Brent performed in several of Arne's works, including the role of Sally in his 1760 opera Thomas and Sally and Mandane in his 1762 opera Artaxerxes. Eventually Brent and Arne went their separate ways and she married a violinist named Thomas Pinto in 1766.

During the 1760s Arne frequently collaborated with the Irish writer Isaac Bickerstaffe. Thomas and Sally was the first English comic opera to be sung throughout (it contained no dialogue). Artaxerxes was one of the most successful and influential English operas of the 18th century and is the only known attempt to write an Italianate, Metastasian opera seria, in the English language. It was frequently performed in London into the 1830s and it was the most popular full-length English opera before the 20th century. In a 1791 visit to London, Joseph Haydn was impressed by a performance of Artaxerxes he attended and admitted that he had no idea such an opera existed in the English language.

In 1769 Arne composed the song Soft Flowing Avon, with lyrics by Garrick, for the Shakespeare Jubilee held by Garrick in Stratford-upon-Avon to commemorate the life of William Shakespeare.
In 1777, shortly before his death, Arne and his wife were reconciled. They had one son, Michael Arne who was also a composer. Arne is buried at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London. A blue plaque, unveiled in 1988, commemorates Arne at 31 King Street in Covent Garden.

Symphony No 1 in C Major

Symphony No 2 in F Major

Symphony No 3 in E flat Major

Symphony No 4 in C minor

Triosonata No. 2 in G major

Triosonata No. 3 in E flat major

Triosonata No. 4 in F minor

Triosonata No. 5 in D major

Trio Sonatas 6 and 7

Overture to The Judgement of Paris

Overture from Artaxerxes 

Thomas Arne was born into a family of London upholsterers and educated at Eton College. A quick grasp of music enabled him to teach his brother and sister to sing; when he was 23, they appeared in his first opera, Rosamond, styled "after the Italian manner." Its success led to commissions to write music for Drury Lane Theatre.

Arne composed many songs for productions of Shakespeare's plays, including As You Like It and The Tempest. "Under the greenwood tree" and "Where the bee sucks", for example, reveal his unique talent for lyrical, melodic writing. Of his other songs, the most famous is "Rule Britannia", from the masque Alfred, which was requested by the Prince of Wales and performed at Cliveden House on the Thames in 1740. Arne published annual collections of his vast output of songs, which in the main celebrate the rhythms of life and nature. In 1745, during the threat to the English Crown posed by the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Arne's setting of "God Save the King" was sung every night by the gentlemen in the audience until the dangers had receded.

He had married the singer Cecilia Young in 1737, but after a trip to Ireland in 1755 - during which, together with Arne's sister, they gave musical performances m Dublin, including Handel's Messiah — the marriage broke down.

Arne also turned his hand to the oratorio, writing Judith for Lent in 1761. In 1762 he premiered Artaxerxes, introducing the grander Italian style to many English concert-goers; it was the only English opera to be regularly performed until the nineteenth century.

For 20 years Arne gave concerts at London's pleasure gardens, such as Mary-lebone, Ranelagh, and Vauxhall. In his last decade he wrote Shakespeare ode and the masque The fairy prince. Rheumatism finally affected his ability to play, and he died in March 1778, comforted by a reconciliation with his wife Cecilia.

Alfred - Ode - Rule Britannia!

When Daisies Pied

The Morning (1755) Cantata

Arne's memorial plaque in St Paul's in Covent Garden

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