Singers and Musical Personalities ~ Thomas Augustine Arne 1710 – 1778

1. Arne

Thomas Augustine Arne 1710 – 1778

1. Portrait of Thomas Augustine Arne (1710 – 1778), 1778. Mezzotint by Robert Dunkarton (1744–1811) after William Humphrey.  Original in the National Portrait Gallery, London.   [Image in the public domain.]

Thomas Augustine Arne (born March 12, 1710, London, Eng.—died March 5, 1778, London), English composer, chiefly of dramatic music and song.

Arne was engaged to write musical afterpieces and incidental music for Drury Lane Theatre, and Vauxhall Gardens, taking on the young Charles Burney as an apprentice.  With Comus (1738), John Dalton’s adaptation of Milton’s masque, he became established as the leading English lyric composer.  His light, airy, pleasing melodic style was apparent in Alfred, a Masque (notable for 'Rule, Britannia') and The Judgment of Paris, both produced at the Prince of Wales’s residence at Cliveden in 1740. Arne’s settings of Shakespeare’s songs, written for revivals of As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice in 1740–41, provide the culmination of this early style.

In about 1744, after spending two years in Dublin (owing largely to family troubles), Arne was engaged as composer to Drury Lane TheatreDuring the next decade Arne published a number of song collections. In 1759 he was made doctor of music at Oxford, and two years later his oratorio Judith was produced, followed by the opera Artaxerxes (1762), which held the stage until the early 19th century.

Thomas Augustine Arne, composed only a handful of orchestral and instrumental works. But he made up for this with a prolific career in the London theatre, setting almost exclusively English words, as opposed to the Italian of Handel’s international companies. He was house composer at the Drury Lane Theatre from 1734 to 1750, and after that house composer at Covent Garden.

Arne’s theatrical output, much of it now lost, covered a wide range, from songs for plays, by way of comic operas in various genres, to full-length serious operas – notably Artaxerxes, which was first performed in 1762 and remained in the repertoire well into the 19th century. He also wrote songs for the London pleasure gardens and in 1761 an oratorio, Judith.

[Text based on Encyclopaedia Bruitannica and BBC Publications.]

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2. Arne

Thomas Augustine Arne 1710 – 1778

2.   Portrait of a composer thought to be Thomas Arne (1710-1778), oil on Canvas. Artist unknown.  [This version of the image in the public domain.]

Arne’s father and grandfather were both upholsterers and both became officials of the City Company of Upholsterers. His grandfather unfortunately fell upon hard times and died in the Marshalsea prison for debtors. Arne’s father on the other hand earned enough money not only to rent a large house in Covent Garden but also to have his son Thomas educated at Eton College. But later in life he also managed to lose most of his wealth and had to earn extra cash by acting as a numberer of the boxes at Drury Lane Theatre.

The young Arne was so keen on music that he smuggled a spinet into his room and, dampening the sounds with his handkerchief, would secretly practise during the night while the rest of the family slept. He also, according to the musical historian Charles Burney (1726-1814), dressed up as a liveryman in order to gain access to the gallery of the Italian Opera. It was at the opera that Arne first met the musician and composer Michael Festing (d.1752).

Festing was a major influence on Arne. He not only taught him to play the violin but also took him to various musical events including going to hear Roseingrave compete for the post of organist at Hanover Square and a visit to Oxford in 1733 to hear Handel’s opera ‘Athalia’.

Upon leaving school the future composer was articled to a solicitor for three years. However, according to Burney, Arne’s father discovered his son leading a group of musicians at what was probably one of Festing’s musical gatherings. Following this disclosure of his son’s real interest and talent he was persuaded (again probably by Festing) to allow the young Arne to give up his legal career and to pursue music as a living.

[Text based, in part , on a biography by R. Slade.]

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3.  Rosetta

Thomas Arne (1710-1778)

Love in a Village.

3.   Elizabeth Billington as Rosetta in Love in a Village. Engraving by John Thornthwaite, after a painting by J. Roberts, published 29 March 1781. Oxford. Original in the collection of the Bodleian Library.  [This version of the image in the public domain.]

Love in a Village is a ballad opera in three acts that was composed and arranged by Thomas Arne. A pastiche, the work contains 42 musical numbers of which only five were newly composed works by Arne.

The other music is made up of 13 pieces borrowed from Arne's earlier stage works, a new overture was by C. F. Abel, and 23 songs by other composers, including Bishop, Boyce, Geminiani, Giordani, and Galuppi, albeit with new texts.

The English libretto, by Isaac Bickerstaffe, is based on Charles Johnson’s 1729 play The Village Opera.

Love in a Village was received enthusiastically at its premiere at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in December 1762. It became one of Arne's more popular operas, enjoying forty performances in its first season alone. The work's success began a vogue for pastiche opera in England that lasted well into the 19th century. One of its best known songs is the Miller of Dee.

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Arne Anecdotes

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