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Thomas Arne: CDs & DVDs - The Best CDs & DVDs of Thomas Arne




Thomas Arne: Overview


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



Thomas Arne (Thomas Augustine Arne) was born at the Crown and Cushion, King Street, Covent Garden, where the Indian Kings had lodged during their visit to London in the reign of Queen Anne. His father (also Thomas Arne) was by trade an upholsterer and coffin-maker. The young Thomas Arne was sent to Eton College where he is said to have spent part of his spare time practising on a 'miserable, cracked, common-flute'. Burney described his passion for music as a young man.



He used to avail himself of the privilege of a servant, by borrowing livery and going into the upper gallery of the opera, which was then appropriated to domestics. At home he had contrived to secrete a spinet in his room, upon which, after muffling the strings with a handkerchief, he used to practise in the night while the rest of the family were asleep.



In addition, he took lessons in violin-playing and taught himself composition.



Thomas Arne was not the only musician in the family. His sister, Susannah Maria, and younger brother, Michael, were both singers of distinction. Thanks to her elder brother's training, Susannah made a successful debut at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket in 1733 in Lampe's 'English opera' Amelia; and a few months later their father unexpectedly produced Handel's Acis and Galatea as an 'English pastoral opera', also at the Little Theatre, with Susannah in the role of Galatea. Meanwhile, Thomas Arne was engaged on a new setting of Addison's libretto for Rosamund, and this was most successful when brought out at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre (1733) with Susannah in the title role and Michael as the page.



In 1734 Susannah contracted what was to prove a disastrous marriage with Theophilus Cibber, the son of Colley Cibber, the actor, playwright and manager, and thereafter she was launched on a new career as an actress. In 1737 Thomas Arne married Cecilia, one of three musical daughters of Anthony Young, the organist of All Hallows, Barking. A natural son, christened Michael like his uncle, was born in 1740 and in course of time became a composer too. Thomas Arne had a strong streak of profligacy in his nature; and about 1755 his marriage seemed on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, he and Cecilia came together again; and in his Will (dated 6th December 1777) he left all his estate to be divided equally between 'my beloved wife Cecilia and my only son Michael'.



Thomas Arne's reputation as a lyric composer was established in 1738 with his setting of Milton's Comus. Burney's opinion was that in this masque 'he introduced a light airy, original, and pleasing melody, wholly different from that of Purcell or Handel'. Thomas Arne himself is reported to have said that the test of a good melody was such a one as 'would grind about the streets on the organ'.



Thomas Arne was attracted by the masque as a theatrical form; and in the summer of 1740 he produced two further masques for a gala performance at Cliefden, Buckinghamshire - The Judgment of Paris, a setting of Congreve's original libretto, and Alfred, which contained a patriotic 'Ode in Honour of Great Britain'. The latter rapidly achieved independent popularity under the title 'Rule, Britannia!'



In the course of his life, he paid three separate visits to Dublin, where his music became very popular. Returning to London after his first visit (1742/4) he was appointed resident composer at Drury Lane; but the three comic operas he produced there in 1745 - The Temple of Dullness, The Picture, and King Pepin's Campaign - did not prove successful. Garrick now had the idea of commissioning an afterpiece each from Thomas Arne and Boyce (q.v.). The Chaplet (1749) by Boyce was much liked; but not so Thomas Arne's Don Saverio (1750). At this period he seems to have had more success with the numerous ballads, dialogues, duets and trios he wrote for the public gardens, particularly Vauxhall where his wife frequently performed, than with his music for the theatre.



Shortly after Handel's death in 1759, the University of Oxford conferred the degree of Doctor of Music on Thomas Arne, and in 1760 he had the good fortune to meet a first-class librettist, the young Isaac Bickerstaff, recently arrived in London from Ireland. Their first work of collaboration was the delightful little 'dramatic pastoral', Thomas Arne and Sally, which was brought out at Covent Garden. Bickerstaff then provided Thomas Arne with the text of an oratorio, Judith, which was produced at Drury Lane in 1761, and the libretto of a comic opera, which was an altered version of the old ballad opera, The Village Opera. Thomas Arne selected, arranged, and scored music by seventeen different composers, including himself, to produce Love in a Village, as it was now called, one of the best pasticcio operas of ihe century (Covent Garden, 1762).



Shortly before Love in a Village, he decided to compose an English version of an Italian opera seria for Covent Garden, and his choice of libretto fell on Metastasio's Artaserse. In its English form Artaxerxes (1762) caught the public's taste and kept its position in the repertory until well into the 19th century. An attempt to repeat this success with Olimpiade, where Thomas Arne set Metastasio's original Italian libretto for the King's Theatre in the Haymarket (1765), was a failure.



In 1770 he set out to persuade Garrick to revive Purcell's King Arthur at Drury Lane in a new version where he himself would be responsible for the alterations and additions to the score. Some of the arguments in his correspondence with Garrick sound very arrogant.



The air 'Let not a moon-born elf is after the two first bars of Purcell very bad. Hear mine. ... I wish you would only give me leave to doctor this performance. I would certainly make it pleasing to the public.



But when it came to the point, Thomas Arne seems to have behaved with considerable discretion and, according to Charles Dibdin, 'so far from mutilating Purcell ... his whole study was to place his idolised predecessor in that conspicuous situation the brilliancy of his reputation demanded.'



Towards the end of his life Thomas Arne wrote a number of minor comic operas, including The Guardian Outwitted (1764), The Cooper (1772), The Rose {Mil), Achilles in Petticoats (1773), and May - Day (1775). In The Fairy Prince (1171) he reverted to his earlier style of masque, choosing the text of Ben Jonson's Oberon for his setting. And in The Golden Pippin (1773) he imitated the example of the 'English burletta' Midas, which had been launched in Dublin in 1762 on an amazingly successful career. He died in Bow Street, Covent Garden.



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