1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arne, Thomas Augustine

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ARNE, THOMAS AUGUSTINE (1710–1778), English musical composer, was born in London on the 12th of March 1710, his father being an upholsterer. Intended for the legal profession, he was educated at Eton, and afterwards apprenticed to an attorney for three years. His natural inclination for music, however, proved irresistible, and his father, finding from his performance at an amateur musical party that he was already a skilful violinist, furnished him with the means of educating himself in his favourite art. On the 7th of March 1733 he produced his first work at Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre, a setting of Addison’s Rosamond, the heroine’s part being performed by his sister, Susanna Maria, who afterwards became celebrated as Mrs Cibber. This proving a success was immediately followed by a burletta, entitled The Opera of Operas, based on Fielding’s Tragedy of Tragedies. The part of Tom Thumb was played by Arne’s young brother, and the opera was produced at the Haymarket theatre. On the 19th of December 1733 Arne produced at the same theatre the masque Dido and Aeneas, a subject of which the musical conception had been immortalized for Englishmen more than half a century earlier by Henry Purcell. Arne’s individuality of style first distinctly asserted itself in the music to Dr Dalton’s adaptation of Milton’s Comus, which was performed at Drury Lane in 1738, and speedily established his reputation. In 1740 he wrote the music for Thomson and Mallet’s Masque of Alfred, which is noteworthy as containing the most popular of all his airs—“Rule, Britannia!” In 1740 he also wrote his beautiful settings of the songs, “Under the greenwood tree,” “Blow, blow, thou winter wind” and “When daisies pied,” for a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Four years before this, in 1736, he had married Cecilia, the eldest daughter of Charles Young, organist of All Hallows Barking. She was considered the finest English singer of the day and was frequently engaged by Handel in the performance of his music. In 1742 Arne went with his wife to Dublin, where he remained two years and produced his oratorio Abel, containing the beautiful melody known as the Hymn of Eve, the operas Britannia, Eliza and Comus, and where he also gave a number of successful concerts. On his return to London he was engaged as leader of the band at Drury Lane theatre (1744), and as composer at Vauxhall (1745). In this latter year he composed his successful pastoral dialogue, Colin and Phoebe, and in 1746 the song, “Where the bee sucks.” In 1759 he received the degree of doctor of music from Oxford. In 1760 he transferred his services to Covent Garden theatre, where on the 28th of November he produced his Thomas and Sally. Here, too, on the 2nd of February 1762 he produced his Artaxerxes, an opera in the Italian style with recitative instead of spoken dialogue, the popularity of which is attested by the fact that it continued to be performed at intervals for upwards of eighty years. The libretto, by Arne himself, was a very poor translation of Metastasio’s Artaserse. In 1762 also was produced the ballad-opera Love in a Cottage. His oratorio Judith, of which the first performance was on the 27th of February 1761 at Drury Lane, was revived at the chapel of the Lock hospital, Pimlico, on the 29th of February 1764, in which year was also performed his setting of Metastasio’s Olimpiade in the original language at the King’s theatre in the Haymarket. At a later performance of Judith at Covent Garden theatre on the 26th of February 1773 Arne for the first time introduced female voices into oratorio choruses. In 1769 he wrote the musical parts for Garrick’s ode for the Shakespeare jubilee at Stratford-on-Avon, and in 1770 he gave a mutilated version of Purcell’s King Arthur. One of his last dramatic works was the music to Mason’s Caractacus, published in 1775. Though inferior to Purcell in intensity of feeling, Arne has not been surpassed as a composer of graceful and attractive melody. There is true genius in such airs as “Rule, Britannia!” and “Where the bee sucks,” which still retain their original freshness and popularity. As a writer of glees he does not take such high rank, though he deserves notice as the leader in the revival of that peculiarly English form of composition. He was author as well as composer of The Guardian outwitted, The Rose, The Contest of Beauty and Virtue, and Phoebe at Court. Dr Arne died on the 5th of March 1778, and was buried at St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

See also the article in Grove’s Dictionary (new ed.); and two interesting papers in the Musical Times, November and December 1901.