Arne, Thomas Augustine


One of the most noted of English composers, who has been called "the greatest English composer of the Eighteenth Century." Born in London. He was educated at Eton and was intended by his father for the legal profession, but his love for music proved too strong. He managed to get a spinet, which he concealed in his bedroom and by muffling the strings was able to practise secretly at night. He also took lessons on the violin and made such progress that he was soon able to lead an amateur band. While thus engaged at the house of a friend, he was discovered by his father, who, seeing his strength of purpose, gave up his opposition and allowed his son to follow his bent. Being now free to practise at home he developed rapidly and trained the voice of his sister, Susanna Maria, so that she was able to appear in Lampe's opera, Amelia, in 1732. This sister afterward became Mrs. Gibber, the noted tragic actress. Arne's first attempt at composition was a resetting of Addison's opera Rosamund, in which his sister took the leading part and a younger brother the part of a page. Soon after this he set to music Fielding's Tragedy of Tragedies, calling it the Opera of Operas, and in 1733 he produced a masque, called Dido and Aneas. In 1763 he married Cecilia Young, a brilliant singer, who often sang in performances of Handel's works. In 1738, Arne's reputation was made by the music he composed for Milton's Comus, and in 1740 he reset Congreve's masque, The Judgment of Paris; and Thomson and Mallet's masque, Alfred; and the same year he produced the beautiful music for the songs, Blow, Blow thou Winter Wind; When Daisies Died; and Under the Greenwood Tree, for the production of As You Like It, at Drury Lane Theatre. From 1842 to 1844, Arne and his wife were in Dublin, where he produced his oratorio, Abel, one of his most noted works, and also his operas, Eliza, and Britannia. On his return to England he was engaged as composer to the Drury Lane Theatre, and in 1745 was appointed composer for the Vauxhall Gardens, which position he held for many years, composing as well for Marylebone and Ranelagh Gardens. In 1759, the University of Oxford gave him the degree of Doctor of Music. Going to Covent Garden Theatre in 1760, Arne, in 1762, translated the Artaxerxes of Metastasio and set it to music in the Italian style, with recitative instead of spoken dialogue. This was a great success and was produced in England for many years. Arne's second oratorio, Judith, was produced in 1764 and the same year he set to music Metastasio's opera, Olimpiade, in the Italian language. Among Arne's productions were a version of Purcell's King Arthur and of Mason's Caractacus. He died in 1778 and was buried at St. Paul's, Covent Garden. Beside his operas, Arne wrote the music for a large number of masques and plays. He also wrote sonatas for the violin and the piano; organ concertos; many songs, glees and catches and the oratorios, Abel, and Judith. His masque of Alfred contains among other fine songs the well known Rule Britannia. His settings of Where the Bee Sucks, in The Tempest, and of the songs in As You Like It and other Shakespearian plays are considered very beautiful. Doctor Arne was the first to introduce female voices into oratorio choruses.