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Thomas Augustine Arne after Francesco Bartolozzi. Hand-coloured etching, 1770-1782, based on a work of circa 1770. © National Portrait Gallery.

Dr Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710-1779)

May 2010

(12 March 1710-5 March 1779)

Arne lived for most of his life in London’s Covent Garden, where he is buried besides St. Paul’s Church. The leading figure in English theatre music in the mid-eighteenth century, he composed prolifically in all forms, though, due to the incomplete survival of numerous major works, he is now remembered mainly as a song composer.

In 1738, Arne established his reputation as a lyric composer, by the admirable manner in which he set Milton’s Comus. In this masque he introduced a light, airy, original, and pleasing melody, wholly different from that of Purcell or Handel, whom all English composers had hitherto either pillaged or imitated. Indeed, the melody of Arne at this time, and of his Vauxhall songs afterwards, forms an aera in English Music; it was so easy, natural and agreeable to the whole kingdom, that it had an effect upon our national taste; and till a more modern Italian style was introduced in the pasticcio English operas of Messrs. Bickerstaff and Cumberland, it was the standard of all perfection at our theatres and public gardens.”

BURNEY: A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period. (London, 1776-1789), Vol.IV, p659.

The songs above are selected from Clio and Euterpe, or British Harmony. An Admired and Rare Collection of the Most Celebrated old English and Scotch Songs, Cantatas, Duets and Trios. Selected from the Operas, Oratorios etc. Composed by the most Eminent Masters Adapted for the German Flute, Violin and Harpsicord. Embellished with Designs Adapted to Each Song. Henry Roberts, London, 1758-1762.

This popular collection of some 600 songs includes more than 100 by Arne.